Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Live From New York, by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller

Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller

“October 11, 1975. A date which will live in comedy.”

I’ve watched Saturday Night Live off and on since high school. Dennis Miller is still still my favorite Weekend Update anchor (with Norm Macdonald and Chevy Chase close behind), Phil Hartman was the definitive Reagan, and Church Chat was special. Of course, the previous seasons were in heavy rotation as well, and Roseanne Rosannadanna, the Blues Brothers, and the (Candygram) Land Shark quickly became old friends. The more recent casts aren’t as consistently interesting to me (with the notable exception of the Celebrity Jeopardy! sketches) and until Tina Fey came along there hadn’t been a funny woman in the cast since Julia Sweeney. Regardless of the recent downturn, SNL is an important part of our culture and I when I came across this book, subtitled “An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live,” I couldn’t resist picking it up.

At over 600 pages this is a hefty tome, but so interesting I had a tough time putting it down. Instead of a single narrative, we are presented with excerpts of interviews with cast members, writers, executives, and hosts spanning the first thirty years of the show. The excerpts are reasonably short (usually two or three to a page) and loosely linked; when someone mentions something memorable, say when Jean Doumanian took over from Lorne Michaels for a few years, several people will reminisce about the same topic giving us a multi-faceted view. We learn that the original cast was amazingly promiscuous and drug-addled, that pretty much nobody likes Chevy Chase, and that Janeane Garofalo resents her time as a cast member. We hear about the ongoing battles with the network censors, the insane schedules the writers keep to create the sketches, and who the favorite (Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken) and hated (Steven Segal, Milton Berle) hosts are. We also hear about some of the most memorable events of the show, such as when Norm Macdonald accidentally cursed on the air or Sinead O’Connor ripped a photo of the Pope or Nora Dunn’s feud with Andrew Dice Clay. All in all, I found this a fairly honest examination of what happens behind the scenes of a venerated institution. Only one improvement comes to mind: more cowbell!

First Sentence:
Like all show business successes, Saturday Night Live had many fathers.

No comments:

Search This Blog