SATURDAY NIGHT: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live by Doug & Jeff Weingrad Hill
Kirkus Star

SATURDAY NIGHT: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live

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Saturday Night Live, its stars, and vicissitudes have fascinated the press and the public since its debut a decade ago. This comprehensive history compiles and expands that coverage into a thoughtful, informed, funny, and detailed study of the rise and fall of a truly original, ground-breaking TV program. The book gives a brief, but intriguing study of the show's precursors, particularly the ""underground"" video and improvisational humor of the early 1970's that included shows and groups like TVTV, Second City, National Lampoon, Channel One and the Chicken Little Comedy Hour. The portrait of Lorne Michaels, the show's producer, is fine and telling, as his development from righteous humor theorist to aloof jet-setter effectively parallels SNL's fortunes. Inevitably tending to focus on the problems, the authors nonetheless communicate the excitement of the early years. During the first year, when the cast was pulling together in what was truly a ground-breaking invasion of the network (NBC)--they called themselves ""comedy commandos behind enemy lines""--the book focuses on Michaels' battles over budgets and Network Standards (the censors). Throughout, Hill and Weingrad translate the humor of the show--both on stage and off--with skill, aided by such wickedly quotable writers as Michael O'Donoghue, Anne Beatts, and Pam Norris. The book is straightforward, but not vindictive on the subject of the emotional problems of the show's stats. It doesn't gloss over them, neither does it wallow in them, and unlike Wired, the John Belushi biography, the drug theme is not a dirge. The influence of the massive quantities of marijuana and cocaine that fed the 17th floor of Rockefeller Center is not ignored, but it is rightfully balanced with other forces--clashing egos, self-promotion, Hollywood money--that were certainly just as destructive. The authors quote Michael Aden, The New Yorker's TV critic, on his perception of the show's effort to entertain ""in a recognizable, human, non-celebrity voice."" This singular attitude gave the program its life, and when ""the bunch of kids"" inevitably became celebrities, its viewers felt abandoned. The theme of the book is the corruption and betrayal of ideals. Saturday Night Live limps along still, with newer, younger talent, but the audience has learned its lesson: that TV is never innocent. This book tells why.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 1986
Publisher: Beech Tree/Morrow