Sunday, April 06, 2014

TV: Saturday Night Live's latest problem

"Who is Judy?" an NBC exec asked us on the phone this morning?


Oh, goody.  A game.  We'll play.

Rapid fire we wondered, did he mean folk singer Judy Collins?  The late Judy Garland?  Gilda Radner's hilarious character Judy Miller?  Maybe he meant the notorious reporter Judith Miller? Young adult author Judy Blume?  Australian actress Judy Davis?  Laugh In's Judy Carne?  British actress Judi Dench?

We got in a few more before he said, "No, no, Judy on Leave It To Beaver!"


Jeri Weil played Beaver Cleaver's classmate Judy Hensler, the closest thing to a nemesis Jerry Mathers' character had on the show with her constant kissing up to their teacher Miss Landers.

Saturday Night Live is suffering through one of its worst periods of all time.  It's been a hit, it's a been flop, it's had people calling for its demise because it was boring or just not funny but it's never had negatives like it does now.

As a result, NBC suits are monitoring the show's reception episode-by-episode these days.

The week Kerry Washington was set to host, you may remember, a media frenzy began to build over the fact that SNL had no African-American female in the cast. You may have noticed the frenzy ceased as quickly as it started because Lorne Michaels immediately announced he would hire an African-American female.

Lorne does nothing immediately.

He is the turtle.

But he immediately makes a statement (and quickly hires Sasheer Zamata) because SNL is experiencing its shakiest moment since spring 1986.  We're not talking creatively, we're talking survival.

And we had no idea until Sunday morning just how bad it was.

We ignore the show these days.  We did two pieces ("TV: A week of putrid and puerile" and "TV: No, it wasn't a feminist skit"*) on the low, low rated Lena Dunham-hosted episode only because she trashed Shonda Rhimes.

We think Shonda's tremendously talented, we personally like her and we also find it offensive that Lena -- who produces a show with an all White cast -- thought she could mock Shonda for diversity.  We think it's one of the all time low points of SNL, mocking a show for having a diverse cast.

Otherwise, we ignore the show.

We had told the NBC friend that phoned this morning, had told him over two years ago, that we just weren't going to waste our time on the show anymore.  It had become one-sided and, worst of all for comedy, predictable.

Which is why he called Sunday.

More and more SNL viewers are sounding off to NBC these days.  There's a comment form you can fill out at the NBC site -- we couldn't find it, it kept asking for another click after another.  Braver and more determined souls than us successfully navigate the site to leave comments during the show.

Mainly about how awful the show is and at what point during the broadcast they turned off.

The first skit after the 'opening monologue' (which was sung) seems to have run off most from what we were told on the phone.

One man, identifying as a Democrat, explained he just couldn't take it anymore.

The skit was about ObamaCare.

There are many jokes there.  ObamaCare is very unpopular.  At ABC News on Monday, Gary Langer noted a Washington Post - ABC News poll which found an even split on support for it with the half of Americans for it and half against it (margin of error is 3.5%) while Wednesday found Kristen Soltis Anderson (Daily Beast) pointing out that the poll was the exception with most other polls "showing opposition to the law [at] over 50 percent with support barely cracking the low 40s."  Two weeks ago, Jonathan Easley (The Hill) observed:

Democrats have been waiting for ObamaCare to become popular for four years.
And counting.
Congressional leaders and senior White House advisers have been saying since 2010 that public opinion will turn their way sometime soon. Be patient, they have told anxious members of their party again and again.

There should be some comic gold in that.  You also had that the website was down again at the start of the week -- on the supposed last day of enrollment.

So which one did SNL go with?  Or did they go with both?

They went with neither.

They went with a skit mocking Fox News, a skit where it's funny that Fox News questions the government (specifically the claim of how many enrolled).

SNL mocked questioning authority.

And they again ridiculed Fox News.

That's how Judy came up.

The show, specifically that skit, was compared to Judy on Leave It To Beaver.

Because it was a kiss-ass skit.

It wasn't funny, it wasn't novel.  It was the sort of thing, honestly, that Fox News tried in the final gasps of the Bully Boy Bush administration.

Remember that?

The 1/2 Hour News Hour?

It was comedy that was going to 'buck' conventional wisdom by telling you how great Bully Boy Bush was. Those appearing on the show (we'll be very kind and not name them) came off like kiss asses, like brown nosers.  Comedy only works when it takes on the powerful.

If your big joke is that some struggling worker lost his or her job and is now homeless, no one's going to laugh.  You aim high in comedy, go after the big targets.

A lot of people, including us, laughed at The 1/2 Hour News Hour -- at, not with -- and thought the left would never do anything so stupid.

Then came Seth Meyers and Saturday Night Live morphed into a very unfunny show.

Unfunny and unfair.

The show that used to boat it made fun of all sides became, for the first time in its long history, the comedy show that couldn't make fun of a sitting president when that president was Barack Obama.

There was hope that when Seth left the show (which he did in February), SNL would bounce back to something resembling normal.

We didn't share that hope.

We knew Seth was politically ignorant and so were the others.

Because of the call, we had to watch the episode.  Or at least the opening.

GM before Congress.

That was the 'funny.'

It could have been funny and political but instead it was sexist and Three Stooges.

Sexist in that the 'joke' was that a woman wouldn't know anything about cars.  Three Stooges in that the only genuine laugh comes from the executive attempting to wheel away in her chair and, when caught, insisting the floor was slanted.

A woman doesn't know anything about cars?  From 2008 through 2013, SNL has no African-American female cast member?

This is what we mean by the writers being politically ignorant.

They're offended by racism -- real racism and faux racism -- and denounce it in others.  But it took a protest to get an African-American woman in the cast?

It took that protest after years of SNL taking potshots at others for racism?

And they think they're so left and yet they resort to sexism constantly?

Seth Meyers, on air in a Weekend Update segment, blamed low income (mainly minority) Americans for the housing crisis and you think he's politically aware?

No, they're deeply stupid and prone to seeing the worst in others while failing to examine themselves.

That's why the jokes aren't funny and the series now revolves around TV show parodies and TV commercial parodies.

They're unable to write real skits because they're unable to examine their own lives.

And their knee-jerk comedy is killing the show.

SNL long had a problem with people turning off after Weekend Update.  These days the numbers are alarming with regards to how many turn off before.

And the predictable and one-sided, kiss ass nature of the show has resulted in huge negatives for the show.

SNL needs to be able to pull potential viewers with a big name host.  But the pool of potential viewers grows smaller and smaller.

There are too many people at present, as NBC's polling demonstrates, who will not watch the show.

SNL never had this problem before.  That's because when either Bush was in the Oval Office, they mocked him.  When Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were in the Oval Office, they mocked him.

The show's  go-to for the last six years has been mock Fox News.

Or mock Elizabeth Hasselbeck for her right-wing views when she was on The View but not mock Sherri Shepherd for saying the world was flat or for her many anti-gay remarks over the years-- most recently in January.

SNL in better times mocked abusrdity.

But these days, it's as if the writers spend each session searching through Media Matters for something stupid that the right-wing did.

The NBC exec said this morning that he couldn't believe how many liberals were offended by this.

He shouldn't be surprised.

Fairness doesn't belong to one side.  Most Americans believe in fairness and equality and when they see SNL becoming an organ for one political party, they will be appalled.

We were making this point in real time, years ago.

And to his credit, the NBC suit noted that during the conversation.

But he mainly did so to ask what we thought happened next?

Could SNL recover from this?

The season is almost over.

We don't see how.

They have spent years -- since 2008 -- being one-sided and hypocritical.  To turn that image around in a month?

They'd have to work hard and quickly and, as we noted earlier, Lorne does nothing immediately.

Look at the ruin of SNL, for example, it took him six years to give the show it's worst reputation ever, to create a large pool of people hostile to the show who will never watch, not even if Kurt Cobain rose from the dead to show up as a musical guest.

A network can stick with an iffy show that goes up and down in the ratings if it has the potential to rebound but, more and more, it's becoming clear that the number of potential Saturday Night Live viewers is shrinking.

NBC, based on statements this morning, appears to think it can handle this.  It was noted that Lorne "falls in line" when push comes to shove.

Actually, he doesn't.

He'll play  like, for example, he fired Norm McDonald or Adam Sandler because NBC really twisted his hand but he actually did so because he'd come to agree they needed to go.

The NBC suit allowed we might be right about those examples but then cited Up All Night.  Faced with cancellation, Lorne went along with every order to revamp the show ("and we gave orders," he said).

For those who've forgotten, a very funny show in its first season became an idiotic and reactionary program in its second season and it was so bad that when Christina Applegate announced she was leaving the still in-production show, no one threatened her with a lawsuit.

If the exec is right, then next season's Saturday Night Live will be of interest if only to see who wins out: the network or Lorne?


* With Marcia and Ann, we wrote a third piece:   "Paste magazine: Home of the Racist Chubby Chaser," "Paste magazine: Home of the Racist Chubby Chaser" and "Paste magazine: Home of the Racist Chubby Chaser."


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }