S.O.S.N.L. The Summer of Starmaker

Welcome to the Summer ‘17 annex of S.O.S.N.L.; this section is dedicated to sketches that appear on the “Starmaker Home Video” SNL releases that were big in the 1990s. Before you read anything, here’s a quick recap of the rules:

1. ALL Sketches featured (Except during our mid-point “Commercial” break) will come From Starmaker’s cuts only; they did not put on Entire episodes, so the choices for the sketches featured will be intentionally limited.

 

2. The Order of Tapes we go in will be as follows:

*“Annual” tapes (1975-1994) first.
*Then “Host” Tapes (in Alphabetical Order by Last Name).
*Then we take our “Commercial” break (One Live sketch & One Filmed a day per 5 year period).
*Then the “Classic Years” tapes.
*Finally the “Special Edition” tapes.

 

3. Unlike S.O.S.N.L. which features continuous updates at the top of the page, this page’s updates will be in “Descending” order—in other words, you have to Keep Scrolling Down to see something new the next day.

 

4. Once we cover the final sketch on Sept. 22nd, this page will NEVER update again…consider this something I wanted to get out of my system.

 

So, on that note, let’s begin…


STAR 75

We begin with the 1975 “annual” tape; and with it, some of SNL’s first episodes. But before we get to the actual sketch, I should point out that when I first got this tape, I was slightly disappointed that the Very first episode with George Carlin was not one of the ones included…but in the passing years, I realized that maybe it was all for the best that the first 3 shows were not included here. More so, it actually seemed fitting that the first show they show on the tape was Episode 4 with Candice Bergen—partly because in Shales/Miller, a number of people (including Lorne) were quoted to saying how the Bergen episode was probably the first time the show went through what is now it’s “Normal” format. Carlin’s show got all the nerves out of the system, Paul Simon’s show the week after was about 80% musical performances, and Rob Reiner’s show was hampered with bad/overstretched timing. So to that respect, yes, I see why the Starmaker people decided to lead off with Bergen, Lily Tomlin & Richard Pryor’s episodes. With that said…

FORD

PRESIDENTIAL PRESS CONFERENCE (Original Airdate: 11/8/1975) – There were a number of firsts during this first season, but we begin with some of the show’s most important ones—the origins of political humor, and of Chevy Chase’s “Non-Impression” impression of President Gerald Ford. For the record, I can only KINDA see what was so funny about this back in the day—after all, it was making fun of a then recent incident when the real Ford slipped on some wet stairs while exiting Air Force One. But then, SNL took the ball & ran with it (oh wait, it’s ’75, I guess that should be “NBCsSN”…which also explains the joke about Harvey Cosell” Chevy makes, but that’s another can of worms for the future). It was at that point that they came up with yet another first; that of an idea they would eventually pound into the ground until people were sick of it (Not counting “The Bees”, nobody liked them anyway). Eventually, they would learn to be a little more creative with their openings after Chevy left a year later, but back then I’m sure the show and the audience was still trying to find a natural rhythm that both would be in tune with.


Continuing with the Lily Tomlin episode, there was surprisingly very little to use. We already did a Chevy as Ford/Fall sketch, We hardly ever do the monologues, there’s an Update segment, some commercial parodies, and the show ends with a “Bees” musical number. So by process of Elimination, here is/are the Only sketch(es) from Starmaker’s cut that meet our standards…

BEETHOVEN

BEETHOVEN (Original Airdate: 11/22/1975) – If I’m not mistaken, these sketches mark the first time the show had what’s called a “runner sketch” (or as I call it, a “3-Pack”). I don’t want to say this is the forefather to the “MacGruber” sketches decades later, but they dynamic is there; one concept done 3 times in a show with each installment trying to one-up the last. Beethoven (Belushi) is having trouble coming up with his next symphony while his wives and/or chambermaids (Gilda & Laraine) check in on him periodically; Afterwards, Beethoven comes up with a piece of music that happens to be a little ahead of its time…like 200 years ahead. You don’t see the first one on the Starmaker tape, because the first song Beethoven plays is Tony Orlando’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”, and I’m certain Starmaker couldn’t afford the astronomical licensing fees to use Mr. Orlando’s music (I assume…doesn’t his house constantly need saving?—you thought I was gonna use the “Simpsons” joke, didn’t ‘ya.). However, we do get parts 2 & 3 where the punchlines are The Temptations’ “My Girl”, and Ray Charles’ “What I Say”—I guess Motown Records was having a Fire Sale in the 90s. Anyway, Like many of the show’s first sketches, the concept couldn’t be any more bare bones. But as time went on, the “3-Pack” sketches would become more refined, tighter, and have an even bigger payoff once we saw that 3rd act.


One of the downsides of talking about the sketches on the Starmaker tapes is that they often filled them with “THE” sketches. Ones that many of us know by heart, ones that have been analyzed to death, ones if/when our Commander-in-Tweet ever pushes the wrong button and our charred remains are discovered by aliens centuries later, these sketches will probably become a part of their metal tablet encyclopedias (I assume). Having said that, I might as well add my Two cents on one of SNL’s earliest iconic sketches…

WORD

WORD ASSOCIATION (Original Airdate: 12/13/1975) – Several years ago, NBC & SNL decided to re-open a weekly broadcast of a classic episode of the show. However, this wasn’t the same as the “Classic SNL” they aired at 3 in the morning; this aired in primetime under the banner name “SNL Vintage”. What makes these re-runs different from the other ones is the opening bumper they would use to introduce the episode; they would list the show we were about to watch, followed by a small text of historical significance related to the episode. I bring this up because Richard Pryor’s episode was the first one they aired under the “Vintage” name, and their “Historical Text” mentioned that there was going to be certain language in the episode that may be politically incorrect in this day & age, but then goes on to say something along the lines of “Things were different in the 70s”. If you haven’t already guessed by now that I’m talking about use of the N-Word in this sketch, you probably should’ve read more textbooks in school. Disregarding that one moment (which, BTW, might’ve been the reason NBC looked for a “7 second Delay” in this episode), this sketch still remains highly significant in the world of comedy. What I feel is the most interesting part of the sketch aside from the escalading comedy/tension between Pryor & Chevy, was the fact that this sketch was actually written by someone who wasn’t on the Writing Staff; so we have another first I think, the first “Guest Writer” sketch. Not just any Writer, but the one & only Mr. Paul Mooney—who would collaborate with Pryor for many years, and then a few years later would introduce himself all over again thanks to “Chappelle’s Show” (To say nothing about his writing for “In Living Color” and his long & storied career in Stand-up). This sketch also solidified an important rule for SNL, that every once in a while it’s OK to not only “push the envelope” in terms of content, but also that it’s OK to take that envelope and run it through a Paper Shredder…as long as they don’t do it 100% of the time.


STAR 76

Moving on to 1976, but still in Season 1…But first, a little explanation. As you can see, the cover of this tape box is a little different than the ones we are going to be using through the rest of the summer. Although “Starmaker” was responsible for the release of SNL tapes in Retail stores, a year or so earlier you could ONLY get the videos through everybody’s favorite Mail-Order service before Guthy-Renker came along, Time-Life Video. This doesn’t change the fact that the shows on Those Tapes are the exact same as the ones on the Starmaker tapes, but I wanted to bring that up in case I couldn’t find a Specific Starmaker title, and anybody had any questions about it later on. Now that we got That out of the way; At this point in the series, The show has now found its identity, but there was still a little fine tuning to be had. Fortunately, there are still moments in the Early days that are worth talking about…

GODFATHER

GODFATHER THERAPY SESSION (Original Airdate: 1/10/1976) – I know, I know, it’s another “Iconic” sketch that everybody has talked about to death; But sometimes you have to watch things with & without Nostalgia Goggles in order to fully appreciate something. I mention this because even though this is one of Belushi’s early signature pieces, the thing few people notice about it is that the actual “Godfather” aspect of the sketch is only around for half of its running time. After Belushi does his take on Don Corleone’s “Orange” death, there’s still about 3 minutes left in the sketch with Belushi dead on the floor. Thus leading to (possibly) another first; that of the sketch that lasts a lot longer than it should’ve, when in theory, the sketch should’ve just stopped right there. But nope, it goes on for a few more minutes with the group (Including Laraine Newman’s “Sherry”; or as I call her, “The Original Californian”) analyzing what they just saw in a somewhat frank manner. This was one of the early hallmarks of writer Michael O’Donoghue’s fabled “Dark” humor; yet compared to the stuff he wrote for the National Lampoon & later his “Mondo Video”, this is actually kinda tame in comparison—but then again, this Is network television Mr. Mike is writing for, you can’t freak too many people out all at once.


MECHANIC

MECHANIC’S BEDTIME STORY (Original Airdate: 1/17/1976) – While I promise to get to an actual sketch with Buck Henry in it when I cover his Starmaker tape in a few weeks, I wanted to focus on Cast-driven sketches in the “Annuals” just to show how much has changed over time. Take for instance, the “Slice of Life” sketches that would appear in the first 5 years—I’m not sure who wrote this one; but when in doubt, I’ll pin it on longtime writer Marilyn Suzanne Miller who probably wrote slices of life better than anybody else on the show (Though please correct me if she didn’t do this one…now that I think about it, this could also be a Rosie Shuster or Anne Beats piece). Sketches like these are not overtly “funny”, but they do give the audience a sense of “Oh yeah, I’ve been there”. In this case, I can only imagine how many mechanic friends of mine who have children try to peel away from their gruff exteriors in order to become more nurturing for them. Such is the case when Aykroyd just put in a long day of work, but is then talked into telling his young daughter (Gilda) a bedtime story; only using mechanic’s jargon to help tell it—and considering Aykroyd has been known it be a bit of a gearhead, the descriptions in his story come in handy in making it sound relatable. Like many slice of life sketches—especially ones where Gilda plays a child—it’s cute, innocent & harmless, especially considering the era. Something that I could Also say for our next sketch…


SLUMBER

SLUMBER PARTY (Original Airdate: 5/8/1976) – Not unlike the “Mechanic” sketch, this too is a slice of life (one that I can actually CONFIRM was written by Marilyn Suzanne Miller), only this time the subject matter is amped up a little despite the otherwise innocent scene. The female cast is joined by (host) Madeline Kahn, where they portray a gaggle of girls trying to understand “The Birds & The Bees”. Again, at some point in our young lives (male or female) we’ve all been there—trying to figure out what it’s all about before we reach a certain age. You know those old stories about The Stork dropping a Diamond into a Cabbage Patch, and then that Cabbage is molded into a Bun that’s baked in an oven, and then suddenly a Baby is born? It’s pretty much Those kind of stories—only actual sexual mechanical terms are being implied without being overtly said. Remember, even though it was Late Night TV, it was Still the 70s. Chances are, the word “Penis” would’ve caused 30 Rock to implode back then. So with that, the content had to be implied instead of expressed. Otherwise, thanks to 40+ years of hindsight, this too is comparatively innocent in this day & age. Still though, it’s pretty harmless compared to what we frequently see on the show today—ESPECIALLY in recent years.


STAR 77

Moving on to the 1977 tape; Chevy’s out, Murray’s in, and “NBC’s Saturday Night” loses its “NBC” training wheels (though they wouldn’t add the “Live” until much later in the ’76-’77 season). Speaking Murray, that’s our subject for today…

MURRAY

BILL MURRAY’S APOLOGY (Original Airdate: 3/19/1977) – Of all the “Iconic” moments the show has had, this one is probably the most “Personal” ever put together. At the same time, it’s also something that could’ve ONLY worked with a person like Bill Murray—others have tried to have a similar moment to this in years since, but they all pale in comparison to the true sincerity & vulnerability that Murray expresses here under the guise that he’s “not making it” on the show after coming on mid-season to Replace Chevy. He does so by doing something that would seem rather alien to audiences today, he—GASP—talks about himself. He does so in a way that reminds people that those who are cast members (ESPECIALLY those from the first 5 years) are not 100% “Stars of the Show”—at least, not yet. Murray’s star was certainly going to be on the rise at some point; but remember, he was actually playing catch-up with all of the other cast—who by Season 2 were already well established; and with Chevy gone, each of them had their own chance to grab the title of “Star”. Murray’s sincerity may not have made him a Star overnight (I think “Nick the Lounge Singer” did that for him), but him giving the audience a chance to look into a more human side of Television was just as important—and that ultimately made Murray one of the more “Approachable” not ready for prime-time players (just ask him each time he tends a neighborhood bar for charity)


OVAL

AN OVAL OFFICE (Original Airdate: 4/9/1977) – First thing’s first, let me give you a few minutes to read up on who Julian Bond was, I’ll wait…………..Y’Ready?……….OK, let’s continue. At this point in the series, Political humor only started to bloom—we had yet to see how mighty an Oak it would be decades later. So for the most part, sketches where we see the doings of what the President (any president) is up to is less about political humor, and is more “Slice of Life-y” than it lets on. Take for instance, this occasion where President Carter (Aykroyd) is meeting up with his home state’s fellow politicos (Garrett as one, and the late Julian Bond essentially playing himself). Garrett & Bond try to convince Aykroyd’s Carter to focus less on international issues, and more on the domestic ones. But while they try to get the President to focus, Carter tries to distract them with some home-state reminiscing—including showing of a model of his childhood home…made from Peanut Shells. This seems like a complete 180 from the Carter portrayed a few weeks earlier in “Ask President Carter”; Aykroyd takes his Carter from “Detailed Genius” to “Homesick Hillbilly” in a speed fast enough to give you whiplash. Then again, considering the Real Carter was a little too hard to pinpoint during the first few months of his presidency, the show might’ve had a little trouble in figuring out how to play him in the years ahead. On the other hand, at least Aykroyd’s Carter was Far more accurate than Chevy’s Ford ANY Day of the week despite not having anything distinctive about him aside from his voice. I mean, think about it; Ford fell down, Reagan was doddering, Bush Sr. said “Nah Gah Dah”, Clinton chased the skirts, Bush Jr. was an Idiot. Carter (along with Both Portrayals of Obama, and possibly Mike Pence in 2019) was probably the least impactful Presidential impression the show has had…so far.


This next episode is going to mark one of a number of times where the episode will actually repeat on varying Starmaker tapes somewhere down the line; some of the other volumes may have More of the episode to show, so that’s why it’s OK to do one sketch now and another one later. With that said; here is the first of MANY Steve Martin sketches…

PLUG

PLUG (Original Airdate: 2/26/1977) – I know I said I was going to focus on “ensemble” sketches before focusing on Host moments later on; but it’s almost impossible to not talk about how Steve just fit in with everybody else over time—why else would he be considered an “Honorary Cast Member” after so many years? A piece like “Plug” was an early example of just how indispensable Steve would be no matter which era of the show he finds himself in. Steve plays a doctor alerting the parents (Jane & Bill) of their comatose child (Belushi) that there is virtually no hope of revival, and that the machines keeping Belushi alive are costing a fortune. So, the option of Pulling the plug on him is brought up. Jane is aghast about doing it, but Dr. Steve & Bill consider doing it in a way that is both dignified, yet casual—“accidentally”, they say. What follows is about a minute of Physical comedy that even Carol Burnett would be proud of, as Dr. Steve & Bill just can’t seem to unplug the plug in spite of getting tangled up in various cords. Belushi eventually gets out of the coma, and then gives a performance I can only call a cross between Louis CK and a 10 year old boy (or maybe Louie as a 10 year old). Cap it off with Steve’s trademark “EXCUUUUUUUUUUUSSSSSSSSE MEEEEEEEEEEE!!!”, and you pretty much have a “textbook” SNL sketch; one that have seen a number of variants over the years—that of the “Bad Doctor” sketch. Of course, the doctors portrayed in sketches would only get worse over time; but then again, you have to evolve in order to survive, right?


 


To Be Continued thru 9/22/2017…