Weekend Update – Now in Color!

Weekend Update has always been one of my favorite parts of Saturday Night Live. When I first started regularly watching SNL the news segment was called “SNL Newsbreak” and was hosted by Brian Doyle-Murray and Mary Gross. This was the era of Rich Hall’s “sniglets” and Tim Kazurinsky’s “Dr. Badofsky.” A lot of puns in those days, but I loved, loved it.

Later “Not Necessarily the News” appeared on HBO but, even though I would not have been able verbalize the concept, I was not a huge fan of their take on the news.

The advent of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” have been dreams come true to me. Political and topical satire are what prompted me to move to Chicago. Heck, “Whirled News Tonight”, a show I created, at ten years is Chicago’s longest running improvised satire. (heck, it’s run non-stop for a decade which may make it Chicago’s longest continuously running improv show.)

Which is all a long way to go to get to this: Dear SNL, it’s been 38 years. Let’s have a minority Weekend Update host.*

Chevy Chase, Jane Curtain, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Charles Rocket, Gail Matthius, Brian Doyle-Murray, Mary Gross, Christine Ebersole, Brad Hall, Christopher Guest, Dennis Miller, Kevin Nealon, Norm Macdonald, Colin Quinn, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers.

All talented in their own way. Along with the Tiny & Amy years, I particularly enjoyed Norm Macdonald’s acerbic, “I-actually-don’t-care-if-you’re-laughing” attitude (and with hindsight, now knowing about the behind the scenes political machinations, it’s even more entertaining.)

emptydeskEven though it’s great that Chicago alum, Seth Meyers is the new host of Late Night, a bolder choice of a woman or a minority would have been amazing. Even though minority representation in the sketches (Maya Rudolph, no matter where she is or how pregnant she is, seems to be the ONLY person you think can play women of color) seems mired in the seventies. As a passionate devotee of comedy, as a “superfan” of SNL, it hurts to see white cast members have to play African-American celebrities or to put on “yellow face.” Hell, instead of having an Asian person play a Korean dictator, Amy Poehler played Kim Jong Il.

I’m not suggesting affirmative action for the WU desk. I’m suggesting a wider net. I’m suggesting looking beyond the usual LA/NY/Chicago haunts. Having an anchor who isn’t a white, middle-class comedian gmed-good-morning-america-cast-7might open up the segment; make it smarter and more relevant. But then, that isn’t your job. Your job is to appeal to your demographic and sell more stuff. So let’s look at a networks biggest revenue generator; the morning shows. Every single one of the morning shows are integrated. “CBS This Morning,” “Good Morning, America”, “Today.” All three have African-American, Asian, Hispanic hosts. Sometimes, they even let Al Roker host the entire show. So clearly, America is ready. Are you, SNL?

When Weekend Update first appeared, it was a direct satire on the evening news, but that style of evening news is gone. The Internet and the Daily Show have replaced it. The Caucasian patrician face doling out dry facts is gone. It’s a tired idea. There’s no co-host stepping in now. It’s a new start. Lets try something revolutionary, something new. From its beginning SNL was meant to be an agent of comedic change. Here’s a chance to take a chance. I really hope that the Weekend updates.

“Sometimes the wheel turns slowly, but it turns.” – Lorne Michaels

*- Horatio Sanz did take over for Tina Fey for a few shows while she was on maternity leave but the segment was still called “Weekend Update with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.” Close. No cigar.


Thanks and Goodbye to The Office

Voice barely a whisper; she said, “I think you’re my ‘Jim.’ And I think I’m in love with you.”

imagesBut she stayed with her “Roy.” And I was devastated.

So when our televised, fictional avatars were eventually married I was glad to see that somewhere else, we were happy.

In the most recent episode (“A.A.R.M.”) Dwight makes the same offer to Angela that I did to my “Pam.” That surprised me and reawakened old memories/feelings.

Thanks for some great comedy

Thanks for the schadenfreude

And thanks for the mudita.



PS- when I brought a show to iO LA 10 years ago, Angela Kinsey was the manager of iO LA. She was exceptionally kind and helpful and is great on The Office. Congratulations, Angela(s).


Streaming: the 70s.

One of the joys of Netflix Streaming is re-discovering shows you haven’t watched in a while. The other night I couldn’t sleep so I, for some reason, watched the first two episodes of The Rockford Files. Well, I’m about just about done with the entire first season now.

This detective show premiered in 1974 and ran for six seasons. Starring James Garner it was unique in that “Jim Rockford” wasn’t very heroic. Sure, he was a smart aleck but he frequently was on the receiving end of a terrible beat down. Heck, in one episode he gets a concussion and is in the hospital for two weeks. He’s constantly broke and haggles with his clients for his payment. When the bad guys pull a gun on him he always tells them that he’s deathly afraid of guns and he is.

There’s no grand opus or groundbreaking work here; just a finely made, above average detective show. David Chase worked as a writer and a producer and would later go on to create The Sopranos, which also specialized in an off-beat sense of humor.

Some wonderfully anachronistic things I have noticed:

  • Everyone smokes everywhere. Even the background extras are smoking.
  • There are heavy ashtrays to use as weapons in every room.
  • Someone who hates smoking is seen as weird or even a bad guy.
  • Computer programmers were cast as middle-aged, paunchy white guys.
  • The cars are monsters, just huge monstrosities. During car chases turns are as wide as their neckties.
  • Cops frequently were not to be trusted or outright bullies. (look at TV now. Most tv heroes are cops or work with them. Rockford was usually running from them.)
  • Michael Lerner-2Character actor Michael Lerner has played three different characters in just this first season.
  • Rockford calls a bad guy a “queer” to goad him into fighting.
  • In the first season there were only two black men; one a gardener, the other an FBI agent.
  • Though Rockford doesn’t sleep around, sex with his clients is heavily implied.
  • The show attempts to be non-sexist are fun. There are frequently professional women who announce their careers (“I’m a scientist and damn proud of it.”) But there was a great bit where Rockford’s lawyer, Beth Davenport, responds to a cop calling her “babe.” “Officer, I am a lawyer and you will treat me as an officer of the court.” In 1974? That was cool. But mostly, women were getting into trouble and Rockford had to save them.
  • Rockford doesn’t’ button the top three (maybe four!) buttons of his shirts.
  • To impersonate different professions and gather information, Rockford has a mini-printing press in his car to create fake business cards. He rearranges the typeface and then actually presses (hand cranks) one card.
  • Rockford, in the first season (13 episodes) only uses a gun once. He hates them. But he does get shot at a lot and manages to actually get shot twice (Bad guy has a gun on Rockford and his making him drive somewhere. “We both know you’re not going to shoot me.” Bang. Guy shoots Rockford, car crashes.)
  • His best friend is his father who frequently helps Rockford out.

It’s a great, fun show. And if you watch it just to make fun of the seventies it’s still worth a peek. Hell, the theme song is great.

The Rockford Files is also on YouTube for freesies.

Good Improv, America!

I’m currently reading “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV” and I’m enjoying it very much. The author, Brian Stelter, isn’t as journalist-y as I would prefer (like Tom Shales and his amazing coverage of the so-called Late Night Wars) and tends to go for a pun or a joke and then point out his joke, but the insider information is fun.

Anyway… I came across this section about the creation of the current Good Morning, America cast:

In an interh-BRIAN-STELTER-TOP-OF-THE-MORNING-348x516view later, Sherwood said that he wasn’t worried about Elliott’s hiring working out because of something his future news anchor had said during their first dinner together. Elliott had told him that he used to study improv. And the lesson Elliott came away with, he said, was “Never let it drop.”

“The skill required to keep an improv going is considerable,” said Sherwood, whose brother-in-law Steve teaches companies how to apply improvisational techniques to the workplace. “And Josh’s love of keeping it going, not letting it drip, stood out to me. The hosts of the Today show, in its heyday, were excellent at the television version of Hacky Sack. They could kick the Hacky Sack around and it never dropped. And they could do incredible tricks. And just when you though it was gonna drop, bang, Katie would pop it up in the air, or Matt would catch it on his shoulders or Al would bump it over to Ann and Ann would somehow get it back in the air. At Good Morning, America, we did not have that. We had a lot of things, but we did not have that improv.”

I thought that was cool.

Also, NBC was mean to Ann Curry. Holy cow, were they!!