4 Simple Ways (and 1 Slightly Less Simple Way) to Improve ‘SNL’
People like to talk shit about SNL and then in turn give advice. SNL has been a perpetual motion machine for 37 years, almost exclusively overseen by one man, Lorne Michaels, and yet people always think they’re doing it all wrong. “Stop repeating characters, Lorne.” “Everybody hates game show and talk show sketches.” “Why isn’t my favorite actor/comedian/athlete hosting SNL RIGHT NOW!?” Trust me, Lorne knows all your concerns but as Bill Hader said in our recent interview: “Yeah, he knows that audience better than anybody. He’s been doing it longer than any of us, so shut up and listen to him.'” That being said there are some very simple things that can probably improve the overall SNL experience. Here four small ideas and one bigger idea:
1. On Hulu And NBC.COM, List The Time In The Show The Sketch Ran
OK, so this one is super easy. It might seem minor but this info would be fairly edifying. It’s common knowledge that they put the broader and/or more immature stuff early in the show and put the weirder or subtler stuff later. Knowing this sort of a context will only heighten the experience of those who watch a show online. Not to mention, what if you could then sort by time in the show and be able to pull up all the 10-to-1 sketches!?
2. List Who Wrote Each Sketch
While you’re listing the time, why don’t you also throw in who wrote the sketch. There are probably some solid reasons why they don’t acknowledge explicitly who wrote each sketch. Sure, it might distract from the all for one and one for all facet of the show and maybe there are some Writers Guild issues. Still, it just seems like a no brainer. Sometimes the next day Seth Meyers tweets who wrote a particular sketch and by all accounts people love it. Writers of comedy are becoming stars in their own right and building fandom for specific writers could only boost a given fan’s loyalty to the show. It’s the Information Age and there seems to be a real demand for this. People want to be able to learn each writer’s sensibility, beyond the ones who are present performers themselves. Not to mention it would be fun to see just how many sketches Mulaney actually gets on each week.
3. Bite The Bullet On Online Music Licensing
This one is not as easy as the previous two because it will cost money. Music licensing is a whole thing. There’s license for the song and there’s a license for the actual recorded track. When an artist performs the song live, then SNL only has to pay for the rights to use the song. Meaning: It’s easier and cheaper to have an artist perform a song than to use the actual recorded version in a sketch. Add in the fact that the license for the show is separate from the set of licenses needed to house the performance on the Internet. Because of the added cost, most things with music never make it online, other than the occasional performance. And I get it. However, ultimately, I truly believe the investment is worth it. Though the ratings have been solid, so much of the show’s success these days is defined by its next week virality. In March, we ran through sketches that you would have missed if you only watched the show on Hulu and most very easily could’ve gotten major web coverage. There is also something to be said about diminishing the product by not putting these sketches up. If they are going to go through the trouble of clearing the rights for a song, then the sketch must be really worth that effort, which implies they are very good sketches, which means they are the sketches people should see.
4. Put Up A Lot More Dress Rehearsal Clips
There are two sorts of dress rehearsal clips: Cut sketches and looser versions of what eventually went on air. It’s hard to say put all the cut sketches online because they might be reworked for a later show but the latter sort would be fun for everyone. Watch this:
They already do an OK job with this but I think this could and should be stepped up. Nothing crazy but two clips or so an episode would be much appreciated. There is obviously an interest to see behind the SNL curtain like never before. It doesn’t have to be this perfect monolith; instead, fans want to see the process of how a sketch gets sculpted. And they want to see these actors laugh a lot.
5. Make Vanessa Bayer The Co-Anchor Of Weekend Update
OK, this is the big one. This one won’t happen overnight, so I want to start the movement now. (It worked with Jay Pharoah.) Why Vanessa? Vanessa is fine as characters but she’s one of the best cast members, if not the best, at just being a normal person who smiles and makes peculiar faces. Unlike her follow cast mates like Nasim and Fred who are ultimately best deep in character. As Bill Hader said in his interview: “Vanessa Bayer makes me laugh. Vanessa Bayer does this smile thing where I can’t look at her or I’ll start laughing.” There is something about her that’s a bit harder to pin down, but it’s rooted in something very human. She’d be great as a co-anchor, paired with someone who is a bit more of a straight-faced sort, like Seth. The dynamic would be not unlike when Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey did it together, but with Vanessa as the smiling foil to the seriousish head writer Seth. Also, the fact is this is her third year on the show and arguably she hasn’t been able to get serious footing, other than a sketch here or there. Also, as Seth said on Today earlier this week: “This is a transition year for us, it’s time for the young cast to sort of become the vets on the show.” Let’s have that transition start in the chair right next to Seth.
Jesse David Fox is a writer, cat person, and Jew (in that order). He lives in Brooklyn. He’ll still think SNL is pretty neat even if these changes don’t ever occur.