When We Take Over Saturday Night Live (There Will Be Changes)
After what feels like half a century -- OK, it has been half a century -- Lorne Michaels is finally stepping down as producer of Saturday Night Live in 2024. It’s been an incredible run and no one will ever be able to truly take his place.
But as long as someone has to replace him, can we just say: We have a few ideas. Here are four ways we’re going to shake things up around here.
Honey, I Shrunk The Cast
A no-brainer, right? There are a number of old-timey SNL practices we’re going to get rid of (see below), but in one way, let’s go back to the beginning: A tight ensemble cast that allows for plenty of comedy reps for everyone.
We’ve rung this bell before -- the cast is too damn big. Counting the five featured players, there are now twenty-freaking-one comics on the show. That’s triple the original cast! (And we’re not even counting the three guys from Please Don’t Destroy.) One might think “the more, the merrier,” but those people have probably never been backstage at a comedy show. Twenty-one mouths to feed guarantees weekly disappointment for a handful of talented performers, perhaps only appearing at the end of the show to sheepishly wave at confused family members who thought their kid was actually on SNL.
The original number of seven is great for a Second City revue, but even those shows have understudies. Could we meet in the middle -- maybe 12? That’s enough backup to give vets like Cecily Strong or Kate McKinnon time off to make a movie or appear on Broadway while giving most everyone a chance to flex their comedy muscles. Those featured players aren’t getting better watching from the wings, Lorne.
Focus on The Best Ideas
One benefit of fewer cast members means fewer scripts to read through and, ultimately, throw away. Under Lorne’s watch, more than 40 scripts are read aloud every Wednesday -- a process that can take more than three hours (or basically, two complete shows).
That … seems like an inefficient use of time, both for reading and for writing. When Chris Rock got his own show on HBO, he told writers not to go ahead with a script unless they had an idea everyone felt good about. Why chase a flimsy idea when you could be pitching jokes on a concept everyone agrees is worth developing? The result: Fewer, better scripts.
Producer Dick Ebersole’s short tenure after Lorne left in 1980 was mostly a disaster, but we think he got one thing right: “I never wanted to go to dress more than three sketches too long,” Ebersole said. “(Lorne) has stronger feelings about the ability to repair things late. So he oftentimes will go to dress a half-hour or forty minutes longer.”
That’s forty minutes of comedy that needs to be written and rehearsed. Forty minutes worth of additional sets and costumes. Forty minutes that eventually are going to be thrown away. Let’s focus on the good stuff and sharpen that up instead.
Let’s Get Some Sleep
Saturday Night Live has an insane work schedule. It goes like this: People wander in and pitch ideas to the host on Monday afternoon. Then on Tuesday, no one shows up until at least mid-afternoon. Jason Sudeikis uses to come in around six, and even then, he says the writing didn’t get started until much later. For some reason, almost all SNL scripts are written in the dead of Tuesday night, a practice that’s sustained because 1) Lorne was a night owl in 1975 and 2) “It’s the way it’s always been done.”
The “way it’s always been done” part is true enough -- but those original cast members were also doing copious amounts of stuff that keeps you awake, and no one thinks that’s a good idea anymore. As Al Franken confirms, “cocaine was mainly used just to stay up.”
“All the work was done between eleven o’clock at night and six o’clock in the morning,” remembers Julia Louis-Dreyfus. “And that wasn’t, in my view, conducive to comedy.”
Martin Short greatly preferred the process over at SCTV, where the gang would write for six weeks, then perform for six weeks. (Take a note, Marcy, we might revisit this.) If nothing else, if you went a day or two without a killer idea, you still had time to contribute greatness.
Even in the 1970s, Franken called the whole writing process “undisciplined,” so what exactly are we trying to preserve here? In the ComedyNerd world of SNL, we’ll wander in on Tuesdays around ten in the morning, goof around and write funny sketches all day, then maybe knock off for sushi around eight.
Doesn’t that sound better?
Sayonara, celebrity cameos
Alec Baldwin, you do a great Donald Trump. But Darrell Hammond does a better one and he’s sitting ten feet away.
The Trump administration was lousy for a lot of comedy, but one trend we’d put a stop to is the SNL celebrity cameo. Jim Carrey’s Joe Biden, Maya Rudolph’s Kamala Harris, Robert De Niro as Robert Mueller, Ben Stiller as Michael Cohen, Steve Martin as Roger Stone. For some reason, Woody Harrelson showed up as another Joe Biden!
Look, we don’t have time for our bloated cast as it is. What if Lorne Michaels had brought in Rich Little back in the 1970s to play Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter? Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd didn’t particularly look or sound like either President, but the roles were star-makers. And it’s not like a surprise Woody Harrelson appearance is going to send the ratings through the roof.
Since we scoured the country searching for the brightest young comic talents, let’s give them the stage and see what they can do.
So there are four Day One changes, and honestly, we’re just getting started on our SNL renovation ideas. Can someone please make some popcorn? We might be here all night.
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Top image: NBC