Monday, April 16, 2007

Dear 'Saturday Night Live',...

You and I both know that our relationship is a love/hate kind of thing. That is, I love to hate you, and hate to love you. I think that most of your remaining viewers would express a similar sentiment. A show that has been around since 1975 can only get clumsy with age, right? Should your loyal audience simply resign itself to the fact that SNL is the stodgy old uncle of sketch comedy? Back in the seventies, he was the man, but thirty years later, he's still wearing his bell bottoms and doing that strange pointing dance that John Travolta did in that movie, back before he was fat and worshiping Xenu. Sometimes he manages to crack a good line, but those are few and far between. These days, he's mostly just an embarrassment at family picnics (especially that time he asked you to 'pull his finger' and ended up soiling himself).

To that question, I say, "Nay!" Nay, good Sir SNL, ye have yet to see your last glory days. However, you need a bit of a make-over. A tune-up, if you will. Replace some of those old parts, replace that scratched-up windshield, add a little air to the tires, and some other car metaphors. Here are a few suggestions that might help you out:

1. Get rid of dead weight. Lorne Michaels was a pioneer, but now he's just old and doesn't seem to know what works anymore. Find a replacement that can draw the 18-35 crowd back into the fold. I'd suggest Tina Fey, but I don't want to jinx '30 Rock.' Let's just say we need someone with strong ties to the comedy community, but isn't afraid to look for talent outside of traditional training grounds such as The Groundlings and Second City. Which leads me to...

2. Look to the internet. I'm serious, here. The internet is a treasure trove of unmined, raw comedic talent. Of course, you'll have to ignore inexplicably popular sites like weebls-stuff, ytmnd, and ebaumsworld. They are the lowest common denominator of blagoblog chuckledom.
YouTube is a showcase of the promising young talent out there; click around and find amateur filmmakers like Brandon Hardesty (ArtieTSMITW) and Scotland's own James Provan (GiR2007). Look how successful the hiring of The Lonely Island crew (discovered on - I dug their OC parody "The 'Bu" before anyone outside the alt comedy scene knew who they were) has been. Andy Samberg is on his way to being the next Adam Sandler, only a whole lot funnier. Give these kids a bigger sandbox to play in, and you'll be surprised by the awesome castles they build.

3. Ditch the clichés. Believe it or not, but just because a character is annoying doesn't mean it's funny. It seems that creating soul-gratingly awful recurring characters such as the Target Lady (Kristen Wiig), the A-Holes (Jason Sudeikis & Kristen Wiig), and DJ Dynasty Handbag (Kenan Thompson) is all the cast knows how to do anymore. We get it; these characters are annoying. That can work for comedy, but only once. They are one-liners personified. Base your humor on concepts, not characters.

4. Don't rely on political humor. 'Saturday Night Live' has a rich tradition of political satire; the SNL presidential impersonation is an important part of pop culture history. It shouldn't be abandoned, but it shouldn't be relied upon, either. Sometimes, you just don't have the right actor to portray the candidate. Seth Meyers as John Kerry? What where you thinking?
Besides, these days, the politicians do a fine job of making fools of themselves; they really don't need your help. Find a sharper, more subtle way to poke fun at the status quo, or at least reduce the number of sketches you do where a hapless cast member does the obligatory weak impersonation of a candidate who isn't all that interesting in the first place. How many more Chris Matthews 'Hardball' intros do we need? We get it -- he's a tool.

5. Choose your hosts wisely. Look, we all know that by now Saturday Night Live has become a shill for the movie studios and record companies, but could you show just a little discretion in who you invite to host? It's painful enough watching the cast members none-too-subtly read from the cue cards, but at least they can deliver the lines. Don't bring on anyone who doesn't have a sense of comedic timing, at least. When you start inviting people like Donald Trump and Paris Hilton on, you've hit a new low.

6. MORE COWBELL. Seriously, Christopher Walken hasn't hosted since February 2003. Bring him back!

Yours Truly,

Friday, April 13, 2007

Dear NBC,...

Okay, let me get this straight; 'Thank God You're Here' is fit for audience consumption, but 'Andy Barker, P.I.', after only four airings, is not? A hastily thrown-together spin-off of an already pretty hit-and-miss Australian show trumps a well-acted, brilliantly written, anti-clichéd sitcom?

Was it that the ratings were not up to par? You're very impatient when it comes to ratings for new shows, aren't you? Especially when you doom them to fail. Here's my theory -- see if you follow along with this. Conan O'Brien has creator, producer, and writer credits on the thing. He's got clout with the Peacock now that he's signed up to take Leno's spot in 2009, so you can't really turn down his pitch. You politely order six episodes, but you need a way to make sure the ratings stink. Why? Who knows. Maybe your execs just don't like Andy Richter. Maybe they just like running shows that insult their audience's intelligence. It's worked for FOX for the past few years, why not you, too? So, how can they screw them? I know! Put every episode produced available free on the NBC website to be watched whenever people want; that will drain the ratings!

Okay, to be fair, you did give the show a great time slot on Thursday nights, among hits like 'My Name is Earl,' 'The Office,' '30 Rock,' and 'Scrubs.' Thursday nights are slowly becoming "Must-See TV" again (although in a very different way). When 'Friends' ended, the network went down the tubes, yes. Personally, I think the end of Friends was the end of the era of the 3 camera sitcom. 'Scrubs' hearkened a new age higher-end sitcoms, with smarter humor, edgier characters, and creative cinematography. The entire line-up meets the criteria of this new breed of sitcom, although I have to question the wisdom of putting all your eggs into the Thursday basket. Despite its seemingly generous placement in your most popular line-up, don't think I didn't notice that the new episodes of 'Andy Barker' aired along side reruns of the other shows, which would drastically reduce the ratings of any fledgling show trying to ride the coattails of its already established brethren.

Or was 'Andy Barker' your back-up just in case the negotiations with Zach Braff didn't work out, and you were forced to end 'Scrubs' this season? Losing a show that popular (as I mentioned, 'Friends') was the reason for your network's drop from #1 in primetime to the bottom of the barrel. In only a couple of short years. Oh, we viewers are a fickle, fickle folk. Imagine, not watching your network just because you're not airing anything good.

So, yeah, you've still got four shows to fill up the 8-10 on Thursdays (although I grow increasingly weary of 'My Name is Earl', a show that essentially has one joke that it keeps beating to death), but how long before you decide '30 Rock' is too smart for the flyover states? It's bound to happen, I know. It's too good, too nerdy, too urbane to last very long. Watch out, Tina Fey!

Yours Truly,

P.S. Speaking of Thursday nights, how much longer are you going to try to drag out 'ER'? It seems you hold down both ends of the spectrum; impatience with new shows, stubbornness in holding on to old programs that should have been mercifully put to sleep years ago. Ensemble casts are versatile, but when the ensemble is made up of an entirely different ensemble than it was when it first started, you're really pushing it.

P.P.S. Keep that itchy trigger finger away from 'Raines.' I know, it's tempting to kill something so shiny and promising, like hunting the most beautiful creature in the forest and hanging it on your wall, but Jeff Goldblum is really going somewhere with this character, and once he finds his groove, you won't be sorry. Besides, your only alternative is another "Law & Order" spin-off, and how much more of those can we take, really, before we start projectile vomiting every time we here the "duh DUN" opener?

P.P.S. Where did 'Studio 60' go? I know you haven't canceled it. Come on, I'm experiencing Sorkin withdrawal.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Dear "Thank God You're Here"...

Are we really this hard up for mid-season replacements? In what seems like a last-minute rush job of a show, NBC had produced you -- its own version of the internationally copied and re-copied 'Thank God You're Here.' Your writing's cheesy, your cast's acting is marginal, and the guest improvisers are lackluster, to say the least.

Don't get me wrong -- I love improvisational comedy as much as the next guy (I even dug the watered-down American version of 'Whose Line is it Anyway?'), and the concept for the show has obviously done well in other countries, but were those the best guest actors you could find? I mean, really. Why put the questionable talents of B-list comedians such as Mo'Nique (who's only joke is that she's fat and proud of it) and Joel McHale (of E!'s 'The Soup', who should really be making fun of shows like this, not participating in them) along with obviously gifted comedic minds of Bryan Cranston, Edie McClurg, and Kevin Nealon?

Also, do we really need both a host and a judge? I love Dave Foley dearly for his work on 'The Kids in the Hall' and 'NewsRadio,' as well as his recent contributions to 'The Late Late Show w/ Craig Ferguson,' but he has nothing constructive to say when the skits are over, because he's not really supposed to judge or criticize. His sole purpose is just to push the button when the skit gets too long, or the punchline is delivered. The whole 'X wins the trophy' bit is just a lame justification for his presence. He either needs to grow some balls and use that snark of his, or find another project, because he's wasted there.

For those of you who missed it, here's the first episode. It had its moments, but most of it was painful to watch. For comparison, a sample of the original Australian version. (Seems much funnier to me - the quality of the performers and the originality of the situations make all the difference.) There are far more clips on YouTube, and I would recommend watching some more. Notice that the actors on the Aussie version are far less concerned with looking or sounding ridiculous than some of Americans.

Bottom line is, if you are going to reach the quality of the original version, you're going to have to take some chances, stop dumbing yourself down, invite only actors who have some improvisational experience, and come up with more ludicrous scenarios. As it stands now, you're more like the Disney version of something good, and that's bad.

Yours Truly,