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When Saturday Night Wasn’t Just For Fighting and We Got A Little Action In October 30, 2006

Posted by doctorolove in Music, Pop Culture Rants, TV.
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For years, pre-MTV,  music-philes with discerning tastes found themselves gravitating to one spot. And it wasn’t college radio or CBGBs or the tiny shag carpeted lined basement of the older brother of their best friend who always smelled like incense for some unknown reason. Surprisingly, it was the lovely people in Studio 8H at Saturday Night Live. Not only were they turning out cutting edge satire and comedy, but they were doing more for music than anybody had ever done.

Back then the music guest was two fold. They not only provided a chance for raucous applause at the end of a monologue to calm a frazzled host (So and so is here…crazy applause…and we’ll be right back) but they brought in viewers that otherwise might be at their local rock club trying to catch the next big thing. And those viewers, who may not have watched comedy, were drawn in by the writing and performers and said, “I may like the band but I love the satire.” And the bookers knew it. So they introduced us to many an influential band like sarcastic hosts at some dream fraternity mixer (Hey America, this is Talking Heads…they’re cool…you’ll like them).

Many thought the focus on music at SNL waned during the eighties and nineties, but I disagree. Who first got us dancing the Humpty Dance? Uh-Uh. Who single-handedly doomed Sinead O’Connor to a life of Irish state fairs and Where Are They Now? Specials? Yup. And who watched as a Nirvana guitarist gave himself a concussion, forcing the cancellation of a tour, that depressed their lead singer, who reacted in the most violent of ways? Better believe it. (Side Note: Nirvana guitarist is only the third most on the list of “jobs likely to be concussed,” behind NFL quarterback and concierge at a hotel frequented by Naomi Campbell and/or Russell Crowe.)

Which brings us to the sad state of SNL now. I will not discuss the drop off in talent of the post Will Ferrell/Jimmy Fallon era (Purists may be angered by Fallon’s incessant ability to laugh through every sketch, but his impersonations and Weird Al-like reworking of pop hits kept the show alive like a Terry Schiavo feeding tube….Oooh, too soon?) And we won’t discuss the writing (George Bush is dumb…we get it). No, the real problem is the musical guests. Because as goes the quality of music, there goes the show. Don’t believe me? Chew on this.

For years, SNL has followed a tried and true formula. Accept that there are two major types of music acts: Big name and no-name. SNL trots out the big names to play their newest unreleased hit and forces them to play a standard towards the end of the show just to keep us all tuned in. For the no-names, they lead with their suddenly hot new single and then give them the late slot to play a lesser known work. For years, the formula worked. We watched the big name bands to see what they’ve been up to and we watched the new bands so we could hopefully get their catchy hit out of our heads. And we stuck around, even if the show wasn’t funny, because of the promise or interest of the late set. And by staying, we often caught a performer we may not have usually noticed and rocketed him to stardom (Will Ferrell’s late night Robert Goulet was his springboard to million dollar paydays, I’m sure of it.) Music guests are intrinsic to SNL’s value. And they’ve disappeared. Now we have bands no-one has heard of, playing songs nobody knows. And when the big bands do grace SNL with their presence, it’s often too late in their new song’s popularity to bring in the viewers who have already downloaded the song, overplayed it and seen the video so many times on You Tube that their hard drive hurts.

When? When did it all go so wrong? I’ll say it. Blame Ashlee Simpson. All she had to do was out-rock her sister to be successful (Not difficult, considering Jessica has the R and B soul of an angry Pat Boone.) But no, she tried to fool us all with lip-synching. We all knew it, but were willing to overlook it, much like they were at SNL. But the tape looped and we were forced to watch “Jig-Gate.” Now, this isn’t to say acts had never before lip-synched on SNL but they were never caught. Now, the bands who pride themselves on high-tempo performances to get us to watch are scared to appear on the show less an untrained sound tech causes a nation to question their validity. I can only wonder how many acts aren’t drawing us in just because of an errantly pushed play button.

Can it be fixed? Can the music come back, and in turn, save this show from the evil comparison now befalling it? (Yes, it’s official…Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a show loosely based on SNL has better writing than the show it emulates…that’s like a tribute album making us re-think Stairway to Heaven.) It can, but it needs to start soon. Because with the dearth of identical sounding garage bands and few true major bands still drawing rabid fans, the chances are sinking faster than the Andrea Doria (Oooh…again, too soon.)

I hope SNL can survive. The writing and talent may be hidden there, but if a tree falls in the forest…blah,blah,blah…infer your own point. Because even worse than the show’s demise is one scary possible outcome.

A world where the only thing between your late local news and Showtime at the Apollo is Ron Popeil. At which point, just set it and forget it. And channel surf until Mo’Nique is on.
Bring the music acts back. Because as hot as Amy Poehler may be, even her bedroom eyes can’t right the ship alone.

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