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From Publishers Weekly
SNL fans, beware: this audiobook, while chock full of dishy dirt on everybody from Chevy Chase to Jimmy Fallon, requires a little playing along on the part of the listener. Shales and Miller went to great lengths to compile this work, but unfortunately, for this audio version, the oral history is read by stand-ins masquerading as Bill Murray, Lorne Michaels, Jimmy Fallon and others. So listeners have to imagine that it's really Chevy Chase speaking, not an audiobook reader who sounds nothing like him. A narrator introduces each chapter, helping listeners orient themselves, and then reads each person's name before that person speaks. Hearing the narrator pronounce, "Dan Aykroyd, actor:" and then hearing the voice of a complete stranger (there are no liner notes explaining who's reading which parts) tell of his memories of the show is somewhat disconcerting. The actors' deliveries range from the lackadaisical to the high-strung. Despite the obvious troubles of not having the book's contributors read their own parts, the book's content is terrific, with tons of behind-the-scenes gossip and juicy tales of backstage goings-on. 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.
Pleasant read, being reminded of some of the forgotten "players" and hazy years was nice. The idea of having so many different people's perspective gave a really good picture of just how difficult this has been to pull off for so many years. Spared no one's feelings when they were mentioned but also gave praise for the hard work most put in. Having a lot of different people's opinion about the same thing or the same person was really an interesting read. The writers had some of the toughest comments but they have the hardest job and it all fit together very nicely. The common theme of the players seeking Lorne's favor or just any crumb of attention he could toss them was just about pitiful at times and he is apparently one stingy guy with compliments, then the ones who claimed an easy "we were really close" relationship with him were almost as pitiful, the way they spoke made you think it was just what they were hoping was true. Found out new things about the players I thought I had probably read everything about, turns out there were still things to be told.
Live from New York, a behind-the-scenes history of the Saturday Night Live television series by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, was originally published in 2002. The latest edition, released in 2014, was timed to coincide with the show’s 40th anniversary and has been updated with coverage through the program’s 39th season. The book is an oral history comprised of brief bits of first-person commentary by hundreds of SNL cast members, crew, writers, hosts, and NBC network executives. The oral history approach evokes the collaborative nature of SNL and allows for the presentation of differing perspectives on events or controversies in the show’s history. The drawback to this approach, unfortunately, is that it all too often amounts to dozens of people making the exact same points over and over again.
Miller and Shales are attempting to accomplish two goals here: the first is to give the reader an idea of what it’s like to work at SNL; the second is to establish the show’s place in television history. Towards the latter goal, it’s not surprising that much space is devoted to the formation of the show and the original cast of Not Ready for Prime Time Players. For the television historian, the endless debates over the details of the show’s creation may be important, but for the casual fan the network politics can get rather dull. I understand that Lorne Michaels is the heart and soul of SNL, and likely a comedy genius, but does anyone really watch the show for Lorne? Most likely you watch the show for its cast members, and what this book doesn’t do well is let the cast members’ voices be heard, unless they’re talking about Lorne. Writers are an important part of the show also, and it’s interesting to hear them talk about how certain sketches were created. Unfortunately, too many of the writers just discuss the same things over and over again—how hard it is to get stuff on the show, staying up all Tuesday night writing, and once again, Lorne. Even though everyone analyzes Lorne ad nauseam throughout the entire book, when you reach the end you get a final chapter entitled “Lorne” which is an absurd exercise in eulogizing the living.
If you’re interested in romances or feuds between cast members, there’s little of that mentioned beyond what’s already common knowledge. Another problem with the oral history approach is that almost everyone is reluctant to say anything bad about anyone. There’s a few cast members that everyone seems to agree were difficult, and when the topic of worst host ever comes up, the usual easy targets are mentioned. Surprises are few. Some great cast members either declined to participate (Eddie Murphy) or are barely present (Will Ferrell, Mike Myers). The best part of the book is the Kevin Nealon/Jan Hooks/Phil Hartman years through the Sandler/Farley/Spade/Rock era, because that’s when you get the most cast input and the best idea of how much fun it is to put the show together. Surprisingly, an inordinate amount of time is devoted to the very recent years of the show, with a lot of unnecessary congratulatory back-slapping. From the way praise is heaped on Andy Samberg’s juvenile music videos, you’d think he were the next Fellini.
Fifty years from now, television historians are going to consider this book a valuable documentary record of the history of SNL. For the fan, however, it can be a colossal bore. It’s so easy, even addictive, to just read the next little tidbit, but at the end of twenty minutes you realize you’ve just heard forty people say the same thing, and you wonder why you wasted your time. If you can find this book cheap, get it, but just look up the passages concerning your favorite cast members. To read the whole thing is a disappointing and mind-numbing experience.
Live From New York is compiled by James A. Miller and Tom Shales in such a giddily readable manner, you're as hooked by it as one of those VH1 Specials looking back at the history of a cultural movement. Conceived as a one-quote-after-another recollection from each significant period of Saturday Night Live's long history (leading up to the book's writing in 2003), Live From New York fascinates you with the revelation of one personality after another - it's safe to say that even in the celebrities you thought you knew well, these interviews and stories evoke something surprising about each of them, and manage to highlight the rather wonderful pretentiousness by which SNL was bourne. Conceived by Lorne Michaels and Dick Ebersol as a chance to showcase edgy, youthful comedy that skewered the world around it, Live From New York shows that SNL's goal of biting the hands that feed it remains gleefully a part of the show's DNA in spite of how commercial periods of its run have been. So with that, Live From New York has the power to be comprehensive and merciless - its 1981-1985 Dick Ebersol years show Ebersol's surprising tenderness and respect while mocking his inability to determine if anything's funny. On the flip side, the book may wind up souring fond thoughts you had of Chevy Chase's various appearances over the years. I found myself deeply drawn into one era after another of SNL while reading this book, yet despite the years flying by over hundreds of pages, something unfortunate happens to the book as it gets "current" - it turns out it's not so current. Though this is mostly the result of the time the book was written, the Will Ferrell/Molly Shannon/Cheri Oteri cast doesn't really have a lot to offer in terms of perspective, and thinking that this was the "end" of a show that has risen back to its peak rather undersells the show's great longevity. The actors in this section talk as though champions doing a victory lap, and it, honestly, makes the pages more soggy than the ones that preceded it, feeling rushed to get in all the highlights of recent years. I also can't help but wish for a supplement to the book to get up to more recent times - Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, or the Lonely Island digital videos. Still, I can't say that's a fault of the book - it was written when it was written, though the slowing impact on the book's excitement is unignorable. Live From New York at its dullest can spend far too long on overcooked grievances and insecurities; why Janeane Garofalo - a very talented actress who had the misfortune of starring in a very bad year of SNL - gets so much ground to whine about... well I'm not sure, is beyond me. At its best, however, it wraps you in extraordinary fly-on-the-wall stories that make you feel like an insider revelling in all of SNL's endless relevance.