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posted: Oct. 25, 2005  |  Feedback

Wanted to cover a couple of quick things from yesterday ...

1. The Baseball Crank answered the "How many pitchers were ruined by a memorable postseason hit" challenge with an extended post on his web site. Let's just say that he covered every conceivable situation, although I wish he had separated the moments into levels of significance ... and only because there's a big difference historically between someone like Donnie Moore or Calvin Schiraldi and the Luis Sanchez's of the world. Still, it's a masterful, comprehensive list and worth your time if you like baseball.

2. After yesterday's "SNL" mini-rant, coincidentally, I received a copy of Aaron Sorkin's spec script, "Studio 7" -- his secret project that caused near-chaos in Hollywood when he suddenly started shopping it a few weeks ago. Everyone loved it, everyone said great things, and after reading it ... I couldn't agree more. It's already my new favorite show even though they haven't started casting it yet -- like "Larry Sanders," only if it was about "SNL." In a viciously clever way, Sorkin's pilot script pretty much obliterates SNL and everything that happened to the show over the past few years, as well as TV networks and the post-Janet Jackson/FCC Era in general. It's a masterpiece. It's perfect. I can't say enough about it. When this show debuts next year (or whenever), it will be impossible to take SNL seriously anymore. I'm telling you.

Just for the record, I hate playing the "jumped the shark" card, the most overplayed angle on the web -- everyone is in a big race to say that something or someone isn't good anymore, whether it's a TV show, movie, musician, writer, web site or whatever -- and that mentality ties into how hostile the Internet has become in general. Everything sucks, everyone sucks, everyone's mailing it in, and so on. You just can't win. In the case of SNL, because I still watch it every week, obviously it can't suck that much. On the other hand, I love sketch comedy shows, and let's face it -- SNL has a monopoly on this format. If I like late night talk shows but dislike Jay Leno (which is true), I can watch Letterman, Stewart/Colbert, Kimmel, Conan, even Carson Daly. If I enjoy a late night show with sketches, fake news and musical guests, I have SNL and that's it. So when the show stinks, there's nowhere else to turn ... at least until HBO wises up and challenges the SNL monopoly some day with a bawdier, riskier version of the show.

That's why I take SNL's demise so personally, and that's why others take it so personally, I think. Ever since Will Ferrell left the show, it's been consistently sub par -- unimaginative and uninspired -- and nobody over there really seems to care. It's almost like they're saying, "Hey, people are gonna watch, regardless, so screw it." Well, people are watching because A.) it's the only show out there like it, and B) they keep hoping it will get better. Nope. It's a stale and predictable show, the same two qualities that SNL always promised to avoid when it started back in 1975. I hate what has happened here. I really do.

Anyway, that brings us to this week's book recommendation, which isn't a sports book, but remains one of my ten favorite books of all-time, as well as the book I probably have read the most over the past 20 years. It's almost plays out like a sports book, because the original SNL cast and writing staff resemble a sports team in some ways, right down to the seasons, the championship year (1977-78), people leaving and everything else.

Here's the book: Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live, by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad.

Just to clarify: This is NOT the oral history that was released two years ago. As much as I enjoyed that book and all the stories, it doesn't even approach the Weingrad/Hill book, which was released in 1984 and painstakingly traces the first five years of SNL (as well as the debacle of the 1980 season and Eddie Murphy single handedly saving the show from 1981 to 1983). Six things stand out about this book, at least for me:

1. It's fascinating to read the nitty-gritty stuff about how the show started (the launch, all the censorship battles and everything else), then compare it to the predictable crap they're showing now. SNL meant something then, and Lorne Michaels in particular took great pains in weighing the show's cultural significance, as well as its place in cutting-edge comedy, with just about every decision he made. When you read these stories, you just get the feeling that 1975 Lorne Michaels would hang himself if he knew what would happen to the show 30 years later.

2. The Belushi stories. One of my all-time favorite people -- even 25 years later, there has never been anyone quite like him.

3. The Michael O'Donoghue stories. Absolutely the lost genius of that comedy era. Nobody even knows his name anymore. Read the book, you will understand.

4. The drug stories -- phenomenal. Who doesn't love a good drug story? About 100 pages of this book plays out like a fantastic "E! True Hollywood Story."

5. Even 20-plus years later, this remains the best book about what it's like to write for a late night TV show -- dealing with censorship, celebrities, constant pressure, lack of credit, lack of sleep, competitiveness, testosterone, egos and everything else. My experience on Kimmel's show was relatively tame compared to this stuff, but I think every TV writer deals with these same basic realities ... so if you ever want/wanted to write for a TV show, and you DON'T read this book, I don't know what to tell you.

6. The chapter about Chevy Chase's departure from the show, simply called "Fame," remains the best thing ever written about how becoming famous can screw up your mind and your life. That's one of the overriding themes of this book -- how becoming successful and famous can actually be one of the worst things that can happen to some people.

If you love the show, or even if you like the show, I can't imagine how you wouldn't enjoy this book. Sadly, it's out of print ... but you can find copies on Amazon.com, abebooks.com, and eBay. Good luck.


Bill_Simmons
Bill
Simmons
October 2005
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