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Thursday, September 29th, 2011

The SNL Movies That Never Happened

Ever since the first Wayne's World movie became a surprise hit, making $183 million from of a scant $20 million budget, releasing a sea of catchphrases into the public consciousness and turning Mike Myers and Dana Carvey into actors in high demand, Lorne Michaels and his producing partners have been searching for the next big SNL movie. In the three years that followed, Hollywood released a string of SNL spin-offs that failed to reach Wayne's World's level of success, including Coneheads, It's Pat, Stuart Saves His Family, and a second Wayne's World film. In 1995, because of the underperformance of these titles and SNL hitting a creative slump, several SNL movies already in development were put on ice.

1995 also saw one of the biggest cast turnovers in the show's history, with Lorne Michaels cleaning house by removing the likes of Adam Sandler and Chris Farley and bringing in Will Ferrell, Darrell Hammond, and Cheri Oteri, amongst other additions. With the new cast hitting its stride in the mid-90’s, Michaels restarted his quest to find the next Wayne's World, producing A Night at the Roxbury, Superstar, and The Ladies Man, each of which endured various degrees of success but failed to live up to the high expectations set by the 1992 Mike Myers-Dana Carvey classic. These films falling short of blockbuster status led to a decade without SNL movies, until MacGruber came out last year and also performed poorly at the box office.

Turning a short comedy sketch into a full-length feature film is a daunting and fairly irrational task, and it's no wonder that Wayne's World's success has been so tough to replicate. That hasn't stopped the producers of SNL from trying, though. Over the years, several SNL movies were planned that never made it to the screen. The era immediately following Wayne's World's triumphant box office victory is when most of these were put into development, and it seems that there were attempts to build movies off of just about every Mike Myers character except “Lothar of the Hill People.” Let's take a look at some of the planned SNL spin-offs that never got off the ground.

The Coneheads animated series (pilot aired 1983)
Rankin/Bass, a production company best known for its stop-motion animation work like the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer holiday special, also dabbled in unnecessary, tacky cartoon adaptations like an animated series starring The Jackson 5 and a one-off pilot to a cartoon show based on The Coneheads. Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman all reprised their roles for the pilot, which was produced by Lorne Michaels and written by original SNL scribes Al Franken and Tom Davis. It also featured a laughtrack. The Coneheads pilot wasn’t picked up to series, but it did air on NBC in primetime and was released on VHS. Coneheads became a live-action feature film a decade later.

Check the pilot out here:

The Saturday Night Live Movie (in development 1990)
Lorne Michaels left SNL in the early 80's and returned midway through the decade to save the show from the clutches of cancellation. It took a season or so of trial and error for SNL to get rolling again, but with a talented cast that included Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, and Jan Hooks, and a writing staff that featured SNL veterans like Jim Downey, Herb Sargent, Al Franken, and Tom Davis, and newcomers like Conan O'Brien, George Meyer, Greg Daniels, Robert Smigel, and Bob Odenkirk, the show finally started to hit its stride again in 1986. In 1990, with the show still riding high as the tail end of this creative renaissance neared, the writers started putting together the script to a project known as The Saturday Night Live Movie, which would have been a feature-length, anthology-style string of comedy sketches on the theme of going to the movies. Among the sketches planned for the film were an E.T. spoof that was nearly a decade late, a short film following Dana Carvey as a young George H.W. Bush at Yale, and a crime movie parody called “Tip Stealer,” written by comedy nerd demi-god George Meyer.

Drew McWeeny over at Hitfix, who is solely responsible for the public knowing that this project ever existed, has more detailed descriptions of each sketch in this great piece from last year.

Hans & Franz: The Girly-Man Dilemma (in development circa 1993)
The canceled SNL movie that seems the most promising is the planned “Hans and Franz” film, Hans & Franz: The Girly-Man Dilemma. Don't get me wrong. Hans and Franz, the Arnold Schwarzenegger-inspired macho weightlifters played by Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon, are one-note characters that don't exactly beg for the feature film treatment, but what the writing team of Carvey, Nealon, Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel had planned for this movie sounds pretty impressive. Arnold Schwarzenegger was onboard to co-star (as himself) and co-produce, and the story revolved around Hans and Franz following in Schwarzenegger's footsteps by traveling to Hollywood to become movie stars. The Hans and Franz movie was to be a gag-heavy musical that toyed with a lot of the conventions of cinema. Robert Smigel recalls one running joke, in which the film would cut to Siskel and Ebert watching the movie in progress, only to be interrupted by Hans and Franz barging in and asking for feedback. Arnold Schwarzenegger got cold feet and pulled out, causing Hans & Franz: The Girly-Man Dilemma to be cancelled. Presumably, it was because Last Action Hero, another satirical film in which Schwarzenegger played himself, had bombed, and he didn’t want to star in anything that was in a similar vein.

Untitled “Superfans” Movie (in development 1994-1995)
Robert Smigel and Bob Odenkirk wrote a movie based on “The Superfans,” the group of stereotypical Chicago sports fanatics whose catchphrases "Da Bulls" and "Da Bears" swept the nation after Chris Farley, Mike Myers, Robert Smigel, and frequent SNL guest George Wendt originated the roles in a series of popular sketches. The plot for the proposed film involved the Superfans dealing with a businessman who doesn’t understand football buying the Chicago Bears and turning Soldier Field into a luxury stadium for the rich.  Smigel and Odenkirk wrote the part of Burton Kimpkington, the businessman who purchases the Bears, for Martin Short. Smigel even quit his job as Conan O’Brien’s head writer to work on the script, but the timing didn’t work out right. SNL was going through its disastrous 1994-95 season, and a scathing review from New York Magazine made a bad situation worse. The network called off all future SNL movies. Putting another roadblock in the Superfans movie's way, Tommy Boy became a huge hit for Chris Farley, leading his management to become disinterested in him taking ensemble work. A staged reading of the Superfans script took place at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Chicago last year, with George Wendt, Joe Mantegna, Horatio Sanz (presumably filling in for Farley), Smigel, and Odenkirk all participating.

Coffee Talk (in development mid-90’s)
Towards the end of the era in which studios were frantically greenlighting SNL movies left and right, Mike Myers had begun working on a film based on his popular Jewish talk show host character, Linda Richman. Myers based the character off of his mother-in-law and even named the character after her. The movie was called off when the failure of titles like It's Pat and Stuart Saves His Family prompted NBC to put the kibosh on future SNL adaptations. Very little is known about the Coffee Talk movie, but this wouldn’t be the last SNL character Myers tried to adapt for a feature film…

Dieter (in development 1999-2000)
After the success of the first Austin Powers secured Mike Myers's place as a movie star, he began developing a project based on his SNL character Dieter, an asexual, black turtleneck-wearing German talk show host. The script, written by Myers, Jack Handey, and Michael McCullers, covered Dieter’s journey to find his lost monkey Klaus. Up-and-comers Jack Black and Will Ferrell signed on to costar and David Hasselhoff was expected to make an extended cameo. Myers was unhappy with the script that he and his writing partners had created and got into a fight with the studio that resulted in him leaving the project. He was sued by Universal Studios for $3.8 million and Imagine Entertainment for $30 million. He countersued the studios, and DreamWorks execs Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenbeg stepped in to mediate, with NNDB reporting that the settlement involved Mike Myers agreeing to star in The Cat in the Hat. Myers also faced allegations from his Second City colleague Dana Anderson, who claims to have co-created the character and several catchphrases with Myers.

This seems like a missed opportunity for everyone involved. Mike Myers hasn't had much live-action success in the past fifteen years outside of Austin Powers, and Dieter could have proven he still could pull in audiences. With Will Ferrell and Jack Black, who were each just a few years away from bursting into full-fledged movie stars, by his side, Dieter had plenty going for it.

The X-Presidents (in development late 90’s)
Adam McKay and Robert Smigel wrote a script to a movie based on the TV Funhouse segment “The X-Presidents” on spec in the late 90’s, intending for it to be produced cheaply for $3 million. As SNL fans will recall, the original sketches followed former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush gaining superpowers and fighting crime. When Smigel and McKay were unable to get the film made, they turned the story into a graphic novel, which was released in 2000.

Key Party (in development circa 2005)
In 2005, Seth Meyers signed a deal to star in and write a movie based on an SNL sketch called "Key Party" with Lorne Michaels onboard to produce. The original "Key Party" sketch only appeared on the show one time in 2004 and it starred a pre-Weekend Update Seth Myers and Amy Poehler as an odd couple presiding over a partner-swapping key party. The sketch is most notable for introducing the character Carol, whom Horatio Sanz played in drag and became a late period recurring role for the actor. The Key Party film would have deviated from the sketch significantly, with Meyers playing an average guy who’s life is turned upside-down after attending a key party with his wife. Still, it seems weird to base a film off of a one-time sketch. Maybe this would have been a new direction to go with SNL movies, though, just using the sketch as a jumping-off point for a movie instead of trying to stretch a three-minute bit to fill an hour-and-a-half. Myers became bogged down with scripting duties on SNL, when he became the show’s head writer later on in 2005.  I suspect the busy schedule that job entails is part of the reason Key Party hasn't moved forward. It hasn’t been formally announced that Key Party was cancelled, and Meyers could very easily pick the project back up sometime in the future, but no news has come in about the movie in quite some time. As things stand right now, neither a director nor any additional cast members are attached, and Key Party doesn’t look like it’ll be nearing production anytime soon.

The Ambiguously Gay Duo (in development circa 2005)
In a 2010 interview with the AV Club, Robert Smigel said, “I’m guilty of writing probably as many SNL movies as anybody, but mine have never been made.” Taking a look at all of the past SNL movies Smigel’s been involved in, he’s probably right. Smigel and Stephen Colbert wrote the script to a live-action film based on The Ambiguously Gay Duo TV Funhouse animated shorts around 2005, but the project never made it to production. This past season on SNL, we finally got a glimpse at what a live-action Ambiguously Gay Duo would have looked like in the Ed Helms-hosted episode which featured a non-animated version of the sketch. Jon Hamm and Jimmy Fallon played Ace and Gary, while Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert, who voiced the original homosexual heroes, dropped by to play villains Bighead and Dr. Brainio. The sketch was probably much more fulfilling than any 90-minute long version of these characters could ever be, even if Smigel and Colbert would have been behind it.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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  • iamjustryingtolive

    i'd love to see the Stefan movie, where Stefan has to show Anthony Crispino around NYC's nightlife to track down some criminals.

  • Ray Anselmo@twitter

    I would've loved to see Dieter get made, if only because it might've prevented the making of The Cat in the Hat.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Worcester/818292220 Ben Worcester

    This is kind of weird, but I am kind of morbidly fascinated about how a Coffee Talk movie would have turned out. Horribly, to be sure. But still.

  • Jason Farr@facebook

    Man, too bad. I would have liked to have seen the Ambiguously Gay Duo movie. Also, I kept seeing a "Bear City" movie being in development. Did you ever hear anything on that?
    Oh, and someone updated this last month to say Key Party was announced for a 2013 release: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0473054/