Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fingertips To The Wolverines

Watching the first three episodes of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE ever broadcast is an interesting experience. The show was, of course, much different than it is today, but it's also much different than the way it would become later in that first 1975-1976 season. Each episode is an unusual grab bag of concepts, blackouts and musical numbers that plays very much like a stage revue. If you don't like what's happening, don't worry, something else completely different will come along in just a few minutes.

The first show, for example, hosted by George Carlin. It offers four different monologues by Carlin, who doesn't appear in any sketches (he was supposed to be in Michael O'Donoghue's big Alexander the Great sketch, but refused after dress rehearsal, and it was dropped). Andy Kaufman does his brilliant Mighty Mouse bit. Albert Brooks produces a funny short film (complete with pedophilia gag). The Muppets have their own spotlighted slot (nothing the Muppets did on SNL is the least bit entertaining). Billy Preston ("Nothing from Nothing") and Janis Ian ("At Seventeen") do two songs each. The Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players (Don Pardo fucks up and calls them "Not-for-Ready..." in the opening) barely appear, and only Chevy Chase, who anchors Weekend Update, makes an impact, though a couple of the sketches are funny. George Coe and O'Donoghue are official Players in the premiere. In all, an oddly structured yet fascinating historical curio.

The second show is almost completely different from the previous week's in every way. Almost all ninety minutes are devoted to music, as host Paul Simon performs several hits and also reunites with Art Garfunkel for a couple numbers (Artie does a hit on his own too). Phoebe Snow and Randy Newman also perform, and, aside from more Muppets and Brooks pieces, the longest comic bit is a tedious filmed one-on-one basketball game between Simon and NBA star Connie Hawkins that is hosted by Marv Albert! Jerry Rubin (!) and Bill Bradley also appear, and the NRFPTP gets less than a minute of airtime on their own show.

Rob Reiner (ALL IN THE FAMILY) hosts the third show with wife Penny Marshall (soon to be on LAVERNE & SHIRLEY) and no musical guest, though a West Coast dance troupe called the Lockers (with Fred "Rerun" Berry!) appears, as does comedienne Denny Dillon, who later become an SNL regular during its notorious 1980-81 season. The NRFPTP make their biggest impact, especially Jane Curtin interviewing Laraine Newman as Squeaky Fromme on her DANGEROUS BUT INEPT talk show and Chevy (who breaks up during it) in a pro-drooler PSA. The Players were pissed about Brooks' film, which ran thirteen minutes, and Reiner's alleged prima donna act backstage.

And the Bees appeared in all three shows, can you believe it?

1 comment:

Rich D said...

I, too, recently picked up the first season of SNL and was fascinated by watching the show search for its own form. I was also fascinated by the number of times technical mistakes would creep into the show, even late in the season when the crew should have been more used to doing a live broadcast.

I'll agree that the Muppets weren't very good, but I thhink that's because the writing staff (usually Zweibel or Franken and Davis got stuck with writing the bits according to Tom Shale's Live From New York book.)
didn't really have an idea of what to do with them. I think they're a little better once they were removed from their own world and started interacting backstage with the cast and hosts in their last couple of appearances. In fact, I'm willing to bet that that was a partial inspiration for The Muppet Show which Henson and company went onto after they left SNL.

Also, the girl dancer in the Lockers- Tony Basil, whom I'm willing to bet was the chief choreographer of the piece. She'll show up a few more times in the early years of SNL.