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Why You Can't Live With or Without Saturday Night Live

May 22, 2010 by Ted Crawford

SNL just ended it's 35th season with strong ratings, and still seems as young and fresh as a show half its age. It continues to attract high-dollar advertisers in a time slot that only brings cheap commercials to other networks.

The ongoing popularity of SNL is due in no small part to the fact that Saturday night is a television wasteland. There is really nothing much on, because the networks assume that all the viewers, movers and shakers that we are, will be out painting the town and being glamourous, maintaining our lofty positions on the social totem pole, attending elegant parties in million dollar mansions perched on mountain tops as the moon shines down into our champagne glasses and we gaze uncaringly from our balconies into the city lights below.

The TV networks don't suspect the truth of how we really spend our weekends, which typically consist of eating some leftover tuna casserole for dinner while sitting in an old La-Z-Boy that you're still making payments on, trying to convince your teenage daughter not to have another baby, realizing you'll have to wait two more paychecks to have your car's brakes fixed, and reflecting that your only chance for escaping your job as a tire store manager seems to be the brochure you received in the mail about learning therapeutic massage at your local career college. And even though it's Saturday night, you don't have to worry about taking your wife out on a date because she's gone off for the weekend with her belly dance instructor, some guy named Stephan who knows a lot about eastern religions. So you wash down a couple of pain killers with a Pabst Blue Ribbon, and settle in for a night of escape in front of the tube.

After a few minutes of channel surfing you start to realize that the networks have a very low opinion of people who watch TV on a Saturday night. You have your choice between some Cops reruns, a cooking show, a stray crime procedural or two, and a couple of old movies from 1994. In desperation you proceed to PBS. They've helped you out in the past. They'll stimulate your brain with something informative. What's this? Lawrence Welk? Say it's not true. Yes, they're taunting you. You can almost hear your wife laughing with comtempt. You take another swig of Pabst and glance doubtfully over at the stack of books that you never finished reading. "Anything but that," you moan despairingly. You've still got one last line of defence: you can hook up the old Super Nintendo.

Then you look at the clock and, like an answer to a prayer, it occurs to you that it's almost 11:30/10:30c, and Saturday Night Live will be on soon, your comedy oasis in the middle of a dreary weekend.

Herein lies the appeal of SNL.

I must confess, this column was originally meant to be a scathing indictment of SNL, with statements such as, "Forget Seinfeld, SNL is the real life Show About Nothing, devoid of all intelligence or vision... " Then I dutifully sat down with my notebook and watched the 2010 season finale, and I was forced to admit that most of it was actually very funny. In particular, I liked the Sally Field drug commercial parody, the latest Andy Samberg video, and a couple of the Alex Baldwin sketches ("Take the shot!")

The quality of SNL may ebb and flow like the tides, but the show will always thrive because it provides a much need service to America. It rescues us in our moment of doubt and makes us feel hip and relevant again. This is why we will always return to the show, year after year, and suffer through annoying skits like Mr. Peepers, the ambiguously gay duo, and Grady Wilson's marital aid videos. Lorne Michaels, to his credit, has always managed to keep the show entertaining on some level in spite of the revolving door of cast changes. This is no small task in an age of watered down, corporate-friendly television programming.

In closing, I would like to emphasize that I do not consider myself an SNL fan. I have spent the last dedade or so trying not to watch it, but like the castaways on Gilligan's Island, I always end up back where I started, listening to those words, "Live from New York, It's Saturday Night!" Attempting to escape the show's gravitational pull has proven to be futile.

"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...