‘Saturday Night Live’s Most Unexpected Spin-Offs

Tim Robbins got a Golden Globe Best Actor nomination for his ‘SNL’ spin-off
‘Saturday Night Live’s Most Unexpected Spin-Offs

If you’re looking to do an SNL spin-off, don’t try to enlist Tracy Morgan. “You’re living in the fuckin’ past. All Saturday Night Live characters stay there,” he groused to IndieWire. “What the fuck are we so intrigued by this spin-off shit for? Remaking everything, microwaving them — that’s why we lose our creativity. We don’t wanna see nothing new.” 

The impulse to warm up old content into tonight’s comedy dinner is strong, however. In addition to the 11 movies based on the show’s sketches, there are a number of other unusual projects that can trace their origins to SNL. Here are five projects that got their start at 30 Rock… 

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The House of Blues

Back in 1977, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi opened the first Blues Bar, a shitty hole in the wall that served as an after-hours party house exclusively for SNL’s cast and crew. Aykroyd and Belushi also fronted the bar’s house band. Soon, the Blues Brothers were warming up the crowd for Saturday Night Live before actually getting a chance to perform on the show, become a music phenomenon and front their own movie. 

That original bar would have been a terrible model for a franchise (“The toilet at the Blues Bar was the filthiest toilet anywhere,” says Laraine Newman), but the bar’s spirit lived on when SNL alums Aykroyd, Paul Shaffer, Jim Belushi and others started the House of Blues chain of music venues. The location became the home of the syndicated House of Blues Radio Hour, hosted by Aykroyd as his SNL character Elwood Blues. 

Coneheads, the Animated Series

A full decade before the dreadful Coneheads movie, Aykroyd, Jane Curtin and Newman reunited for the pilot of an animated Coneheads TV series. The pilot’s plot is pretty similar to the movie’s, tracing the lives of “illegal aliens” Beldar and Prymatt from their ship’s crash stranding them on Earth through the birth of their daughter, Connie. 

The crudely animated cartoon isn’t much better than the movie, which is likely why NBC didn’t pick it up for an entire series. The Coneheads ended up running as a spin-off special back in 1983.

TV Funhouse

Robert Smigel’s brilliant TV Funhouse animations were an SNL highlight from 1996 through 2008, parodies of popular cartoons that often pushed the limits of good taste further than the show’s live-action sketches did.  

The bits were so popular that Comedy Central commissioned a stand-alone TV Funhouse show. Now the cartoon segments were introduced from a kiddie-show set hosted by Doug and his Anipals (animal puppets that included one who looked and sounded suspiciously like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog). The show lasted one season due to cost overruns and Smigel’s frustration filming puppet interactions with live animals.

Bob Roberts

In 1992, future Oscar nominee Tim Robbins appeared in an SNL sketch titled “Bob Roberts Book Burning,” with guitar-strummin’ Robbins leading a group of young patriots in the destruction of subversive literature. 

Robbins loved the sketch so much that he created a full-length movie version for his directorial debut, a story that depicted the rise of a right-wing everyman who uses folk music to deliver his well-funded messages. The mockumentary style of Bob Roberts was ahead of its time, and apparently, so was its message. In 2018, Roberts looked to the election of Donald Trump and proclaimed, “Bob Roberts came true.”

The Blue Jean Committee

When Jason Segel hosted SNL in 2011, he joined up with Fred Armisen to create the Blue Jean Committee, a fake band that sang soft-rock songs with outrageously local references. 

The one-off sketch didn’t seem a natural for a full-blown spin-off, but Armisen’s Documentary Now series reimagined the group for a two-part documentary: Gentle and Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee. It’s an all-star affair — besides Armisen and Bill Hader as the group’s fictional artistes, real-life cameos from Cameron Crowe, Chuck Klosterman, Kenny Loggins, Haim, Daryl Hall and Michael McDonald make this a yacht-rock classic. 

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