For those who wax nostalgic about the Golden Age of Hollywood, who swoon over the catchlights dazzling in Rita Hayworth’s dark chocolate eyes, who are pushed to the brink of their seat cushions by a stabbing violin score, or who treasure a film’s complete batch of credits before the story gets rolling, you may need to taste that era’s whole truth. Sheltered in the oligopolic thatch of corporate hubris, the Big Five studios were paying themselves twice, fortifying their sweet-spot on the dais of celluloid art with soggy sandbags of nefarious business practices.
When the chips finally fell on the Golden Age, they landed with such a clatter the movie business crumpled into a slump the likes of which we’d never see again; even the modern age of easily-snatchable torrents and duplicitous street vendors pitching bootleg blockbusters hasn’t throttled the industry like this.
For the struggling filmmaker or the tiny fledgling production company, adrift without financial paddle in a sweaty sea of studio bullies, the Golden Age of Hollywood was an ordeal. It took until 1948 for the United States Supreme Court to peel the wings off the sleazy sideshow of backdoor studio arrangements, and they managed to pack the full heft of their punch into one near-unanimous decision.
Piecing together the components of a relatively new art form required some experimentation, allowing a few different business models to walk the industry’s catwalk while the studios toyed with the best way to maximize profits while maintaining the high aesthetic of the art form itself. I’m kidding of course; they wanted to make money, and it was clear from the moment Tommy Edison’s industry stranglehold was quashed by the feds in 1915 that the best way to do that was to keep everything in-house. Read more…
Some topics are simply too large to fit into a thousand words. When Wikipedia’s magic Randombulator dumped me on the page for Saturday Night Live, I struggled with how to approach a thousand-word breakdown of a 39-season-long show that has somehow affected or entertained nearly everyone in the known universe (by which I mean people whom I have specifically asked).
Do I tell the story of the show’s origins? Run through its most controversial moments? Focus specifically on the work of Joe Piscopo, because why not?
In the end, there’s too much. I have one day to research and write this, so to hell with a flowing exposition or narrative structure. Here’s some stuff about that thing.
- Actor George Coe, who presently appears as the voice of Woodhouse, the butler on Archer, was one of the original Not Ready For Prime-Time Players. He was only credited for the show’s first three episodes and for whatever reason he didn’t stick around.
- NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer insisted that Chris Farley and Adam Sandler be fired from the show because he didn’t “get them.” He’s also the guy who ordered the firing of Norm McDonald. Ohlmeyer also gets credit for the weirdness of hiring Dennis Miller for a season of Monday Night Football. I’ll admit, I kind of liked Miller in the booth. But for the most part, fuck Don Ohlmeyer.
- SNL contracts include a clause that allows NBC to plunk a cast member in their second year into a sitcom. The cast member can turn down the first two offers, but they must accept the third. I’m not sure if this has ever been enforced, but it seems decidedly creepy.
- Original cast member Chevy Chase was banned from the show after a 1997 hosting gig that saw him verbally abuse the cast and crew. He is the only member of the “5-Timers Club” to have been banned.
- Speaking of the Club… there are fifteen members. Only two are women (Candace Bergen and Drew Barrymore). Steve Martin hit his fifth hosting gig the quickest, over the span of one year and 181 days. It took Drew Barrymore over 24 years to land her fifth show. The only hosts to have been invited ten or more times are Buck Henry (10), John Goodman (12), Steve Martin (15) and Alec Baldwin (16).
- In the first season, cast members were paid $750 per episode. Most recent numbers (from the late 90’s) start SNL newbies at $5000 per show, plus $1500 if a sketch they’d written gets on the air. Will Farrell was pulling in $350,000 per season at his peak (about $17k per show), and Tina Fey was cracking $1.5 million when she was both cast member and head writer.
- Drew Barrymore was the show’s youngest host at age 7, and Betty White it’s oldest at 88. They had a fleet of younger performers from Tina Fey to Maya Rudolph on standby in case Betty wasn’t up to the task. Betty showed up in every damn sketch because Betty White is Betty White.
- When Adrian Brody came out in fake dreadlocks and performed an impromptu 45-second ramble in a Jamaican accent before introducing (and mispronouncing) musical guest Sean Paul, he earned a lifetime ban from the show.
- Original SNL bandleader Howard Shore has since won three Academy Awards, for his score (and original song) in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
- The musician who has appeared the most often on the SNL stage? Dave Grohl, eleven times. I assume that includes his surprise appearance with Paul McCartney last year.
- Cast member Nora Dunn refused to appear on the May 12, 1990 episode because the host, comedian Andrew Dice Clay, was known for his offensive and misogynist schtick. She was told not to show up for the season finale the following week, and her contract wasn’t renewed for the fall.
- Sam Kinison had part of his 1986 stand-up set censored for the west coast feed because it contained a plea to legalize pot and a complaint as to its scarcity at the time. He said, “If you give us back the pot, we’ll forget about the crack!” I knew we were getting screwed, getting our broadcast from Spokane, Washington.
- James Franco’s directorial debut was a 94-minute 2010 documentary that went behind the scenes and showed the creative process behind a 2008 episode that featured John Malkovich as the host. The project began as part of Franco’s film class at New York University.
- John Belushi agreed to a cameo appearance during the 1981 Halloween episode, but only if punk band Fear was booked as the musical guest. The band had brought in a number of local punk rockers and skinheads, and proceeded to run up between $20,000 and $50,000 in damages as they slamdanced violently on stage.
- The process of making the show includes pitch day (Monday), writing day (Tuesday), read-through day (Wednesday), rewrite day (Thursday), with rehearsals for some sketches not beginning until Friday. This is why so many sketches feature performers who are clearly reading off teleprompters or cue-cards beside the camera.
- Saturday Night Live has been the name of the show since March 26, 1977. Before that it was known as NBC’s Saturday Night, because Howard Cosell hosted a sports show with the other name on ABC. Luckily, that show died young.
- Mary Ellen Matthews – you’ve never heard of her, but if you’ve watched the show since 1999 you’re familiar with her work. She’s the photographer who brilliantly captures the hosts and musical guests during the bumpers around commercial breaks. She also directed the opening credits.
- The February 10, 2001 episode was delayed for 45 minutes due to a lengthy XFL game. Due to the outrage that ensued, the rules of the league were actually changed to ensure this would not happen again. Then the league folded because it stunk.
- Sinead O’Connor’s controversial tearing of Pope John Paul II’s photograph was a surprise to everyone in the booth. In rehearsal she had held up a photo of a refugee child.
- Eleven films have been made from SNL sketches. Those that made money: Wayne’s World (both of them), The Blues Brothers, A Night At The Roxbury and Superstar. The biggest stinkers include Blues Brothers 2000 (budget: $28 million; box-office: $14 million), The Ladies Man (budget: $24 million; box-office $13.6 million), and Stuart Saves His Family (budget: $15 million; box-office: $912,000). The film It’s Pat doesn’t have a published budget, but it probably cost more than the $60,822 the movie brought in.
Saturday Night Live is currently in its 39th season. It has won 36 Emmy Awards, and slew of other accolades. The only individual Emmy winners have been Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner, but that’s because the show is a group effort. And so long as one of their self-re-inventions doesn’t tank completely, it’ll probably be on the air long after I’m gone.
If someone were to stop me on the street (or some other such location where I’d be removed from easy access to my braintrust, the internet) and ask me how a Canadian bill becomes a law, I’d have no idea. I know we have a legislative branch, and that there are votes and dissent and people that thump their hands against table-tops. But the details of the process? No clue. And I work for the government.
But before you condemn me as one of the drooling ignorant, in my defense there has never been a catchy song written about how Parliament does its thing.
As a kid, there were scant few options for television programming, so when something animated was on we watched. And despite our base desire for pure entertainment, the educational stuff would seep in through the cracks.
On Sesame Street the learning was fairly obvious. Mr. Rogers was teaching us all sorts of valuable lessons, but we didn’t care because we liked his sweaters and puppets. But perhaps the catchiest and most fun show from my youth was the delightful School House Rock: 3-minute animated classroom lectures, set to music.
Oh, we also had the Log-Driver’s Waltz too. Got to give props to true Canadian learning.
My American friends are saying, “Huh?” while my Canadian friends triumphantly cry, “Yeah, bitch!”
Around the dawn of the 1970’s, David McCall was a huge name in advertising. He was half of the successful Madison Avenue firm McCaffrey & McCall, which pulled in over $40 million in billings every year. One day David noticed that his son was having trouble remembering his multiplication tables. The kid could spout off the lyrics to the entire Beatles’ White Album and remember inane pop music ramblings like “there ain’t no one for to give you no pain,” but when it came to math he was lost. Read more…
As my television dependency shifts more and more from standardized broadcast schedules to the liberating realms of Netflix and Hulu and torrent dowloads, I find myself less and less interested in the annual fall offerings of fresh meat, filtered through tried-and-tested formulae. There was a time when a new slate of pilots would whet my curiosity at the next direction of pop culture.
Looking back, the year that ultimately steered my obsession with network TV into the shallow waters of rehabilitation was 1990. Some good shows found their way out of the sludge of mediocrity that year: Law & Order, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Parker Lewis Can’t Lose all popped up in 1990, but we were also handed more than our fair share of drek.
This year… who knows? I hear Seth McFarlane has a live-action sitcom and AMC is plugging the ever-loving hell out of Low Winter Sun, but that’s all I’m really aware of. Twenty-three years later and my expectations are still tempered by the crapfest from 1990. Will we ever sink this low again? My guess is probably.
This really happened. While NBC was pushing that giant Law & Order boulder down the mountain – the fragmentary pieces of which are still rolling along with a steady momentum – ABC felt that what was really missing from the standard police procedural was the bright splash of musical theatre. Read more…
Amid the seemingly infinite waterfall of random thoughts that saturate my brain and prevent it from doing anything particularly beneficial to society comes the realization that my children have grown up in a world where the Fox Network has always existed. They have never known the confines of a 12-channel world, nor have they experienced the end of a broadcast day, when content gave way to a static test pattern image (or, in some cases simply static) after a rousing rendition of the national anthem.
But then, even my own perspective of the technology is somewhat limited in scope. I remember the three-channel world (four if you count the French one) of not having cable, though I never actually experienced it myself. For me, there has always been a PBS, a CBC, a smattering of local channels and at least three equally massive networks.
But even I’m too young to remember that other network. The DuMont Network was long dead once I came around, even though its legacy deserves more than the hushed tones of seldom-referenced history.
Allen B. DuMont was an inventor. After performing some magic necessary to the birth of the medium by revolutionizing the cathode-ray tube in 1931, DuMont slapped down the first consumer-ready all-electronic television set in 1938. Throughout the 1940’s, DuMonts were the Lexus, Cadillac and BMWs of the television world. The only problem was, there wasn’t anything to watch. Read more…
In the pantheon of terrible movies – and that is a substantially large pantheon to be sure – the most gratifying and darkly satisfying to sit through are inevitably the classic sci-fi and monster movies of the 50’s and 60’s. These are films made with low budgets, cheap special effects, and pure hearts. It is a noble ambition to seize a few reels of celluloid and, while flying free of the Hollywood studio system, attempt to make something beyond this world.
These films are the easiest to mock, which is why a show like Mystery Science Theater 3000 could enjoy a lengthy run. Its audience consists of viewers who enjoy throwing their own one-liners at sub-standard theatrical fare when the tethers of proper decorum allow it.
Bill Beard, my film studies prof for the last three years, abhors MST3K and its ilk. He feels these movies deserve the respect of being watched through the lens of a movie-goer from that era, unaware of CGI, untainted by the masters at Industrial Light & Magic, and with a heart open to the shocks and wonders of creepy monsters and devilish aliens.
I could see his point, but some of these flicks are just downright goofy.
Like Eegah, a 1962 film that actually lends artistic credibility to Pauly Shore’s Encino Man. It’s the story of a woman who comes across a giant caveman in the California desert, at which point creepy hijinks ensue. Notable B-Movie director Arch Hall Sr. put up the money for this mess, and cast himself and his son in the lead roles because why the hell not? He wanted to make his son, Arch Hall Jr., into an all-around music and film star like Elvis, so he made sure to include a pair of crappy rock ‘n roll songs in the soundtrack. Read more…