Friday, September 14th, 2012

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.

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  • http://twitter.com/ninesnowboots Ben

    You can find some information about who wrote what sketch if they have original songs written for them: they have to register each original song on ASCAP or BMI. It's also a great way to find out everyone's middle name.

  • ManfredYon

    Bang bang bang, all great points, all well thought out points, great simple article. Congratulations, you nailed. You should be on SNL staff. As Lorne if your can be on staff. I'll ask if you're shy: he'll listen to me, I'm a long time fan.

  • Aaron

    How about hosts with a comedic background?

  • akivaddict

    LOVE the suggestion for adding the time aired onto the clip description (and being able to search by them!), but considering Hulu has recently taken ALL customizable features off their site, I doubt they will be adding this one too soon.

    Has anyone else noticed that they removed:
    – The ability to conduct a search within a series/page. (SO frustrating!!! I used to type in "behind the scenes" all the time.) :(
    – The page number listing for each category (so that you could enter a numeral into the box, in order to skip ahead among the 1,000 clip entries instead of having to hit the scroll arrow 200 times!)
    – The airdate in the description (and the functionality for sorting by air date. For real- try it! It is not accurate at all anymore!)

    And listing who wrote each sketch through some medium (one way or another- on hulu tags, on the website, in the credits) is LONG overdue. I hate just finding out about it 10 years later when Tom Shales writes a bio.

  • ComedyNerd

    Ok. the idea of these improvements are awesome; Vanessa Bayer, listing the times the sketches air… all that is great, HOWEVER I also like the cloud of mystery that goes into it every week. Improvement number 2 bothers me the most I think. Not that I totally disagree with you, maybe it would be great for the writers, but personally, I don't want to know which sketches Mulaney or whoever is writing because if it kills (and you nerd out about it in your free time like me) then eventually you'll find out. Not to mention, the writers who don't get sketches picked every week? Imagine if that was public knowledge! Jason Sudeikis had a stint like that for a while when he was a writer (which he only talked about after he was a regular performer). If that had been common knowledge that he was a staff writer not getting sketches out there WHILE HE WAS A STAFF WRITER, it would've added unneccessary pressure I think and who knows… maybe he would've gotten fired (or worse, quit) and he wouldn't be the amazing performer he is today. Just my opinion though. I get what you're saying and I respect it. it is all very well thought out.

    • akivaddict

      How will you "eventually find out"? Cause I geek out about it in my free time and do not seem to know all the answers.
      I find things sporadically- like in an interview or on a podcast- where a staff member mentions that a particular sketch was written by a / with particular writer[s]. (I also have some friends that work at Rock Center and that helps- but clearly, that is really having an "in".) But I never just find out who was involved with each sketch on the internet or something. The little glimpses I find by scouting are few and far between.
      Are you finding these insights somewhere special? (or do you just know someone involved or something?) Share the love, man!

  • Come on

    This is all just some nerd's idea on how to make their own personal viewing of SNL a day later on the internet more enjoyable. Do you get that for 4 our of 5 of these are not applicable or important to 95% of the viewing audience of the show?

    • http://twitter.com/megh_wright Megh Wright

      NERDS ARE IMPORTANT. And honestly, 95% of the people I know who watch SNL do it at work on Monday, so yeah.

      • Lev Tolstoi

        so yeah, what RTRD?

    • akivaddict

      I view it live (when possible), record it on my DVR, AND watch it on the internet on Monday at the office… in coordination with Erik Voss' review.
      Pretty sure this makes me 96% of the viewing audience. So… yeah.

    • Kristin Burns

      I agree. It doesn't actually fix the sketches.

      I'm glad that Kristen Wiig left when she did. She was sucking the life out of the show and now at least other people get a chance. I think they need to o edgier stuff. The show was founded by being edgy, crazy, Even Eddie Murphy telling it like it is on Mr. Robinson's neighborhood was great because it was funny, but also very cutting social commentary. Bring back Robert Smigel and the SCTV Funhouse or something. Also, the fake ads that ran throughout the show to keep the show together.

      The political sketches aren't even all that funny. The best was The Rock Obama., but how long ago was that?

      • Steven Kelley

        I share the same thoughts. They need to look at what the most critically acclaimed comics are doing and, not so much emulate, but tilt their target humor to what those guys are doing. Bill Burr, Dana Gould, Louie C.K., Chris Rock, even looking back at the greats such as Carlin and Pryor.

        SNL had one sketch in recent memory that I liked, which is when Kerry Washington hosted the show and they played on the fact that they have no black female comedians, but plenty of white male comedians to play Matthew McConaughey.

        Otherwise, the SNL is irrelevant.

  • Moms Mabley

    Vanessa doesn't really do it for me. Tina & Amy were both amazing, and Vanessa doesn't hold a candle to them…

    • Lev Tolstoi

      What does it for you? BJ's and giraffe pajamas? Get a life, stttupid! You wouldn't know talent if it falls on your heard from the Space Station and you have 3 days to see it!!

  • Dick T

    This article doesn't make any sense. Only the last idea is an actual idea about how to make the show better. All the other ideas involve improving the ways we (well some of us) consume the show. Technically SNL can have it's worst season ever, yet still incorporate all these suggestions.

  • francisrizzo3

    More Vanessa=more better

    • CalvinballPro

      Wrong. Vanessa Bayer is the artificial attempt at creating the next Big Female Cast Member that ultimately fell flat when the natural version Kate McKinnon arrived a few seasons later.

  • Alec McNayr

    Bayer for president!

  • Joshua

    How about up the writing. The past couple of season have been crazy disappointing. There are some very talented cats on the cast, but skits are going nowhere. 95% of the time it seems as though they have no idea how to end a bit. It just deteriorates into silly, and not good silly.

  • ManfredYon

    Me again. I still think you've got everything right
    Vanessa seems, and I really don't know, to be lacking in distinct 'crazy character' roles because she is so good at running the gamut of straight roles: the overwhelmed, the underwhelmed and the plastic. It will mean (hopefully) she'll work forever in bit movie parts, but until that time yes, co-anchor would be pretty perfect for her.

  • http://therich-fix.com/ Rich Tackenberg

    Totally agree, especially on Vanessa Bayer co-anchoring. I've been saying WU needs a co-anchor for awhile now, and I love your insights as to why she's the person. Unfortunately, another season has started and Seth still hold that spot by himself. Can't imagine a mid-season change…

  • Jay

    I'd like to see Vanessa and Taran co-anchoring when Seth is gone.

  • the nameless

    get rid of meyers already.

  • MittRomComney

    Just give John Mulaney the keys already. Headwriter and Update anchor

    • http://therich-fix.com/ Rich Tackenberg

      Love Mulaney. Did anyone else notice that he was not listed anywhere in the credits Saturday Night?

  • njudah

    cut at least 30 minutes off the show if not more, it's too long, and the last 30 minutes are repetitive bs anyway. also hire better writers and cast members based on talent not on how cute they sort of seem to be,

  • Katie

    That article made no sense. Most of the improvements were about the online clip-watching experience, which does not impact the quality of SNL in any fundamental way. Also, I think that point 4 is just wrong about what the average viewer wants to see. Only people deeply interested in comedy and writing care about the process; the average person wants to laugh and hear some jokes, and the less polished it is, the more difficult that usually is. None of these pointers seem to properly address the concerns of the general SNL-viewing population at large.

  • TeddyG

    Vanessa. Bayer. Is. Not. Funny. There's a reason she's not in many sketches…

    • Just No

      This, Bayer is easily the worst actor on the show, always comes across as desperate and lost, poor comic timing, terrible characters, that horrible smile that she just plasters on her face as if it makes her Wiig-level.

      • Lev Tolstoi

        You are a 17 year old imbbecile!! Since you posted 5 days ago, I hope you watched her doing Miley Cyrus, just great! Tonight with Bruce Willis host, shes one of the best of the show! Its her SHTICK,morron to play those characters, they wrote it for her, you RTRD, she is an employee and has to play them! Now that Wiig is gone, she will be the best one soon! You losers without any talent, get a life and stop insulting the ones that, at least, try!! f***** aholes!

  • Nope

    I think is funny but she has to many characters to host update. I think Cecily doesn't as much credit as she should. Some people should just learn a book

  • getawaysticks

    I think Bayer would be a lot funnier than Strong, who is constantly posing and mugging for the camera. It's gonna be a long year for Update…

  • Guest

    6. Enough with the gameshow skits already.

  • Guest

    Here's a thought,get somebody on the show that actually has talent,snl lost it's edge a long,long time ago,better yet,cancel it and run infomercials.

  • zaz_cag

    Make the 40th season its last.

  • Chaz

    You don't seem to know much about tv or comedy writing. I'll react specifically to the "written by" for each sketch suggestion… one of many reasons why this shouldn't happen is that in many cases, nothing is just written by 1 or 2 people. I might write the sketch and then in the room another writer might pitch a joke that gets put in and becomes the best part of the sketch or even the only reason X viewer liked it… then I get the credit for it, and you'd never know. This happens constantly with anything that a staff of writers works on. And sometimes a sketch is written and rewritten by many more than 1 or 2 people… are you going to list them all each time? And furthermore, what's the point of letting viewers keep a scorecard… what's next, the audience votes off the writers who didn't get credit for enough sketches they loved? Sometimes a writers' value isn't seen in the amount of sketches they get on in any given week or even cumulatively, I really don't like the idea of the audiences getting to keep score of the writers and the "credits". Are you suggesting they do this for every sketch show… for Kroll Show and Inside Amy and Birthday Boys and Key & Peele and Stevie TV and even when sketches are done on Conan and Fallon and Kimmel also?
    I really don't see how this would make SNL better.

    • Bojorco

      I stopped reading after "You don't seem to know much about…"

      That's no way to convince anyone of anything.

  • Dennis Hoffman

    The best way to improve SNL is to have real musicians perform instead of pop stars singing karaoke in front of actors pretending to play musical instruments.

  • Andrej Sviridovsky

    I am all for Vanessa, but if she would anchor the Weekend Update this would mean an end to Bar Mitzvah Boy just like it happened with Cecily Strong and The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started A Conversation With At A Party. And I don't think we can lose the bar mitzvah boy.

    • HardAsIs

      Nice to see someone who loves both of these characters as much as I do. I don't know why people hate Bar Mitzvah boy so much. She nails it so hard.

  • vanessa bayer sucks

    vanessa bayer is the worst cast member ever in the history of sketch shows stop ucking smiling so big you suuuuuuck! the little jewish boy jacob???????? are you f-ing kidding me ?

  • Jaybone

    I too love Vanessa Bayer, despite what the troll next to me thinks. Seems to me that most of these suggestions will improve only the viewing experience, and not the quality of the show overall. And who knows what changes could be made without fundamentally changing what the show has become.

  • John Olsen

    It would have been perfect to have Al Pacino and Jack Kevorkian co-host the show…the final show.

  • HardAsIs

    I really, really, really hope they're teeing up Bayer for when Seth Meyers leaves for his new gig. Adding Cecily Strong over Bayer seemed odd to me (being that I puffy-heart love the Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation With) so I justified it hoping that Bayer would join in January. We'll see.