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Friday, April 17, 2009

5 Things You Didn't Know: SNL

You may know all the words to "Lazy Sunday" and do a mean Debby Downer, but did you know these facts?

By Ross Bonander, Entertainment Correspondent

Dwayne Johnson and SNL cast, Aired 3/7/09 - Credit: NBC Universal, Inc.
5 Things You Didn't Know: SNL

Between its premiere in October of 1975 and the start of its 34th season in September 2008, Saturday Night Live has racked up over 100 Emmy nominations and has become "one of the most distinctive and significant programs in the history of U.S. television," according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications. Time magazine considers it the "graduate school of American comedy" and it has duly launched the wider careers of dozens of major actors and comedians, a list too long to include here.

After so many years, the show has had its share of un-funny seasons, yet when SNL is good, it's TV's sharpest satire and no one is safe. Among the most recent victims was Hawaii's tourism industry, hilariously skewered in a March 2009 skit with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The skit, which played up a handful of Hawaiian stereotypes, prompted outrage from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and further solidified SNL's long-held reputation for stirring controversy, whether by lampooning popular culture or eviscerating American politicians.

As it approaches the finale of its current season, we present 5 things you didn't know about SNL.

1- SNL wasn't the first SNL

Before SNL got on the air, Howard Cosell launched his own Saturday-night variety show, Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell on ABC, which featured a cast called the "Prime Time Players." Frustrated that the name they wanted had been taken, SNL began under the title NBC's Saturday Night, but they took a shot at Cosell's show by calling their own cast the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players."

Despite giving Billy Crystal a national profile, Cosell's show lasted only three months. Thus, in 1977, SNL added the word "Live" to their own title, and shortly thereafter dumped "NBC."

Cosell himself would host the finale of SNL's 10th season in 1985.

2- SNL wanted Albert Brooks as a permanent host

The role of the SNL guest host has become an institution that began with George Carlin. Since then, SNL has landed a spectacularly broad range of hosts, and while most have been big names in the entertainment industry, many have been from the sports world (including Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and even O.J. Simpson) and others have been from arenas such as finance (Steve Forbes and Donald Trump), and others still from politics including two sitting NYC mayors (Koch and Giuliani), and perhaps the show's most bizarre host, Ron Nessen, who was at the time White House Press Secretary to sitting President Gerald Ford.

Yet, had SNL had its way, there would have been a permanent weekly host. Initially, that's what they had asked of actor Albert Brooks, who instead turned down the role and suggested the current format of a different host every week.

There are a few more things you didn't know about the comedic TV hit, SNL...

3- Lorne Michaels tried to launch an SNL competitor

Canadian-born SNL creator, Lorne Michaels, worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Company in the 1960s, even starring in his own comedy series, The Hart & Lorne Terrific Hour. He later moved to Los Angeles and worked as a writer for NBC before launching SNL in New York in 1975.

After five years, however, he had enough with SNL and left the show. Most of the writers and all of the regulars followed suit. For the next few years, with a few exceptions (Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscapo and, later, Billy Crystal and Martin Short) the show's regulars were awful and ratings suffered.

Michaels returned to SNL in 1985 (bringing a new group of regulars with him, including Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Lovitz), but before he did, he launched the abysmal comedy variety show The New Show, which tanked after just two months.

4- Muppets creator Jim Henson had an SNL segment

Jim Henson's gang of Muppets dates back to the 1950s (at least in form if not in name), and they received their biggest exposure on Sesame Street in 1969. However, before he launched The Muppet Show in 1976, Henson had a segment on SNL's first season.

Called "The Land of Gorch," these Muppets were in a total of 15 decidedly adult-themed sketches (about drugs, adultery and even species extinction), some of them written by Chevy Chase and Al Franken, and only one of them by Henson himself. Among the show's writers, the job of writing the sketches was extremely unpopular, a fact that contributed to its demise in early 1976.

5- Cold air is pumped into the SNL studio

If you've ever waited outside 30 Rockefeller Center to get tickets to SNL, you know that, especially in the winter months, it can be a long, bitterly cold and drawn-out affair that requires a lot of luck.

If you do get in, SNL recommends you bring a coat, as they keep the studio at a fairly chilly temperature during both rehearsal and taping by pumping in cold air. The reason? If it were nice and cozy inside, audience members, on their feet most of the day enduring the cold weather, would be less likely to laugh -- much less be alert enough to do so -- during taping.