Last night, Saturday Night Live’s celebration of its 40th season was… odd. The broadcast was not crisp. Most of the jokes fell flat. The cuts from scene to scene were sloppy. Eddie Murphy could have been replaced by Damon Wayans without materially changing anything.
It doesn’t really matter, does it? Watching cast members from different eras collaborate and the self-referential callbacks to the earlier classics, served as a reminder that SNL has undergone more resurrections than the bad guy in a 1980s slasher flick. Even though there were a lot – a LOT – of seasons when the show was less-than-par, there’s a trail of would-be competitors in the show’s wake. Even as the Tonight Show yielded ground to Arsenio and, eventually, Letterman, SNL was never seriously threatened. (MAD TV’s mid-90s debut was probably the best shot anyone took.)
Depending on how you count, SNL has had three excellent cast eras and maybe one or two more very good cast eras. Maybe even more important, SNL has done well at making its content packagable for the social internet age. Topical sketches are very sharable due to relevance and length, and the rise of shorts videos – a presence since the early years but more integrated in the last decade – have only helped. More than any old media property, SNL has been the most clearly adaptable to the modern media environment. While they’ve been slow at times, they’ve generally kept up.)
Because of that evolution – and the continued waves of success – the show has It’s a brand name now. A bad year (or even three) won’t force NBC to pull the plug. Like Tonight, Today, Dateline, and the nightly news, SNL is more than a series on the network, it’s a block of time. Even if the format changes, 11:30 on Saturday night will have a comedy show on NBC for the forseeable future.
Pity the successors to Lorne Michaels at the helm of the show, though – with the show such a proven commodity, NBC will likely expect success. Saturday night Live may be bullet proof, but the