The E! Network has been running hour versions of the first five seasons of Saturday Night Live — shows I haven't seen in
quite some time. I recall liking the series a lot when it first debuted, even though I felt a lot of its "innovation" involved putting on TV,
the kind of sketches that groups like Second City, The Committee, The Groundlings and various National Lampoon troupes had been doing for
years. (And, if we believe certain members of those teams, sometimes the exact same material.) I thought SNL was fascinating to
watch, often not because of what they were doing but just to see what they'd do next. At the same time, there was a certain smugness about the
show, and an occasional nastiness, that made it difficult to completely embrace. I suppose I liked individual performers and sketches more than
I liked the show as a whole. I also — and this is heresy to some — preferred some of the later seasons of the show, especially
those involving Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Mike Myers and Jan Hooks.
Over the Fourth of July holiday, I watched about a half-dozen episodes from the first five years and found myself enjoying them very
much. Like most reruns, the shows looked chintzier than I remembered and, even with a half-hour lopped out of these shows, some had some deadly
dull sketches. Still, I'd forgotten how good most of the cast members were and how sharp most of the writing was. The famed episode
hosted by Richard Pryor had me laughing out loud, and even some of the "nasty" jokes didn't seem as arrogant as I'd recalled. I was also amazed
how many sketches I did not remember. The running bits — things like the Coneheads and the Greek Diner and Emily Litella — stick in
our mind and it's easy to remember the show as just those routines.
One thing which I think hurt my memories of this show is that it was syndicated many years ago in a half-hour version. Some shows
just don't work in short doses. (Laugh-In was spectacularly ineffective when they syndicated it that way.) I suspect that when
they edited those 30-minute programs, they concentrated on the recurring sketches and dumped a lot of the one-shot bits. If so, it would
explain why the show seemed so repetitive when I watched those reruns and why so many of the non-series sketches seemed new to me this week.
E! runs the shows in no discernible pattern. They've been running one a night, Monday through Friday, but they seem to be moving
to a 2-a-day schedule this week with episodes hosted by Elliott Gould, Buck Henry, Julian Bond, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin (3 different), Lily Tomlin
and Rick Nelson. I'm watching to see if they're going to air the ones hosted by Milton Berle and Louise Lasser. These were the two that
Lorne Michaels felt were so awful that he decreed they would never be rerun. But at least 30 minutes of the Lasser one made it into the
syndication package of half-hour episodes...so perhaps he's softened on his pledge.