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This oral history of NBC's Saturday Night Live is the juiciest treasure trove of backstage gossip, sex and drugs since The Andy Warhol Diaries. With almost three decades' worth of memories from cast members, celebrity hosts, writers, crew and network execs, readers get first-hand reports (often contradictory) on the volatile, competitive, grueling and often drug-fueled process of creating a weekly, 90-minute, live comedy show. While the cast and writers changed over the decades there were two constants: the universal loathing of guest host Chevy Chase and the power of producer Lorne Michaels ("I think he picked the right profession," assesses Jane Curtin, "because he gets to lord over people who want to kneel at his feet and he doesn't acknowledge them-which makes them work harder."). Regulars like Dan Aykroyd, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Billy Crystal, Bill Murray, Al Franken, Martin Short as well as guest hosts like Tom Hanks, Penny Marshall, Alec Baldwin, Carrie Fisher, Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin contribute sterling anecdotes that are alternately hilarious, touching, upbeat and scathing. With the exception of Eddie Murphy (who's positively portrayed), virtually the only missing voices are of those who have passed away (the editors use only interviews conducted for the book and not vintage interviews with John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Phil Hartman or Chris Farley). Scandals, infighting and plenty of showbiz dirt make this a guilty-pleasure page-turner from start to finish. Photos not seen by PW. Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Given access by Lorne Michaels himself, two journalists with TV connections Miller has produced two TV series, Shales is TV critic for the Washington Post recount this show's 25-year history. Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This book feels like a reunion of old friends, telling their stories at a dinner party that you are fortunate ewnough to overhear. There is so much history in the years of SNL that there is an anecdote for every fan, but this book recognizes Loren Michaels as being the true genius behind the creation and development of the show. He's not universally loved by the cast (but also not nearly as despised as Chevy Chase, who seems to beeveryone's favorite whipping boy), but his genius is acknowledged by one and all. A lot of favorite skits and characters are discussed, as well as some legendary battles with censors, advertisers and network executives. The mix of radical comedy with revenue concious TV executives makes for fascinating reading. The chapters dealing with the deaths of cast members and behind the scene staff members are incredibly poignant, especially Belushi's and Chris Farley's, bit of whom were known to be dancing with trouble. This book also goes a long way to humanizing Chris Rock, who emerges as one of the most thoughtful and career minded members of all SNL casts. His intelligence shines through in his tales of making it by way of the show. There is a great story on almost every page of this book, and having grown up with this show, it made the memories all the more pleasant. This is a great Christmas present for any 30-50 year old who has spent their Saturday night in front of a TV.
The curtain is pulled back on SNL in this book to reveal (not surprisingly) that Lorne Michaels was, is, and always will be the Wizard who always kept SNL ticking. Decades of drug use, debauchery, infighting, sleeping around, desperation, and show-biz chutzpah are related courtesy of first-hand accounts of the writers, stars, agents, TV executives, staff members, and guests of the show. Not all comments are complimentary, and not all that went on behind the scenes was funny. But it all makes for a fascinating read, despite the fact that a few notable surviving cast members chose not to participate in these oral interviews. "Live From New York" is as much a evolutionary history of the business of television over the past three decades as it is an oral history of the show itself. Perhaps SNL isn't as consistently cutting edge and counter-culture as it was in its earliest years. But nowadays the show IS the pop and showbiz culture it lampooned in the past. It cannot ever really return to its fabled glory days of 1975-1979 because the entire showbusiness landscape has changed so dramatically since then. One must credit Michaels for recognizing that and still plodding ahead with the show for most of the years since the days of The Not Ready For Prime Time Players. Read this book to find the origins of many of the standard conventions and favorite moments of the show: why the band always dresses in tuxedos, the inspiration of Danny Aykroyd's buttcrack-exposing refrigerator repairman, the inhuman writing schedule, etc. This is better than an "E! True Hollywood Story" any day.
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This book is chockful of juicy gossip and backstage dish with interviews from cover-to-cover of SNL cast, writers, producers, and hosts. Interviews with SNL insiders are offered in a linear fashion from surviving "Not Ready for Prime Time Players", writers, producers, and hosts to current cast members and staff. This isn't the authors' take on SNL, but the history of Saturday Night Live from people who lived through it. Tom Shales and James Miller in a smart, smart move chose to have everyone speak for themselves. And how telling it is. : ) The editors keep introductions and explanations to a minimum. I was surprised about how candid many of the SNL stars and hosts were about themselves and the show. If you have ever watched Saturday Night Live, you'll enjoy this book. With its insider stories, you'll find this book hard to tear yourself out of. It's apparent that many stories of SNL players' behavior outside of 30 Rockefeller Center are not in this book, but what's there is more than enough. So get your hands on this book-- you'll find it definitely lives up to the hype.
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I can't say I hated the book. I kept coming back to it willingly enough, and finished it relatively quickly. My problems with it come not from the bulk of the material itself (interviews with cast, hosts, producers, directors, and writers, cut into segments organized into some rough similiarities of topic), but from what the writers have done with it.
When you have a book consisting largely of interview snippets, what you have is a cross-section of opinions. Some of those opinions may have a greater amount of concensus behind them than others. Better writers could have done real research to qualify or confirm the statements made by the interview subjects: was Doumanian's budget actually cut from the first years of the show? If so, by as much as she claims? Where did the cuts hit the most? What were the actual box office numbers of Belushi's and Murphy's movies? Have they taken later rentals and tv showings into account in saying who was more successful? Was Nora Dunn as unsuccessful after leaving the show as her resentful colleagues would like to think? (A quick look at imdb.com suggests not...)
Apart from the failure to provide factual context, the writers show their own prejudices in ways that can't help to be annoying and occasionally disturbing. The bridge and introduction segments are full of the usual kind of biography hyperbole better writers avoid. SNL "helped bestow upon the comedy elite the hip-mythic status that rock stars had long enjoyed." "An audience that expected to see fresh new Gildas, Belushis... refused to settle for the paltry replacements that initially dominated Doumanian's cast." "[Belushi's death] told his friends at Saturday Night Live not only that John was mortal, but that they were too.Read more ›