Saturday Night Live: Hosted by Sigourney Weaver

Written by Jed Alexander

Playing out the current NBC, Jay Leno, and Conan O’Brien squabble on fellow late-night and sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live tries to keep its material current and fresh, because in essence that is what their jobs are supposed to do, is stay on top of the current news events, trends, and pop culture zeitgeist.

Last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live took some surprisingly commendable chances by inserting commentary into the late-night soap opera. Actress and host Sigourney Weaver’s monologue pointed to the fact her late father, Pat Weaver, who was NBC president between 1953-1955, and is credited in really shaping NBC, essentially creating Today in 1952 and Tonight with Steve Allen in 1954, had written a mission statement regarding the Tonight Show:

She remarks, “My father wrote, that the Tonight Show should be, quote, “a light entertainment program with comedy and interviews to air at night, before people drift off to sleep. Because the last thing anyone wants at that time of night is any conflict or controversy.”
 
Whether the document is real or not, or Miss Weaver’s personal thoughts on the matter, protecting the legacy of the father was very apparent, and what better way to tread that line of comedy and drama, than SNL.
 
In addition, Weekend Update host and head writer, Seth Meyers, used a much more direct and critical approach of the situation by comparing NBC/Conan to Cinemax, that one did not need a subscription to “see someone get screwed on TV.”
 
The resurgence of political humor last season during the Presidential campaign is what put the show back on the map, especially with Tina Faye’s depiction of Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Viewers tuned in on October 18, 2008 to see Palin face off with her alter ego, and scored the show’s best ratings in fourteen years. 
 
When creator Lorne Michaels set out to create SNL, its roots were firmly planted in the tradition of The Second City, a long running improvisational training ground, and The National Lampoon, both which mixed sketch comedy and semi-improvised scenes with major political and satirical undertones. The premiere of SNL in 1975 had its first host as George Carlin, an already edgy and controversial stand-up comedian, which also set the tone for the rest of its first season.
 
From its early beginnings, the show has been cyclical, trying to find its voice, whether between revolving or departing cast members, a constantly changing cultural or political landscape, or simply getting strong sketches off the ground with solid comedic writing.
 
The bold choices the writers took last night should be a signal to all of its creators to stay consistent in the spirit of what Michaels set out to do, which was edgy for its time, and still tries to continue to make a strong, pop cultural impression.
 
Michaels had a general idea of where everything was headed, but like any improvisational or sketch show, no one really knows what the reaction will be, or where the material will land. In other words, the more the Saturday Night Live writers and actors can take these bold and satirical chances, not playing it safe, the more consistent the show will be. Not every opening monologue, sketch, host, or musical guest has to be purposely dropped in the show to make a point, or be edgy for the sake of being edgy; however, the only way to know if the material will have some kind of impact on its viewers is to at least put it out there and see what sticks.
 
Some things worked (the opening monologue and Seth Meyers’ commentary) and some things did not (the opening “Larry King” sketch), but at least chances were taken, something not seen since last season’s political showdown. Michaels and company should take a cue from last night and start writing accordingly, and tread that line of comedy and danger.