Customer Review

35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Material in search of better writers, May 2, 2005
This review is from: Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live (Hardcover)
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 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." All arguable statements, of course, but statements better writers would have let the material say for them without lapsing into purple, melodramatic prose.

Further, there's a distracting sense that the writers have their own over-protective issues with the show. "Those who hurt show bad! Those who protect show, good!" I can't help but wonder if Jean Doumanian and Nora Dunn suffer largely from an absence of voices other than their own to present their point of view. And while Dunn might have handled walking off the infamous Andrew Dice Clay show better than she did, the authors describing Clay's act as "politically incorrect" and "antifeminist" rather than mysoginist- which it very arguably was- is telling.

The authors arrangement seems to have been written as if imagining a television show- perhaps understandable, given the choice of topic, but a poor choice for a book. When snippets of interview are presented in an arbitrary order without any knowledge of the questions that provoked those answers, one cannot help but wonder if the authors were more interested in selling a particular version than giving their readers a chance to draw their own conclusions. Again, do the authors really contribute to the material? Does this arrangement offer so much more than we could have gotten if they had just presented the whole interviews, with questions, one per chapter?

Finally, there are obvious gaps in who is and is not interviewed, and how much material they are given. Again, A.D. Clay's receiving a page and a half in his own defense is telling, though I'm sure the reader recognizes by now that the topic grated on my nerves. But more, two of the show's most notable stars- Dennis Miller and Eddie Murphy- are not interviewed at all. It is mentioned in passing that Murphy dislikes talking about the show; no mention is made of the reason for Miller's absence. A better book would acknowledge the absence and their attempts to work around it. And while I enjoyed reading Tom Hanks's segments, his contributions to a chapter devoted to a period in the show's history where not only had he yet to host, but yet to become a professional actor, are extremely questionable.

For all this, I enjoyed reading much of the book. Some of the interview material is insightful; some of the anecdotes are side-splittingly funny. I just can't help but wish the authors, Pulitzer-winners though they may be, didn't seem to be such hacks. Two stars for the writers, four for the material, average of three.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 5, 2011 9:14:49 AM PST
Matt G. says:
Yes! The writing in those "bridge" sections was absolutely terrible. Overly melodramatic, cheesy prose that looks just plain weird in a supposedly objective book. I'm not sure I have ever seen a professional writer use the word "umpty-umpth" before.

Posted on Jun 14, 2011 10:19:40 PM PDT
Mcfly says:
Wow, what a thorough and precise review. Just wanted to give you my compliments. You summed up my opinion to the letter.

Posted on Dec 27, 2011 1:31:30 PM PST
t/y for the critique
but at the risk of quibbling (if that's even a word?) a show so many years old and with so many cast members
in total the writers must have had to leave out more than they would have preferred
i mean to get a full telling i imagine would require a warren report length publication
not that i would mine it at all

but here's my real reason for commenting: does the book include any dennis hopper stuff? my alltime favorite
guest host (chris walken notwithstanding of course come to think any walken stuff in it either?)

fwiw i think dunn's move was war right battle wrong
i think the ftw was to write a piece (assumed funny enough) for air that got her point across THAT woulda/coulda
shined and i bet michaels would've gone for it oh well ...

t/y any rsvp ...
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