Friday, July 5, 2013

DEAD Honky!

Being 10 years old in early 1981, I hadn't seen many episodes of Saturday Night Live from the "classic" era. I was a fan of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, I knew about Mr. Bill, and had a copy of Steve Martin's A Wild And Crazy Guy LP. But 11:30 to 1AM was way past my bedtime, even on a weekend.

Getting a VCR should have changed all that; unfortunately, the 1980-81 season of SNL has gone down in history as one of the worst. Not being a particular fan of Ann Risley or Gilbert Gottfried, I didn't try to stay up or ask my parents to tape any episodes that season. On the February 21st, 1981 episode, Charles Rocket dropped an f-bomb during the goodnights and sealed his fate on the show, as well as that of producer Jean Doumanian, who had taken over from Lorne Michaels the previous October.

One more live episode was aired under Doumanian's tenure, with host Bill Murray on March 7th - don't know why we didn't tape that one. She was fired two days later, during production for the next week's scheduled show, to be hosted by Robert Guillaume of Benson:

If you don't remember seeing this episode, that's because it never aired. Once Dick Ebersol took over as producer on March 10th, he shut down SNL for a few weeks to take stock of the cast and writing staff and make a few changes. Guillaume would be asked back to host in 1983; Ian Dury wasn't so lucky.

To fill the timeslot, Ebersol ordered up reruns of four classic SNL editions from the Lorne Michaels era, the first of which would be Richard Pryor's one and only hosting stint from season 1:

This was a great choice to lead off the month of repeats and remind viewers what SNL had once been capable of. It originally aired December 13, 1975 as the 7th live show in the series, and was rerun April 10, 1976 and January 8, 1977, so it hadn't been seen for a while. It originally aired with a five-second delay due to Pryor's propensity for cursing. The worst thing he ended up saying was "ass" twice during his monologues, and these were reportedly bleeped for the 1975 west coast feed (they are intact in the 1981 rerun).

Thanks to those hilarious monologues, sketches such as Exorcist II, and the first appearance of John Belushi's Samurai character, the episode has attained legendary status. I certainly watched it dozens of times and showed it to all my friends over the next decade or so. Truthfully, it contains a lot of filler (such as a tedious parable delivered by Pryor's ex-wife), and several segments that don't hold up, like the Muppets and Franken/Davis's Pong routine.

None of that matters, though, because it includes this sketch.

When season 1 of SNL was released on DVD, all the bumpers leading into and out of commercial breaks were removed. Not a big loss in most cases, but for this episode, photos of Pryor's family were used in place of the usual "host looking wistful on the streets of NYC" shots.

So without further ado, from the start of VHS tape A4, here are all the commercial breaks (thank goodness we set the timer rather than staying up and hitting pause) and bumpers from the March 14, 1981 broadcast:

There's almost too much 1981 goodness to take in here: an R-rated Mac Davis movie! Brenda Vaccaro for Playtex! David Naughton and Mickey Rooney's epic song-and-dance to "Be A Pepper"! Tickle deodorant for ladies! There's nothing like something with milk! Jesse jeans (they oughtta be outlawed)! Brooke Shields and her Calvins! The Wienerschnitzel Patty MMMMelt! Two ads for the cheesy-looking horror film The Fun House! And best of all, a smug George Brett getting served by a kid who's feeling 7-Up! Those were the days...

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