Sunday, February 3, 2013

When the Shock Troops Took Television

Dear John,
It's Super Bowl Sunday and I'm up way too late. And I'm not even watching the game. I was, but at 9:00 NBC started a special on the first five years of Saturday Night Live. So I had no choice. And it's been wonderful. I got to hear "Dead honkey" and "Jane, you ignorant slut." Is there any better television that that?
I remember those years of SNL so well. For the first three years of the show, we were in college and living in the dorms. After a year or so they gave in and gave us 15 extra minutes of open house time on Saturday nights, so we could all watch the end of the show and make it downstairs to sign out on time. Very few people had television sets in the dorms then, and those were tiny, so the lobbies were always packed on Saturday nights. The show altered the dating schedule in colleges and universities everywhere. 
The next year I was working third shift, so I missed most of it. Then I went to second shift and got to watch it again. You were in restaurant work, so you came home part-way through it. It was on SNL that I first heard Billy Joel. And I remember when Dylan was on. I called you at work about that.
It's stayed good, but for most of us that were there at the beginning, it's never been as good as it was then. Part of that was the newness of it - there had never been anything like it on television before. Of course, there were only the three network channels and PBS in those days. The Not Ready for Prime Time Players were the shock troops - that's when our generation started taking television. Before SNL, the most radical show TV had seen was the Smothers Brothers. And MASH was radical, too, in its own way. But SNL was a different anmial. It was on late enough that standards were a bit looser. And since it was live, some things got past the censors.
Watching this was a good trip down memory lane. You're not here anymore, and neither are some of the players - Belushi is gone, and Gilda. After all, the show opened 38 years ago. (Can that be right? Checking math .  .  . yep, that's right. Wow.) So much has happened in those years. But not much has happened to the show. It's still here, and it's still vital, as in alive. It's not here as a museum of what it was. It's real, it's been here for a few more generations, and it's still a wonderful source of talent.
But it's those first years I really love. And I loved watching it with you. History has repeated itself tonight - I've stayed up way too late watching SNL. All that's missing is you.
Still loving you more than I can imagine,

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