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"Live from New York: The First Five Years of Saturday Night Live" in HDTV, NBC, 2/20

3696 Views 37 Replies 27 Participants Last post by  igreg
According to NBC.com/schedule , is in http://www.nbc.com/imgs/HDTV.gif on 2/20/05 from 9pm ET-11pm ET.

"See how a group of young comics changed network television forever! Original and current cast members tell the stories you haven't heard and talk about how SNL changed their lives. Featuring: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Lorraine Newman, Garrett Morris, Dana Carvey, Molly Shannon, Steve Martin and many more."
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Impressive if true. I'll have to make sure and cap it.
The clips will be 4:3, right? Kinda like The Seinfeld Story that aired on Thanksgiving?
yeah this must be like the Seinfeld story. And since this isn't a regularly scheduled HD event my station will not show it like always, geniuses :(
It can't be in HD; SNL was only video tape.
Yeah, this would have to be like the Seinfeld where the clips are SD, but the interviews and reflections are HD. Still, it should be fun.

They had better have Buck Henry on there.
Originally posted by Ken H
It can't be in HD; SNL was only video tape.
Your probably right. Then I wonder why they would advertise it as HD? Maybe it will be an upconvert 4:3?

Watch video preview above. Interviews have black bars.
Ahhh yes, who can forget the Bass-a-matic? Now that's comedy.
NBC airs complete reruns of old SNL's at 2AM (I think) on Sunday mornings. They ran a show from 1979 last week. They sure don't look good upconverted to 1080i, I can tell you that!
Tom Shales from The Washington Post has given this a good review:


'SNL': The Wonder Years
As the Storied Show Turns 30, Documentary Salutes Compelling First Chapter

By Tom Shales

Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page N01

It was the middle of the 1970s. NBC lay in ruins -- sort of like now. Because NBC executives were so busy patching up cracks and potholes in the prime-time schedule, they barely noticed a freaky, feisty little show that premiered on their own network on Saturday, Oct. 11, 1975, at 11:30 p.m.

And the rest is . . . gossip.

Plus some history. For 30 years, but for the occasional year-long lull or two, "Saturday Night Live" has satisfied America's lust for ridicule, satire, topical and political humor, and sophisticated sophomoric jokes. The show's 25th anniversary was celebrated with a mammoth prime-time special, but the 30th season will be observed in slightly subtler ways, including the release of several "best of" DVD collections.

Tonight at 9, NBC will devote two hours to "Live From New York: The First Five Years of Saturday Night Live," an artful and antic documentary that mixes reminiscence from the first generation of "SNL" performers and writers with brief and sometimes iconic clips from their charmed and charming era: the "Land Shark" gobbling up giddy Gilda Radner; Dan Aykroyd posing seductively as "Fred Garvin, Male Prostitute"; and the first anchor of "Weekend Update" uttering the immortal greeting, "I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not."

How brash and bright and bold it seemed then (and looks in retrospect), as if a crowd of hooligans and hippies had managed to take over the network for 90 minutes every Saturday night. Conan O'Brien, who began writing for the show in the late '80s, says that for his generation, "SNL" reflected "the way you were funny with your friends in the lunchroom. It wasn't anything you'd seen on TV before."

And there's one of the major reasons for the success and all the hullabaloo: It wasn't anything you'd seen on TV before. In comedy clubs and from improv groups, yes, but not on television, which was still controlled by martini drinkers.

The man most responsible for creating the show and shielding it from network interference pops up frequently during the special. Lorne Michaels -- young and handsome when the show started, gray and ghostly now -- has been the executive producer for 25 of the show's 30 years, and at this point he could probably recite passages from the show's history in his sleep.

Michaels's ability to launch into instant recollections from one "SNL" era or another was once lampooned on "SNL" itself -- a cartoon made for the 25th anniversary show by the brilliant maverick Robert Smigel, creator of "The Ambiguously Gay Duo." In the beginning, Michaels was a father figure to the band of prodigious talents he assembled in 1975 -- performers who could write and writers who could perform.

Michaels met Chevy Chase, who became the show's first huge star, while waiting in line to see a Monty Python movie. Aykroyd came, as did Michaels, from Canada, our funny friend to the north. Writer Alan Zweibel's previous job was slicing meat at a delicatessen; he wrote jokes for comics in his spare time.

Unknowns all, they soon became, as later cast member Dana Carvey says, "the coolest of the cool, the Beatles of comedy." Many of the stories told about the early days by such cast members as Laraine Newman, guest hosts like Candice Bergen and writers like the great Anne Beatts (who says that in the "SNL" offices she felt "like Wendy on the island of Lost Boys") are very familiar.

They're especially so if you read the 2002 bestseller "Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live." I not only read it, I co-wrote it, with James Andrew Miller. In fact, I was asked to participate in this documentary last year, but by then I was sick to death of "Saturday Night Live."

However, watching the classy and evocative documentary -- produced and directed by Kenneth Bowser -- got me excited all over again. It re-creates the show's crazy reign as the hottest and hippest on TV, not just part of an era but an era in itself.

Sometimes Bowser's approach, coupled with the dour solemnity of Michaels, gets a tad too studious. But there are plenty of funny memories and hilarious clips. It's great fun to again see an old "Nerds" sketch with Bill Murray as Todd trying to make Gilda Radner as Lisa break up on the air. Gilda and Bill were dating at the time. Often what happened on the air reflected what was happening backstage.

Garrett Morris, who looks better in his dotage than any of them, recalls his unforgettable rendition of "Gonna Get Me a Gun and Kill All the Whiteys I See" during auditions for a prison musical. What I never knew, and maybe you didn't, is that the parody was inspired by an actual song that Morris heard on the radio in the South. It was a ******* warbler who used the "n" word where Morris put "whiteys," and she wasn't doing satire.

Conspicuous by their absences among those reminiscing are Jane Curtin and Bill Murray. It's suggested in the documentary that Curtin hated John Belushi, presumably for his hedonistic rampages and self-indulgence. But in the book "Live From New York," Curtin blames Michaels for many of Belushi's problems and indicates that Michaels is the one against whom she holds the grudge. In the documentary, Newman says of Michaels, "As time went on . . . he detached himself in ways that were very hurtful."

Others who do take part but are seen only briefly include Paul Shaffer, now David Letterman's braying sidekick on CBS, and announcer Don Pardo, who recalls that he blew the opening line on the opening show, calling the repertory company "the not for ready for prime time" players.

Dick Ebersol, who now produces the Olympics for NBC and was the executive in charge of "SNL" when it started, says that considering the bedlam that preceded the premiere, "I can see us not having made it." But they did. It's implied in the documentary that all the critics trashed the show, which is erroneous as well as insulting; The Washington Post was supportive from the beginning ("the freshest satire on commercial TV," said a critical piece that ran a month after the premiere), and ye olde New York Times came around eventually.

The documentary treads lightly on the subject of drug use among the "kids" putting on the show. Many of them trod heavily. "The cocaine was a problem," concedes Aykroyd, although he says he never particularly cared for "the powders" himself. Michaels explains his operating philosophy at the time -- that the personal drug lives of the writers and stars, when they weren't working, were their own business.

"That value system," Michaels says tersely, "turned out to be wrong."

Rebellious John Belushi's death by drugs years after leaving the show sobered everybody up.

The party was over, though partying would always be part of the exhausting process and youthful ethos.

Today, with a relatively weak cast (except for Darrell Hammond, Horatio Sanz and the talented women Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph), the show still zings relentlessly along, now and then hitting a high note such as no other TV show would even attempt.

The golden age for "SNL" may be long gone, but "Live From New York" brings it back, glorious and gleaming -- a show that reflected the zeitgeist, then became it.
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You think they will have "Jane, you ignorant slut!"? :D
I am sure they will, labmansid.

More on the show from the LA Times:

'Saturday Night Live's' formative five years
"Live From New York" looks at the beginnings of the 30-year-old NBC tradition.

By Robert Lloyd Los Angeles Times Staff Writer February 18, 2005

This fall "Saturday Night Live" turns 30 — an age past which, the generation that created it liked to say, no one could be trusted. NBC marks the anniversary early, this Sunday, with "Live from New York: The First Five Years of Saturday Night Live," a surprisingly affecting stumble down memory lane. A combination of talking heads, all now way past 30, clips and photos, it tells the story of the series' conception, gestation and early life, from its debut in October 1975 — just before producer Lorne Michaels' 31st birthday — to his departure, with most of the cast, in May 1980. (He would be back five years after that, and is still back.)

Among other things, it's an occasion to remember how good it could be and the range of moods in which it worked, from rage to tenderness — surprisingly, what stands out most about the show in its early years, at least as shown here, is its sweetness. The Bees, the Nerds, the Wild and Crazy Guys, Gilda Radner's brilliant "Judy Miller Show," even John Belushi's Samurai, all have that quality.

And it all seems funnier than it did, say, 10 years ago.

Thirty years is a long time, and especially long in the life of a television show — only "The Tonight Show," among entertainment programs, has outlasted "SNL." Thirty years before "Saturday Night Live," there was no television comedy, there being no television to speak of. When the first episode aired, TV comedy was defined almost entirely by three-camera sitcoms — with Norman Lear and MTM still the power producers — and a few straggling variety show of which only "The Carol Burnett Show" mattered much. Gabe Kaplan of "Welcome Back, Kotter" was the sitcomical face of stand-up; Robin Williams was still three years away from "Mork and Mindy." David Letterman had just moved to L.A. and was selling jokes to Paul Lynde and Bob Hope; he wouldn't make his first appearance on "The Tonight Show" until 1978. Jon Stewart and Conan O'Brien (who wrote for "SNL" from 1987 to '91) were still in junior high school.

Like most revolutions, it looked to history for inspiration; it was a conscious revival of the days of Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows," when TV was live and open to disaster. But where those earlier programs were broadcast live out of necessity — predating, as they did, the use of videotape — "SNL" was live by choice, just to make things exciting. It espoused a rock-concert aesthetic and created a similar kind of community. In a world before TiVo, when even VCRs were rare, the home audience also had to be there when it happened (notwithstanding West Coast tape delay). That it was an actual shared moment made you feel that the show belonged to you. And, unlike "The Tonight Show" or other late-night programs that taped in the afternoon, "SNL" was authentically after-hours. The cast went to work at 11:30 and got off at 1. After which the parties began.

Of course, it didn't come out of nowhere. It was, in a way, the flowering of a line of countercultural comedy that went back into the '60s, to the Firesign Theater and the Credibility Gap (whose Harry Shearer would twice join "SNL"), and to the Harvard Lampoon, which became the National Lampoon, which spawned "The National Lampoon Radio Hour," whose contributors included Belushi, Radner, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray and which was overseen by Michael O'Donoghue, who would be "Saturday Night's" first head writer. It had roots also in the Second City troupes of Chicago and Toronto, which provided most of the original cast and many members afterward, and from the beginning was aligned with a slightly older group of left-of-center actors and comedians including George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, Steve Martin, Elliott Gould, Buck Henry, Eric Idle — producer Michaels first met Chase in line to see "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" — and Richard Pryor, whose now-unlikely "word-association" routine with Chase is an escalating exchange of racial epithets, is in Sunday's retrospective.

It was also, perhaps not coincidentally, a moment for New York. "SNL" premiered smack in the middle of the decade of "Mean Streets" and "Taxi Driver," of "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan." CBGB birthed punk rock in '75; Studio 54 opened two years later. Like much else the city produced, "Saturday Night Live" was glamorous because it operated, or seemed to operate, outside the bounds of polite society. And if "SNL" was not punk itself — as demonstrated by Michaels' banning Elvis Costello from the show for switching songs on the air — it profited from the proximity and punk's air of slash-and-burn renewal.

The celebrity that quickly accrued to the cast was a rock-star celebrity, certified by the Rolling Stone magazine covers, the drugs, the sex, the entourages and the similar work hours. Even the internecine squabbling was part of the rock paradigm — the Who and the Rolling Stones and the Beatles didn't always get along either. Of course, this all turned out badly in the end, especially for Belushi, who died of early fame in 1982. "The First Five Years" is somewhat selective as to the darker details of those times, but neither do those interviewed deny or recant their youthful incaution, which makes the program feel particularly grown-up for prime-time television.

Chase went Hollywood early in the second season; Dan Aykroyd and Belushi left after the fourth. This looked like success at the time, but Chase's film oeuvre tops out with "National Lampoon's Vacation," and Belushi, whose early death confirmed in romantic minds suspicions of his genius, did not fare much better. However much you might love "Animal House," his TV work remains his deepest. Of the early players, only Murray went on to do work that one might call "surprising in a good way," while Aykroyd finally carved a mainstream career as a character actor in "good," and sometimes actually good, movies, and Jane Curtin starred in a couple of hit sitcoms. But watching "The First Five Years," it's hard not to notice all the unfulfilled promise.

Can "Saturday Night Live" still be trusted, now that it's (almost) over 30? "Trusted to do what?" is the question. NBC trusts in its continuing popularity; in January the network renewed Michaels' contract until 2012, by which time this king of youth comedy will be approaching 70. Succeeding generations of "SNL" performers have found favor with succeeding generations of viewers. At the same time, with every passing year it is less likely it will show you something you haven't seen before, if you are old enough to have seen things before. It has left the margins and become the mainstream, which is, after all, just the way things go. The most exciting time of any enterprise is when it's new, when the page is blank and might contain anything at all.

But it was also the times. There was anger in the air then, and love, where now there is only irony.
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I bet most of the show will be SD shots. It will still be worth watching just to laugh at the old clips.
I could watch a whole show of just the Church Lady.
It's sort of fun to watch the show progress over the years. Rehearsals are always interesting to observe, either on closed circuit or passing through the studio. My first job at the net was to redo the dimmer system for the studio. 850 dimmer per circuit, which was the largest at the time.

(Brooklyn studios would have been around 1600, but they decided it was too expensive, P&G- Another World.)

I even worked the show for a few years when they broke up the engineering department the first time.

Originally posted by fredfa
and Richard Pryor, whose now-unlikely "word-association" routine with Chase is an escalating exchange of racial epithets, is in Sunday's retrospective.
I have that full episode, less commercials. I bought it on beta in 1983 when I bought my first VCR. Even for SNL, that was a strange one. Gil Scott Heron was the musical guest and Pryor's wife at the time, a lovely lady of Caucasian persuasion (2nd I think she was), read poems. Pryor did some Mudbone.

But looking back on that word association skit, the way it plays out, you don't know how much is skit and how much is real. It starts out dog, cat and after one or two of those, Chase says "************" and Pryor gives his typical "say what" look and says, "say what?" and Chase repeats "************." Pryor, carefully replies "whitety." Civil rights only had been past for 10 years at this point and this type of exchange was still fairly common in many parts of the country, which of course is why they did it. Chase says something else along that same line but more intense and the audience is now getting nervous with a little ha ha kind of laugh and Pryor shows he is getting mad and says "Honky." There is another exchange where Pryor is starting to figure it out and replies "Honky, honky." It is now hard to tell if he is trying not to laugh or he is getting mad by doing facial jestures that could be taken for anger. Chase's facial expression turns to anger and then pops the "N" word (wonder if NBC will let that pop out in prime time?) and Pryor says "Dead honky!" silence from the audience and then Chase give a nervous laugh of OK, a couple of more lines and then immediately goes to black and commercial.

How much of that was real and how much was to make the audience squirm, I have never heard, but it was predictably very intense. You just didn't get that racially intense with a white actor and black actor on TV and certainly NOT LIVE TV. That is what Good Times and All In The Family were for. They could do scenes like that and get away with it with silly over the top comedy relief. This was real life in your face stuff that hit too close to home. If I remember correctly, got to pull my beta back out and look at that episode, that skirt was the last one performed that night. It ran about 3 to 5 minutes in whole. If it wasn't it was in the last half hour where the garbage skirts go.

I haven't watched SNL regularly in 15 years and the last SNL I saw was the opening monologue of the SNL after 9/11 with Rudy. The current SNL is not the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players" I remember.
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I always liked Mr. Robinsons Neithborhood with Eddie Murthy and loved the Sumari Deli. Don't forget land shark
Most anything with Steve Martin was exceptional.
Anyone who grew up with nothing to do on Saturday nights other than watch this show should read Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live (I thought it was titled "Backstage with Saturday Night" when I read it ten years ago). It has a lot of interesting info about how the show came together and then struggled along under Dick Ebersol. The book unfortunately ends right when Lorne Michaels came back to the show. It also showed how desperate NBC was for any kind of hit show and how the producers used that to get away with a lot stuff that would have gotten other people fired.

I have to wonder about some of the book's anecdotes. It claims that there were several cases where cast members and guests were in near fist-fights before and during shows. They'd have you believe that Rob Reiner's "I said no bees!" tantrum was completely improvised, that BIll Murray and Chevy Chase nearly had a take-down brawl minutes before singing together during Chase's guest monologue, that Hell's Angels were ready to infiltrate and distrupt shows if their demands weren't met, and several other stories that would be believable if they had come from the mouths of people who had been there.
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