Picks and Pans Review: Saturday Night

updated 03/31/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/31/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad

The thing about nostalgia is, you have to forget a lot before you can remember fondly. NBC-TV's Saturday Night Live is not yet-though it should be—dead. But Saturday Night, the book, is already reverential. The authors begin by listing everyone that producer Lorne Michaels ever knew, relentlessly, as if they were trying to track down the grammar teacher who first taught Hemingway punctuation. Not until page 90 do you read the words, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" Not until much later do you really get to laugh, which is like writing a book about Picasso without counting breasts. The book is better at portraying the decline of SNL than the rise; it shows what happens when such a point man for pop culture grows too big. "The more popular the show became," the authors write, "the less hip it was, by definition." And the more profitable it became—earning $30 to $40 million in gravy by its fourth season—the more political and greedy things inside SNL became. As the stars got richer, they got higher. But after John Belushi's death, stories about drug use on SNL are as newsworthy as exposes on used-car salesmen. What's more revealing about the downfall of SNL is the story of the show's management—not by NBC execs and accountants (on whom the book dwells too much) but by the producers. Michaels is said to have became too aloof, isolated, status conscious and tired. When he quit in 1980, followed by nearly all his leftover stars and writers, he was replaced by his assistant, Jean Doumanian. Her first act, the book says, was decorating her new office. Doumanian was a technician who didn't understand creativity, and when faced with bad material (of which there was plenty), she'd just say, "Make it funnier," or decree rules requiring three jokes per page. Next came Dick Ebersol, Michaels' boss at the beginning, who improved the show a bit but didn't instill the staff loyalty Michaels had. Michaels himself is back running the show now, fitfully. Hill and Weingrad, vets of TV Guide and the New York Post, give all the elements of the picture without seeing the big picture themselves. Without trying to, they give the primary reason why SNL can never hope to be as good as it was: The outlaw has become the law. Now it's time for the next revolution. (Morrow, $17.95)

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