Monday, October 16, 2017

"Did you watch SNL this week?"

Have you noticed that now every week people really look forward to SNL? Industry websites immediately post the opening and any stand-out sketches. It’s weekly overnight ratings are posted as soon as they’re available. Certain sketches go viral. People talk about it on Monday morning around the watercooler at work (instead of being at their desks reading blogs like they should be).

In other words it’s become a “thing.”

I’ve been lucky enough to work on a couple of hit shows and I can’t tell you how utterly intoxicating it was to be a part of a “thing.” There were years on MASH and CHEERS where I knew that each episode was highly anticipated and had an impact. We got letter every week. Most were nice; some were outraged. Fewer trolls because they had to pay for postage. But viewers were paying attention.

How many shows today are produced and aired in relative obscurity? And it takes the same amount of time and effort to produce a show only relatives watch on a network no one has ever heard of than to produce THIS IS US.

Even the first year of CHEERS, when we THOUGHT no one was watching, we averaged 20 million people a week. The show was slowly starting to catch on to where we thought we were an underground hit. 20 million viewers was considered “under the radar” back then. Now the landscape has become so fractured that certain shows on certain platforms shown nationally are seen by 100,000 people. I don’t understand the economics. How can they afford to shell out millions for shows that get way fewer views than cats coughing up fur balls on YouTube?

Happily, I can say I never took riding the zeitgeist for granted. Maybe it was because of my radio background where listeners only paid attention when you gave out contest information, but I appreciated and savored every moment of being on hit shows.

For everybody working on SNL – I’m sure it’s a grind, and with higher expectations comes additional pressure – but you’re in a moment of time here. It will pass. Enjoy every second of it while you can. (And keep going after that fat fuck – both of ‘em.)


Brian said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: My birthday is today (October 16). Have you had any memorable birthdays on the set?

ninja3000 said...

"I don’t understand the economics. How can they afford to shell out millions for shows that get way fewer views than cats coughing up fur balls on YouTube?"

That's an easy one, Ken: The cable network I was worked for blew through $100-million over the course of two seasons, and didn't score any hits. So they fired about 450 of us to make up for it. Everyone except the VP of programming, of course.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Obviously, SNL has become a political program.

By this I mean, all of the talk has been on its politics. Gone, it seems, are the days it went "viral" because of character sketches: Wayne's World, Cone Heads, Roseanna RoseannaDanna, Ed Grimley, etc.

Sure the politics against all things Trump (especially against the Trumpian females) has boosted ratings but it also pushes away a large crop of the audience from watching it (including independents).

tavm said...

When the show began in '75 (By the way, congrats for the original cast getting the Television Hall of Fame award recently), I remember stumbling into the show as a 7/8-year-old child. It wasn't until the 5th season was almost over that I watched it regularly. So I was there when 19-year-old Eddie Murphy saved the WORST SEASON EVER (Jean Doumanian had no business taking over for Lorne Michaels), and made me a fan of his for life. Fast forward to Billy Crystal, Dennis Miller, Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, SECOND WORST SEASON (1994-95 when Lorne tried to pull a Dick Ebersol by casting established stars), Darrel Hammond, Tina Fey, and now Alec Baldwin hilariously playing the current president, I think the show's as pertinent now as when it started. Unfortunately, my TV reception doesn't cover NBC but I still get to watch the Cold Open and "Weekend Update" on YouTube so all's not lost...

Andrew said...

I remember an interview with Ian Abercrombie, who played Elaine's boss Mr. Pitt for a few episodes of Seinfeld. He knew it was a popular show, but didn't realize the impact it was having. One day he went to a restaurant. After finishing his meal, a waiter brought him a Snickers bar on a plate, with a fork and knife. The entire restaurant applauded. It was a revelation to him that he was part of something special. He said, "That episode only aired the day before. and everyone in that restaurant was in on the joke."

Unknown said...

One of the few good thing about Trump's presence in the Oval Office is the comedic fodder it has provided for SNL...and yes, MASH and Cheers were truly Must See TV before that phrase was created by the NBC promo brain trust.

MikeN said...

Should have been obvious that SNL would do better when it was attacking the government rather than the government's opponents. Unfortunately, they will not continue this when Democrats are ruling. We will get the Seth Meyers court jester routine instead of Stephen Colbert's attack on Bush at the White House correspondents association dinner.

By Ken Levine said...

Oh, please may that happen SOON.

Craig Gustafson said...

To the Bumble Bee Pedant:

"Sure the politics against all things Trump (especially against the Trumpian females) has boosted ratings but it also pushes away a large crop of the audience from watching it (including independents). "

I don't understand. SNL should dial down the politics in order to push back the millions who are watching them now and win back the smaller number who weren't really watching them before?

Craig said...

Bumble Bee Pendant - it's not simply politics, it's also taking the cartoon character that is Trump and running with it. His behavior, speech and policies give them so much to work with each week.

Glenn said...

Ken, possible Friday question, regarding viewer mail: Do you have any letters you might be able to share here (after removing names and addresses, of course)? I'd love to see what MASH fans were writing in about at the height of the show ("Where can I find that dress Klinger wore last night?")

Todd Everett said...

Many moons ago, I went into a bank -- not my usual branch -- to cash a check. The teller (I realize all these are foreign concepts to many, today) took a close look and said I looked familiar. To the best of my knowledge, we'd never met.

Later, I discovered that the Dating Game I had taped a couple of months before had aired yesterday -- evidently, she'd had the day off.

Very strange. Between that and the occasional similar reactions I received for appearances on a local public access TV show, I had some small idea of what real celebrities enjoyed/had to put up with on a daily basis. No thanks.

gottacook said...

tavm: As Al Franken put it in 1981, just after the abbreviated Doumanian era ended: "No English-speaking person could do a worse job than Jean."

Peter said...

Ken, I read this article recently:

Take heart from the fact that even Trump's advisers are now seriously concerned and that senior Republicans are discussing how to remove him. It might not seem much right now, but if even his own team around him believe he's unhinged, then it's a matter of when, not if, they remove him.

Of course, it would mean Pence becomes president, who's only preferable not because he's a good guy, which he isn't, but because he isn't a thin skinned manchild who wants to provoke a nuclear war via Twitter.

My preference would be for Pence to stand aside and let Rex Tillerson take over. I'm not a fan of the guy but he's infinitely superior to Trump and Pence by dint of the fact he apparently referred to Trump as a moron and he has said the US should not provoke a conflict with North Korea or abandon the Iran agreement. He seems to be the sole sensible cabinet appointment and I think most people would sleep easier if he was president instead of Trump. And then it's just a case of riding it out till 2020.

blinky said...

What’s really missing with the absence of a “thing“ is that there’s no shared experience any more among the general population. Even going back to petticoat Junction and Greenacres with Arnold the pig. Everybody talked about it. Now everybody talks, and nobody listens.

Bob Sharp said...

"My preference would be for Pence to stand aside and let Rex Tillerson take over."

If Pence stepped aside, the presidency would fall to Speaker Paul Ryan. If Ryan stepped aside it would go to Senate President Pro Tem Orrin Hatch. And it's all moot anyway, because the Republican controlled House will never impeach Trump, and if they did, he wouldn't be convicted.

Brian Drake said...

SNL has only become a "thing" with people who gate Trump and need a reason not to slash their wrists. Examples may occur to you.

Unknown said...

I believe myself to be an Independent.
I generally vote for whoever I think will do the least damage.
My distaste for Mr. Trump dates back to his emergence as a public figure in (I think) the '80s, when he was merely a young aspiring real estate swindler.
As he aged (badly) into the grotesque figure of the present day, it was inevitable that comedians would lock onto his quirks and crotchets, as they do with every public figure (true believers to the contrary, nobody is ever free and clear of jokes).

May I make a suggestion to everyone here (which I fully expect to be disregarded)?
Stop referring to Mr. Trump's supporters as his base.
I was never all that good at higher math, but I do remember enough Geometry to know that the base of any structure is the largest part - the part that supports the rest.
What Mr. Trump has isn't a base - it's a niche.
And as he's slowly discovering, it's not anywhere nearly as large as he thinks it is.
If Mr. Trump succeeds at splitting the Republican Party, he'll be the one who loses half his audience.
Don't be thrown by Mr. Trump's loudly cheering crowds; those are mainly "papered houses".
Same with the illiterate blog commenters; those sites are the home of repeat business.

I once again remind you all that the only name I have called Mr. Trump has been his own.
As to his place in history -
- let's just say that on another plane, the shades of Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Warren Harding, and several others I could name, can all rest a bit easier ...

Unknown said...

Just read Peter's comment:

If Pence stands aside, the next in line of Presidential succession is the House Speaker, Paul Ryan.
And if he steps aside, next up is the President Pro Tem of the Senate, Orrin Hatch.
The Cabinet comes next after that.

*Fun Quiz:

- How exactly did Orrin Hatch become the President Pro Tem of the Senate? *

Earl Boebert said...

Second Peter's motion on Tillerson.

I've studied offshore drilling (I post under my own name, and Google can be your friend) and I came out of the exercise with new respect for Tillerson.

When he was CEO of Exxon Mobile, there arose an internal dispute about the safety of a well they were drilling in the Gulf. The dispute reached his desk. He ordered the drilling stopped and the well plugged, thereby walking away from a $150 million investment. The business press snarked things like "Has Exxon Mobil Lost Its Nerve?"

Some months later the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo project of BP blew up into the worst man-made ecological disaster in US history.

You can say a lot of things about Tillerson but he's not stupid and he's not a gambler. IMHO that makes him a far better candidate for the person whose finger is on the nuclear trigger.

Tammy said...

blinky - "Now everybody talks, and nobody listens" - wow, that is a very accurate description. Thanks.

ADmin said...

Not that anyone cares what I think. :) Buuuut, here's my 2 cents anyway. ;) I had a confusing conversation with a woman who was a Trump supporter shortly after the Orange Toddler was elected. She commented, "I guess they [SNL] will have to stop making political jokes now that Trump is President." I immediately questioned if she'd ever even watched the show before.

I might ask the same thing of those who say they are all political now.

SNL has ALWAYS been political. I guess you could argue degrees, but I remember Chevy Chase doing Ford gags and Dan Ackroyd doing regular silly Jimmy Carter impressions. Not to mention Phil Hartman's brilliant Bill Clinton shtick.

That said, I'm one of the folks who has stopped watching the show. Not because of the politics, but because they milk jokes like a farmer on a Wisconsin Holstein.

Todd Everett said...

Ken: thought you might find this interesting: "Kevin Can Wait" writers admit they've run out ideas after the first season.

Liggie said...

Don't forget "Friends", and if even you include reality, "Survivor", "American Idol" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" in their early seasons.

Myles said...

It's always been about politics when politics were in the headlines. Not their fault that a certain someone LOVES to stay in the headlines by doing and saying things that HAVE to be commented on. There are still tons of popular sketches and characters that go viral that don't include Trump talk. He's also taken over every other news show, talk show, sports show, etc. Can't escape him. Far beyond politics at this point.

Myles said...


Cowboy Surfer said...

Larry, can I finish, can I finish, can I finish?

Go ahead Ross, the floors all yours.

Larry are you going keep interrupting me or can I finish?

Unknown said...

Interesting timing, Ken, as the last SNL was one of its weaker episodes, IMO :)

-Dave, who's seen almost every SNL since 1975

Tom Galloway said...

As to how Orrin Hatch became third in the Presidential succession line, it's become the custom (not, as far as I know, law) that the longest serving member of the majority party in the Senate be named its President Pro Tempore. Yes, this means Strom Thurmond was, for several years, third in the line. It generally means the holder is older, sometimes significantly, than the oldest President we've ever had. Yes, this is really messed up.

Anonymous said...

When has SNL not been political? Ackroyd as Nixon {with Belushi as Kissinger}, Chevy as Ford falling down and hitting himself with golf clubs(which was kind of insulting), Ackroyd as Carter, Phil Hartman as Reagan (and Clinton), Carvey as Bush 1, Darrell Hammond as Clinton, Ferrell as Bush 2, and the guy I can't remember as a bad Obama! It's satire people and it existed long before trump showed up. Janice B.

Angela said...

."SNL has ALWAYS been political. I guess you could argue degrees, but I remember Chevy Chase doing Ford gags and Dan Ackroyd doing regular silly Jimmy Carter impressions. Not to mention Phil Hartman's brilliant Bill Clinton shtick."

This! Why on earth are people acting like SNL getting political is something new here? It's not. I know that and I wasn't even alive yet when SNL debuted.

And for people who think they're biased in favor of one party over another, well, first off, during the entire time SNL has been on, we've had 5 Republican presidents and 3 Democratic ones. So is it bias, or just the simple fact that one party's been running things more often than another the past 40 plus years?

For another, as noted above, they can and do make fun of Democratic presidents, too. And even if and when we have a competent, decent president of either party in office, keep in mind, there's always Congress to make fun of, too!

Edward said...


I believe that a major reason that SNL became relevant again (after 8 years of lame PC Obama) is that Donald Trump tweeted and publicly commented negatively on the Baldwin impression. The traditional rule is for politicians to not comment or acknowledge that they watched any program that takes a shot at them. However, with Trump stomping his feet (and thumbs) he made SNL major news and we all were waiting for the next show knowing that the Republican candidate for President will meltdown on Twitter criticizing the show.

Unknown said...

Congratulations to Tom Galloway, for his correct answer to the Senate PPT question!
Tom, of course, wins The Pat On The Back, The Hearty Handshake, and The Warm Glow Of Victory!

Thanks for playing!

Mike said...

I don't know that Saturday Night Live is a talking point. It's Trump himself & his administration that's the talking point. Everyone knew he would be a disastrous president, but no-one was expecting this.

However, Trump is a two-edged sword for comedy: an endless supply of jokes that write themselves, but also difficult to satirise well because his behaviour is so extreme. No matter how outrageous the sketches, Trump himself will have done worse before the week is out.

What you're seeing with late night comedy is its assumption of objective reporting of political news, in the face of the mainstream media's failure to do so throughout the Obama years. The mainstream media biased itself to the right by insisting on false balance.

I've held back posting Trump jokes, with just the occasional sketch like Pencey & the Brain. So:
Trump's son-in-law hands in his defence to the investigation into Trump's Russian connections. It's an essay entitled "Why I'm Not Fit To Do My Job". When Trump's son hands in his own defence, it transpires his homework was written by his dad.
After a long search, evidence has finally been found of voter fraud. For the past eight years, Trump's son-in-law has been registered as a woman.
After new communications director Scaramucci's colourful telephone interview with the New Yorker, the identity of the new, new communications director has been revealed: Mr Bigglesworth.

blohard said...

here's the lowdown on the economics of it:
1) new streaming networks like netflix, hulu amazon etc.. are spending a huge amount for content, they are pretty much green lighting everything because they know , that the future lies in exclusive content. the movies and older tv shows are just padding. they actually lose money on those deals
2) networks are trying compete with streaming by coming up with their own versions, and they need enticing content for that, hence we have the new star trek on cbs all access exclusively, so again a ton of money is thrown at developing original content.
3) globalisation has also helped source revenue, whereas before shows would wait to air at least 100 eps before they went into syndication, and that too, foreign networks would pick and choose what to air, they mostly chose friends, everybody loves raymond, and the like. but now even season 1 of a relatively obscure shows can be watched on netflix in over 100 countries.
4) piracy is actually going down! most people think that pirates are cheap-asses that refuse to pay for content, but that myth is debunked. people used to pirate because, more often then not, it was not possible to watch it any other way. now with netflix and many other legal streaming platforms, including HBO NOW, you can watch almost anything legally and conveniently. look at what spotify has done to music piracy, its so cheap, so convenient and you have access to millions and millions of songs on demand, anytime, anywhere. you know when apple starts copying you, you've done something right!
i'm sure there are many other reasons, but this is just a taste.

MikeN said...

Friday Question, referring to Todd's link above about Kevin Can Wait.

If a show runs out of ideas, do you think it would be better to take a year off to replenish? Sherlock appears to have done that, though perhaps it was due to actor's schedules.

24 was excellent its first two seasons which had more planning. By season 4, they were making stuff up on the fly, changing villains based on audience reaction(You didn't think The Mummy would be a cool villain?).

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

President Obama must have been hard to parody. Politics aside, he's a straightforward, reserved, intelligent guy with no apparent idiosyncrasies or foibles.

James Van Hise said...

Last week's episode was particularly good. Fox And Friends was offended by the IT parody but it became clear quickly that they only watched the first couple minutes of it and then tuned out because their criticisms of what it didn't do was wrong because it had actually done what they claimed they wouldn't dare do. Trump isn't the only one with no sense of humor. The Daily Show has been around for about 20 years and yet the angry conservatives haven't put together their own political comedy show.