Subtitled: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests
I forget where I came across a reference to this book, but in light of how much I enjoyed the oral history I Want My MTV I knew I had to read it. Published in its original form back in 2002, this version was updated upon SNL’s 40th anniversary and published in 2014. I have no doubt there will be another updated version for the show’s upcoming 50th anniversary.
The book began with a story I had never heard before – SNL’s origin story. It seems that NBC aired reruns of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show (The Best of Carson) on weekends after the local news. However, Carson was on the verge of renewing his contract with NBC, and was demanding more days off during the week – his plan was to air The Best of Carson on those weeknights and bar NBC from broadcasting them on the weekends. NBC had to come up with something to air during the weekends in its place, or cede the programming block and associated advertising income to the local affiliates. Saturday Night Live was the result.
The rest of the book chronicles the frequently changing cast members, writers, guest hosts, producers, and other crew. The real ‘star’ of the book though, is the show’s creator and producer (excluding a 5-year absence in the early 1980s), Lorne Michaels. His strategy for rebuilding the cast on the fly each season and his instincts for choosing sketches that would appeal to the viewing audience are big reasons for the SNL’s success through the years.
I gave Live From New York five stars on Goodreads. I started watching the show a few episodes into the first season, but my viewing habits changed through the years depending on my opinion of the various casts and upon how many other things I might have had going on late on Saturday nights. In the course of reading this book, I came to a better appreciation of some of the cast members that I had previously chosen to overlook. It’s a long read, but I recommend it for anyone who has been an SNL fan through the years.