Friday, October 21, 2011


What can I say, folks? They can't always be funny. Speaking of which...

Lately, I've been reading a fascinating book called Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad. It came out in 1986 and covers in great detail the early years of SNL -- the controversy, the backbiting, the infighting, the truly staggering intake of cocaine, etc. I'm just at the part when the original SNL is ending after five tumultuous seasons. This prompts the question, "Is there life after Saturday Night Live?" For the show's on-air performers, the answer is: "Maybe, if you're lucky." The question is a little trickier for the show's behind-the-scenes talent. Today, you and I are going to take a look at a clip by two talented men who struggled a bit after their SNL days were over, namely writer Michael O'Donoghue and filmmaker Walter Williams.

The two men could hardly be more different, temperamentally. Williams is the man behind the beloved Mr. Bill skits and other filmed pieces for SNL like Elvis Presley's Coat, in which the King's jacket goes on tour without him after the singer's death. By all accounts, Williams was a sweet, even-tempered guy, possibly a little naive when it came to the cutthroat ways of show business. O'Donoghue, on the other hand, was SNL's Dark Prince of Comedy, a temperamental but brilliant satirist who served as the show's first head writer and whose tantrums and mood swings were legendary. Some of O'Donoghue's problems may have been medical; he suffered severe migraines all his life and died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 54 in 1994.

A mere two years before his death, O'Donoghue wrote a pilot for a potential sketch comedy show on the Fox Network. Walter Williams was brought on to direct. Clearly, Fox was looking to replicate the success of the early SNL. The resulting show, simply called TV, was not picked up, and looking at the existing footage from the pilot, it's (unfortunately) easy to see why. O'Donoghue's script is tired, and Williams' direction is flat. Almost nothing works, although you do get to see cameos by such luminaries as Brian Keith and Rutger Hauer. I'm sure they didn't know what they were doing in this show either. TV is a near-total failure as comedy, but it's fascinating as a historical document. Here, have a look:

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