Dear Mr. Michaels:
My name is Johnny Caps. I’m a writer and a lover of retro culture, especially that of the 1980s. I was first exposed to “Saturday Night Live” on Comedy Central in the 90s. The episodes that first made an impression on me came from seasons 6 through 10. I eventually came to see episodes from the following 10 seasons, when you made your return to producing the show.
On the top is Eddie Murphy, the cast member who defined SNL in the first half of the 1980s. On the bottom is Phil Hartman, who did so for the second half of the 80s.
Even at a young age, I knew that “Saturday Night Live” was something major. I first heard it discussed by my parents, and by the time the late 90s rolled around, I was in high school and I found myself staying up every Saturday night to watch the show. I would also try and record the reruns of the show that aired early Sunday mornings in the late 90s and early 00s, allowing me a chance to thrill to the complete versions of the 80s episodes I was too young to see in their original broadcast incarnation.
Above is Billy Crystal as Fernando, a character from season 10 rarely seen in online prints on the show.
From 2006 to 2009, the first 5 seasons of SNL were released on DVD. After the fifth season was released, I was looking forward to releases of the 80s seasons. Unfortunately, I was thinking too positively, and ignoring what I read about the reception of seasons 6 through 10 in various books on the show’s history.
Seeing that all the seasons of SNL were streaming online gave me hope that there may be a way to see the episodes I love, but again, I was to be disappointed. Only the first 5 seasons were complete, as they were on DVD. All the episodes from season 6 onwards are heavily edited. Episodes that originally ran a full 63 minutes, which is the length of a typical episode minus the commercials, were now whittled down to as little as 20 minutes or even less.
Above is Sparks performing “Mickey Mouse” on SNL in Season 8, I believe…A performance that can’t be seen in the official online prints.
The musical guests, which, for me, are always bright spots in the episodes, are all gone. Sketches using popular music are eliminated (barring those that gained memetic status like Eddie Murphy’s Michael Jackson impression or the famous “More Cowbell” sketch from near the end of the 90s). Dennis Miller’s Weekend Update segments are edited because he used popular music in the intros and outros.
Dennis Miller often has a snarky attitude about the world, and even had one about SNL. For example, when Vanilla Ice was the musical guest, Miller’s Weekend Update segment opened with Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”, a gag which didn’t make it into the online prints.
Even if a sketch didn’t have popular music, it often isn’t included in the online prints. A personal favorite of mine from the Dick Ebersol era is “Magic Fish Negotiations”, which took the tale of “The Fisherman And His Wife”, and added lawyers to it. It was up on YouTube for a while, but the executives at Universal forced it to be taken down. It hasn’t shown up online again since, not even on Saturday Night Live’s official YouTube channel.
What I am proposing, Mr. Michaels, is this: A limited edition DVD release of “Saturday Night Live: The Complete 1980s”. Since music rights would be enormous for 180 episodes and the 15th anniversary special, it would be pretty pricey to release, but that’s why it could be a limited edition.
In the preceding two pictures are two acclaimed SNL casts from the 80s. The first picture has the Season 10 cast…The second has the season 13 cast. A lot of material from both casts has gone unseen in the years since they first aired.
The show has consistently made history, and there was history to be seen from seasons 6-15. Season 6, for example, saw the first rappers to appear as musical guests on the show. That would be the Funky 4 Plus 1 More performing “That’s The Joint” on the episode hosted by Deborah Harry. On the other end of the spectrum, season 15 saw the hosting debuts of Christopher Walken (in 1989) and Alec Baldwin (in 1990), both of whom pop the ratings whenever they host, and both of whom are the only two SNL hosts to have open invitations to host the show.
On a brief side note: Of all the members of the Five-Timers Club, how come only these two have open invitations to host the show each season? Why isn’t that privilege extended to Steve Martin or Paul Simon or Justin Timberlake or Drew Barrymore?
Back on track: Those are but three examples of how SNL made history, and I think that if it were released in a limited edition, a complete 1980s set could sell, and that could lead to a “Saturday Night Live: The Complete 1990s” and so on.
Streaming media is the wave of the future, but history-making and just plain enjoyable sketches and musical performances spanning almost three-and-a-half decades are going unseen, and thus, the history of SNL is incomplete. I hope you can find it in your heart to change that idea, Mr. Michaels.
With the 40th anniversary of SNL on the way, I think it’s time to make peace with Jean Doumanian, Dick Ebersol and Bob Tischler, all of whom produced the show in your abscence, much to your chagrin.
That’s Jean Doumanian (producer of Season 6) on top and Dick Ebersol (producer of Season 7 through 10) on the bottom. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a picture of Bob Tischler, but he helped produce the show from seasons 8 through 10. Although many look down upon seasons 6 through 10, the online prints haven’t done anything to help the case for reevaluation. When your episodes are missing more than half of their original broadcast content, you’re not getting the whole picture. There is an audience for uncut “Saturday Night Live” out there, Mr. Michaels, and I think you should get together with the three former producers who worked on the show while you were gone to give the show the proper treatment it deserves.
Do it for Phil Hartman…For Danitra Vance…For Charles Rocket…For all the hosts and musical guests from this era who have since passed on…The best way to honor their memories would be to let audiences see all of SNL in the 1980s, not just what the online prints show.
All the best to you in SNL’s 40th year,