Catherine O’Hara Reveals Real Reason She Quit ‘Saturday Night Live’ After One Week
It was a big freaking deal in the early 1980s when producer Dick Ebersol, who’d taken over for Lorne Michaels, lured SCTV’s Catherine O’Hara to New York to join his new cast. Unfortunately for Ebersol, his new hire didn’t last long in the States. According to Saturday Night Live mythology (and Ebersol), an out-of-control Michael O’Donoghue spooked O’Hara right off the show before she could shout a single “Live from New York — it’s Saturday Night!”
Here’s the legend: O’Donoghue had returned to the show as head writer but was determined to take down SNL like a flaming Viking ship. As part of O’Donoghue’s plan of destruction, he took a can of red paint and sprayed the word DANGER on the writers’ room wall. “In that very first meeting with Michael, when he was telling everybody the show is shit, and spraying all over the writers’ wall,” Ebersol said in Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, “it really scared Catherine O’Hara — scared her right off the show. She packed up her stuff and went home to Canada that night.”
Decades later, O’Hara is setting the record straight. “There’s been BS stories about I was supposedly scared by somebody,” she recently told PEOPLE. But that isn’t what happened after all. The real reason can be traced back to the erratic production schedule of SCTV, a show that’s now legendary but had sporadic luck getting on the air back in the day.
“Our producer would get a deal with a network, and we’d have a show for a season or two, and then that deal would go away,” O’Hara explained. “There’d be a break, then we’d do the show again.”
SCTV was in television limbo when Ebersol came a-calling with an offer to join Saturday Night Live. Since it was unclear when (or if) the Canadian sketch show would start up once more, “Of course I said yes,” she says. “Who doesn’t want to do that?” But once O’Hara made her way to New York, she got the call that SCTV had landed a new deal and would resume production.
“Basically I said, ‘Oh, sorry, I gotta go be with my (SCTV) family,’” she confessed, lamenting that it was “stupid” not to have waited to see if her former show would get another green light. “Yeah, not cool to take a job and leave it. You know what I mean?”
Cool or not, O’Hara doesn’t regret the decision to rejoin SCTV. “It all worked out the way it was supposed to.”