Saturday Night Live Should Spin Off Weekend Update
It’s “a year of reinvention” at Saturday Night Live, says producer Lorne Michaels. He’s referring to the eight (eight!) cast members who flew the coop in the offseason, but geez, as long as we’re reinventing, why not shake it up some more? After all, SNL didn’t get to nearly 50 seasons by always playing it safe. So here’s a Cracked proposal for you, Lorne -- why not spin off Weekend Update as its own primetime show?
We’re not talking about a special or a summer experiment -- you’ve done that before, Lorne, and it worked. What we’re proposing is extending the SNL franchise by establishing a second night of comedy at an hour when more people are likely to watch. And before you shoo us out of your office, big guy, we encourage you to hear us out--we’ve got a lot of hella good arguments why spinning off Weekend Update could be the perfect way to go out.
NBC could use the help
You’ve probably heard the scuttlebutt in the hallways, Lorne, but NBC is in trouble. Unless it’s live football (we’ll get to the ‘live’ later), viewers just aren’t tuning into shows like Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, and Chicago Spray Tan like they used to. The numbers have gotten so bad that NBC is considering giving up on 10 p.m. (9 p.m. central) altogether, turning that third primetime hour back to the local affiliates for reruns of Let’s Make A Deal and whatever Kelly Clarkson is up to these days.
If only NBC had an established brand that could win back viewers … hey wait! Lorne, that’s you guys! If the network thinks a Quantum Leap reboot might work because it’s established IP (despite the show only being a moderate hit back in the day), it would salivate at the chance to do a Thursday night edition of Weekend Update. All you have to do is say the word.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
The very idea of producing another thirty minutes of weekly comedy probably sounds exhausting, but consider this: At any SNL Wednesday read-through with Lorne and the gang, at least 40 sketches are performed around the table. Of those, recalls Jon Lovitz, about 14 make it to the next phase. Maybe 8 or 9 go live on the air.
By our count, that means about 75% of the writers’ work ends up in the recycle bin. No doubt, that’s just where many of those scripts belong. But as anyone who’s watched “Cut for Time” sketches on YouTube knows, what doesn’t end up on the show is often just as funny (or funnier) as what makes it to air.
So a proposition: Why not take the best of the unused work and repurpose it for the Update desk? Any character-driven sketch can easily be reworked as a desk piece. For sketches that are more premise-driven, say an elf work stoppage at the North Pole or covert romance at a junior high swim meet, the anchors can throw to a live update from any ridiculous place you want. We’re in a season of reinvention, Lorne! Let’s get nuts.
A bigger sandbox
It’s no wonder Aristotle Athari didn’t make it back for Season 48. Last year, the rookie featured player got 15 minutes and 38 seconds of screen time for the entire season, according to the number crunchers over at the SNL Network. Thing is, Athari seemed to score when he did get a chance -- his infrequent Angelo and Laughingtosh 3000 characters got big reactions from 30 Rock audiences.
But with 24 cast members last year (if you count Please Don’t Destroy, who show up so often that we pretty much have to), it was inevitable that multiple performers each week never got even one minute of stage time until the goodnight wave. With eight gone but four new featured players hired, it won’t get much better this year. A reminder that the show’s original cast had only seven members. They got good fast because they had to.
Lorne, imagine that SNL is a basketball team and you’re the general manager. If a third of your players are stuck on the end of your bench and never see the court, how can they get better? In fact, the lack of confidence shown in their abilities almost guarantees they’re getting worse. The NBA has the G League for young players to get reps -- your primetime Update could serve the same purpose. Those new featured players aren’t going to get awesome by watching from under the bleachers. Get them on the air so they can sharpen those comedy blades.
”News” offers so much more to parody
The only thing funnier than Weekend Update might be any given night on your local news affiliate. Pompous local anchors holding court on the news of the day. Bombastic sportscasters making a play for ESPN to notice them. Frenzied meteorologists urging you to TAKE COVER NOW! Consumer reports, medical advice, slobbering Doberman visits from the local Humane Society. There’s a lot to play with here beyond “telling jokes based on current events.”
Afraid of losing your SNL tentpole? Fine, leave the main Weekend Update on the show where it is. But treat the Update franchise like NBC treats its news division. Besides its main nightly version, there are weekend editions, breezy morning shows, pundit roundtables, MSNBC cable extensions, and investigative hours like Dateline. If Jost and Che are the Lester Holts of comedy news, there’s still plenty of room for additional personalities. Weekend Update Primetime could feature up-and-comers, say an Ego Nwodim/Andrew Dismukes combo platter. If that doesn’t work, remix! If it does? Then you’ve groomed successors for the day when Jost and Che move on without the awful “figuring it out” period.
A reminder: It definitely took multiple shows for Che and Jost to hit their stride. In Jost’s A Very Punchable Face memoir, his chapter about his early Update days is titled “Am I Destroying A Beloved Franchise?” Why take your awkward first steps in the spotlight when a junior version of the show can help comics learn the ropes first? For that matter, assuming Lorne is stepping down in a couple of years, why not use a 30-minute version of the show to audition new producers as well?
Trevor Noah just opened a door
With The Daily Show's longtime host calling it a day, there's going to be a vacuum in funny news. Sure, someone will take Noah's seat on the Daily Show desk, but if Trevor's experience is any indication, it will take time for the new anchor to find their feet (and for the audience to decide if it wants to stick around). So strike now, Lorne! With Weekend Update's established brand and players, it's a perfect opportunity to claim some of that comedy real estate.
Live is the only thing that matters
It’s a scary time to be a network executive. Viewers have abandoned decades-old viewing habits, escaping for the on-demand pleasures of Netflix, HBO Max, and whatever adult streaming service floats your boat. Pretty much the only thing that still works on traditional linear TV is sports programming. The key: Viewers tune in because it’s happening live.
Live! Of course! It’s a wonder NBC isn’t insisting that this idea happen right now. A live comedy show, riffing on actual news in real-time, based on the network’s most beloved brand, is the no-brainer of all no-brainers. And the idea is yours for free, Lorne. (Although if you want to ship us one of those Turd Ferguson hoodies, we won’t complain.)
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