The chances that the first day of April (or any day in April, for that matter) will fall on a Saturday are one in seven — yet in 36 seasons, Saturday Night Live has aired an original episode on April Fool’s Day only once. In contrast, there have been six Valentine’s Day shows, five on St. Patrick’s Day and three on Halloween.
On April 1, 1989, Mel Gibson hosted with musical guest Living Colour, and surprisingly, the only reference made to what is arguably the funniest holiday of the year was a quick Weekend Update joke about Dan Quayle (“April Fool!”).
2012 offers a unique opportunity. March 31st falls on a Saturday, which means that if there is a new episode of SNL scheduled for that night (the schedule hasn't been released yet), the show will be on the air as the clock turns to April Fool’s Day at midnight.
Having watched the show religiously since I was a kid who hadn’t heard of the Little Rascals but still thought Eddie Murphy’s Buckwheat was hysterical, it’s been a long time since SNL really surprised me – so with that in mind, I humbly introduce what I’m referring to as “A Great Idea”:
Take the show back 25 years without telling anyone, and act like nothing is unusual about it.
Here’s how Lorne Michaels & Co. can pull it off:
1) Bring in a host who was famous enough to do it in 1987 but also remains relevant today. One possibility: Mark Harmon, who hosted that year on May 9 and is currently on the most popular show on television that no one I know watches.
2) Do the first half hour of the show as if everything is completely normal, and then come back for Weekend Update – with Dennis Miller. Everything from the old desk set to his jiggling Statue of Liberty intro should be easy to replicate, and just have Miller do the news as if he never left the desk in the first place.
3) Gradually introduce the cast members from the 1986-87 season as the audience starts to figure out what’s happening — during Update, Victoria Jackson stops by to do a handstand and Kevin Nealon performs as “Mr. Subliminal.” Then after a commercial, the sketches begin and the rest of the cast (Dana Carvey, Nora Dunn, Jan Hooks, Jon Lovitz) appears naturally as they would in a regular 1987 episode. No one from the current cast should appear on the show once the clock strikes midnight.
4) Because this would be a simulation of an actual show from 1987, don’t go overboard with recurring characters from the past. In other words, stay away from the Church Lady and go for Massive Head-Wound Harry instead.
5) Use the old yellow-bar SNL logo for bumps to commercial, and throw G.E. Smith on stage with the band.
6) Bring in a musical guest whose career spans 25 years so that their first song (before midnight) fits in 2012 and their second (after midnight) fits in 1987.
7) That musical guest should not be Living Colour.
8) Pay tribute to Phil Hartman with a classic sketch at the end of the show.
If they really want to go all the way, why not contact some of the show’s regular sponsors and see if they’ll run their old commercials too? I know I’d be far less inclined to speed through it on the DVR if a Budweiser commercial from 25 years ago suddenly appeared on screen.
We are a nostalgic culture, and that’s part of the reason for SNL's endurance. Many times, it seems the only reason people outside the 18-34 year-old demographic watch is to say “It’s not what it used to be” and then reference the cast of their youth — but they still watch. Spanning five different decades, SNL is an iconic program with a unique and rich history that it embraces regularly (see the recent appearances by Maya Rudolph, Darrell Hammond and practically all of Jimmy Fallon’s castmates). As a result, there really is no other show on television that could pull something like this off — and because of the nature of the show itself, it wouldn’t be too tough to try.
You’re not going to see Bryant Gumbel or Deborah Norville host Today for nostalgia’s sake. There is little to no chance that Craig Kilborn is going to make a triumphant return to The Daily Show. And it goes without saying that Conan O’Brien will never again host The Tonight Show.
So come on, SNL — fool me.
Mitchell Scherr is a writer and producer in New York. He got an A in 8th grade Social Studies, primarily because of an oral report that was staged as an edition of Weekend Update with Dennis Miller.