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Long Live "Saturday Night Live"

After 25 years, there's still cause for hope when they say - "Live from New York ... It's Saturday Night!"

Friday, September 24, 1999

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When "Saturday Night Live" was good, it was very good.

Killer Bees, Blues Brothers, Coneheads, samurais and grill orders for "cheeseburger, cheeseburger." Two wild and crazy guys on the prowl for American foxes, "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood," Mr. Bill, the Church Lady, the Coffee Talk hostess, Ed Grimley, Hans and Franz, chubby Chippendales, Wayne's World, Operaman, Mary Katherine Gallagher and Ben Affleck popping up from the audience to tell ex-gal pal Gwyneth Paltrow to drop the veddy British accent.

    Long Live 'Live'

Not Ready for Prime-Time follies

Recording Review: 'Saturday Night Live: The Musical Performances, Vols. 1 and 2'


And when "Saturday Night Live" was bad, it was very bad.

Players bolting for the big screen. Painful rebuilding years. A tasteless sketch called "First, He Cries" which parodied male attitudes toward mastectomy and prompted Bill Murray to ask, "Do you know what it's like to go out there and play something that's going to make people hate you?" Skits and fake commercials overly dependent on coarse humor and sex. Goat Boy. Mango. The firing of Norm Macdonald. And more bits that were devoid of laughs than we could possibly count or remember or stay awake to watch.

It's no wonder that creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels acknowledges, "Well, I used to say in the '70s that I thought the word 'uneven' would be on my tombstone because it was just in every review," usually in the first sentence.

That description still applies to the show, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary Sunday (yes, Sunday) with a live special on NBC from 9 to 11:30 p.m.

"Saturday Night Live -- The 25th Anniversary" will blend live segments with clips, never-before-seen footage, musical performances and tributes to cast members who have died. Anyone who ever hosted or appeared on the show has been invited, which means Studio 8H in New York's Rockefeller Center will resemble Emmy or Oscar night.

Robert Downey Jr., part of the 1985-86 cast, will be occupied elsewhere but scheduled to appear are: Dan Aykroyd, Dana Carvey, Chevy Chase, Billy Crystal, Norm Macdonald, Dennis Miller, Garrett Morris, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Conan O'Brien (a former writer and sometime performer), Laraine Newman, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Martin Short, David Spade and a couple of dozen others.

Frequent hosts Steve Martin, king of appearances with 13, Tom Hanks, Paul Simon, Alec Baldwin and John Goodman are expected, too. The Eurythmics will perform for the first time in a decade, Al Green will appear and the Beastie Boys will join Elvis Costello on "Radio, Radio."

The new season will kick off with a couple of big guns, too. On Oct. 2, Jerry Seinfeld will host, with David Bowie as musical guest.

Last year's cast is returning intact, with two featured players promoted to the regular repertory company. This year's lineup: Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Ana Gasteyer, Darrell Hammond, Chris Kattan, Tim Meadows, Tracy Morgan, Cheri Oteri, Chris Parnell, Colin Quinn, Horatio Sanz and Molly Shannon.

The show's been around so long that Fallon finds himself impersonating "SNL" alum Sandler on "Celebrity Jeopardy" skits and even remembers watching the early seasons as a child. "My parents used to tape it, when they had the VCRs that were like two big pieces. And they'd just tape it and, like, let me and my sister watch all the stuff that we could watch," he recently told reporters.

Fallon memorized the monologues, and he and his sister re-created the sketches for their parents. "We'd do the Czech brothers or something, or lip synch to 'King Tut.' So, it was a dream that I've always had. I was flipping out when I got it."

The perpetually hip George Carlin hosted the inaugural "Saturday Night Live" on Oct. 11, 1975. Musical guests were Janis Ian, who had learned the truth at 17, and Billy Preston, who taught America the musical math equation, "Nothing From Nothing." Comedian Andy Kaufman popped up, too.

President Ford recently had survived two assassination attempts and heiress Patricia Hearst -- then answering to the name of Tania -- had been apprehended. Bruce Springsteen and his E-Street Band hit the top of the charts with "Born to Run."

Turned out "SNL" was born to run, too. And run and run.

Some years, it seemed to sprint. In others, it slowed to a crawl as viewers tuned in at 11:30 p.m. and tuned out by the first commercial break.

Critics periodically wrote about near-fatal seasons, followed by countless comebacks. "SNL" always managed to resuscitate itself, with recent signs

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