Lorne Michaels is apparently a big believer in Socrates’ maxim that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” From its very inception, Saturday Night Live has been obsessed with itself and its legacy. It’s not too much of a stretch to argue that Saturday Night Live was, on some level, a show about Saturday Night Live: its cast, its insane production schedule, its gallery of distinguished alumnus and repeat hosts.
Thankfully, comedy geeks tend to be as obsessed with Saturday Night Live as the show is with itself. Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad’s essential 1986 take on the program, Saturday Night: A Backstage History Of Saturday Night Live, was the first book I ever read about comedy, and it instantly hooked my 11-year-old self on the allure of Saturday Night Live, even if I was not allowed to stay up late enough to actually watch the show itself.
Tom Shales’ and James Miller’s Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live As Told by Its Stars, Writers, And Guests oral history caught up with the show decades later, and was recently revised with more than 100 new pages. As if that weren’t enough documentation, as part of his attempts to do everything in the world before he hits 40, James Franco made an entertaining documentary, Saturday Night, about the behind the scenes goings on at Saturday Night Live that debuted online recently.
Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video has created fairly exhaustive behind-the-scenes, in-house explorations of the show’s various eras, with titles like Saturday Night Live In the 1980s: Lost & Found and Saturday Night Live in The 2000s. Now Tribeca is announcing that its upcoming festival will begin on April 15 with still another behind-the-scenes look at the venerable comedy institution in the form of Bao Nguyen’s Live From New York.
Where Franco’s documentary explored the show through the prism of a single episode hosted by John Malkovich, this looks to be more of a comprehensive and exhaustive exploration of the show through the decades. Hell, the Broadway-created Saturday Night Live documentaries devoted two hours apiece to each decade, so it’ll be interesting to see how Nguyen is able to condense four decades of pop culture history and drama into a single, coherent documentary film.
This is a big moment for Saturday Night Live; it has a big reunion special airing this Sunday that looks to bring back an insane coterie of massive stars, and will mark the first time Eddie Murphy has graced its stage since 1984. Nguyen’s film should hit theaters this summer after a festival run.