"Fix" isn't really the right word for this title, because Saturday Night Live is not broken. I love SNL. "Improve" would be a more accurate term - "fine tune" even better; those words just don't get as many clicks.
While I strongly stand by my post from last year, One Change To Permanently Fix Saturday Night Live, I always want to see SNL stretch and grow. As a Rich-Fix, I have five small suggestions that would have a major impact on the show. This is not your usual commentary; I’m not talking about pruning the cast, I’m not taking pot shots at Colin Jost, and I don’t comment on diversity. As we close out season 39, here my loving recommendations to make my favorite television show even better.
Hire a separate writing team just to do the monologue
When was the last time anyone really liked the monologue? Let's not settle for a song from the host or a barely rehearsed cameo.
It is, to me, odd that three or four minutes of the most watched part of the show is traditionally thrown together last-minute. According to lore (and Lorne), the monologue is usually written Friday night or during the day on Saturday. Why?
SNL could juggle their budget and hire a small writing staff just for the monologue. (The show already does this with a separate writing staff for Weekend Update.) Hell, it doesn't even need to be a full-time staff. Having three or four writers who do nothing but create a buzz-worthy four minute monolgoue of interesting and surprising comedy would make it the best money SNL could spend - and a much better way to kick off the show.
Find new formats to parody
The standard formats of most SNL live sketches have become:
- Press conferences
- Game shows
- Cable news shows
- Old movies
- Daytime talk shows
- Morning news
How often do you actually watch any of those formats?
It's time for SNL to expand beyond the old chestnuts. When was the last time SNL used YouTube videos as a sketch format since “Jarret's Room” in 2004? As I already mentioned, there are over ten late night talk shows on the air, and SNL has not parodied one, or created one of its own.
What about good old fashioned scripted series? This season, in 21 episodes, SNL only parodied two scripted television series, ABC's Scandal and HBO's Girls (twice). That's it. There are so many shows waiting to be parodied, and that's not even counting reality series - which SNL did not do once all year!
"Girlfriends Talk Show" would make more sense if it were supposed online, and if they followed the format of YouTube Vloggers, the sketch would feel fresh. Even the "Camp Wicawabe" sketch from the season finale might have connected with the audience if the format was a podcast. The Vanessa and Cecily "Pornstars" sketches would make much more sense if they were YouTube preroll ads. I would never hit "Skip Ad" on those!
Get away from topical stories in the cold open
SNL is a lot of things, but it is not immediate. The show now lives in a 24/7 Internet culture and competes comedically with over ten late-night comedy series. When it comes to topical news stories, SNL is often the last at-bat of the week. Sometimes the show uses that extra time to do an inspired new take on the news, but often it's just more of what we've already seen during the week.
The show can still be topical if they have a killer impression. But the rest of the time, it can start to break the expectation that they will cover the "big" story of the last seven days. They can use the cold open to feature fun reoccurring characters that are starting to break, instead of another presidential news conference. To stay topical, we’ll always have “Weekend Update.”
Use the summer - and web sketches - to groom the featured players
Fans of SNL will be talking about which Featured Players should return next year and who will be cut. I say, why make that decision now?
The show may be dark for four months, but NBC and/or Broadway Video could create a summer webs series featuring the show's Featured Players continuing to do bit, sketches, characters and parodies. I'm sure Hulu or Netflix would pay for it.
This outlet would give performers like Noël Wells and John Milhiser a chance to refine their chops, plead their case, and maybe grow a fan base. Then, Lorne and Co. could decide who to keep after seeing the content they create over the summer. Maybe we even come into the next season with some new characters already work shopped!
Encourage more musical mashups
SNL has always been able to attract great musical guests, and this year we saw the show feature some new and adventurous choices like HAIM, St. Vincent, and Sam Smith. But the format of the musical performance is actually fairly restrictive. The stage itself is small and the sound is average at best.
Why not take a page from the Grammy Awards and encourage (translation="pay") for more musical collaborations between hot new artists and classic music icons? Or just invite two hot artists to get together and do something different? I wouldn’t fast forward over Pharrell Williams performing "Happy" for the 100th time, if he was doing it as a duet with Tony Bennett or Moby!