“To me there’s no creativity without boundaries.” – Lorne Michaels
Saturday Night Live has been a steady companion for me since the early 90’s when Kevin “Mr. Subliminal” Nealon sat behind the desk of Weekend Update.
Watching the 40th anniversary special brought back so many fond memories. To be honest, I don’t remember seeing the sketches the first time. When they showed clips of Stuart Smalley, Matt Foley and Deep Thoughts By Jack Handey I got pretty emotional. I realized how that show’s been around since before I was born… And it’s still here!
The anniversary show itself was, well, decent. It was really great to see the show’s impact on entertainment and it’s great that they celebrated it with so much joy. I’d hoped for more solid writing and sketches so at first I felt slightly “meh” about it all.
Then I had a chance to reflect and started smiling. Wasn’t it exactly the way it should be? It was just what EVERY episode they’ve delivered had been. Some good jokes, some not funny and then that one really great joke to tie it together.
An old monologue with Eddie Murphy from ’84 summed up what SNL is all about.
Not everything on the show is hysterical. I know lots of times they tell you we have a great show, they come out, and they lie to you. You sit there and you see some things that suck. Tonight is the same. – Eddie Murphy hosting SNL on 15th of December ’84
This is something all creatives can learn from. I also think that this is the same reason people still tune in to SNL even 40 years later. They’re still aiming for that perfection but accepting that it can’t all be gold.
However, I have to say that the writing and quality keeps on going up. We might not notice it from one season to the next but it’s constantly getting more and more polished. It’s really rare to see complete crap getting on. Even when it doesn’t work you can tell that the craft is there. Something that wasn’t really there when I started watching the show.
Let’s take a look into what the week looks like behind the scenes of SNL, shall we?
Monday: Pitch meeting
The writers, actors and host meet in Lorne Michaels’ office. Apparently they somehow manage to cram something like 30 people in there. I guess they’re aiming for an “intimate” session. The host is presented with ideas for sketches and the host has their say.
The writers get down to business, this usually means going way into the early hours of Wednesday morning. The sessions have been what really solidifies a sense of unity between the writers, their badge of honor.
Wednesday: Read Through & Set Design
The sketches are read out aloud. Usually something like 40 (!!!) of them. So, yeah, there’s something to think about when you watch the show. Sometime in the evening/night work on the set design begins!
Thursday & Friday: Set Building & Rehearsals
Nothing much to say about this one. You had to be there!
Saturday: Dress Rehearsals and… SHOWTIME!
The dress rehearsal starts at 8 p.m. One would imagine that this is just a run through and that everyone goes off and just gets their head straight before the show. Well, this would be wrong. So very, very wrong. In fact, the 90 minutes left after the dress rehearsal is when they decide which sketches to air, which to cut and which to rewrite. Um, what? Yes, it’s THAT seat of the pants.
I guess that’s the reason we love it. There’s so much creativity bouncing around within the boundaries of what SNL is and when it’s just about to poke out of the box, that’s where the magic happens.