Let me cut right to the chase: buy this book! If you have any love whatsoever for SNL, comedy, guerilla television, and the Golden Years era (1975-85), buy this book before someone raises the price! If you have ever suspected that the entertainment world is a collective act of insanity, this book will confirm everything and double down on the bet.
Saturday Night is a Kindle re-release of the 1986 book by journalists Weingrad and Hill. While lightly reviewed on Amazon, this effort received a lot of attention in 1986. The Washington Post called it "a chilling, real-life cliffhanger." Vanity Fair called it "an anthropological masterpiece." Reviews on other websites have given the print edition at least four stars out of five.
Weingrad and Hill spent a solid two years (1983-85) researching this effort. After reviewing everything written by the Young Turk journalists who had covered SNL, they interviewed over 250 people. NBC cooperated and opened the doors to its facilities and staff. Key players like Lorne Michaels, the show's creator-producer, helped the authors gain access to people who might otherwise have stayed silent. Then Weingrad and Hill got out of the way and let the story and its players speak for themselves. The result is a captivating recounting of all the trials and tribulations that went into the making of a classic era in television history. Their story has a freshness and sense of exhilaration that would probably not be possible today.
I started out to skim different parts of the story just to get a sense for it. That proved impossible. The story kept sucking me in, and I ended up reading entire segments before I had intended to read the book at all. Jim Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray...we see them all and more through a lens that shows them as they were before all the fame and adulation. The story is replete with drunks, addicts, egomaniacs, and the merely demented and irreverent. They parade through just about every page. Even the network censors become people who we can understand rather than just cut-out meanies.
You will learn about the Bass-O-Matic, and also about Pussy Whip, the first dessert for cats and a Weekend Update sponsor. You will witness Paul Simon checking the cameras to make sure his bald spot doesn't show, and Candice Bergen comparing being an SNL host with being kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. You will see John Belushi terrorizing everyone so completely during he auditions that they figured he would kill someone if he wasn't hired. You will puzzle over the note that once appeared on the door to Studio 8H: "All cast members must wear underwear on Saturday. This means you!"
Weingrad and Hill have done a masterful job of managing their material. They use a combination of quotes and descriptions to give the reader a strong sense of how things really were back then. They set their scenes well and move the story along nicely in a manner that is unobtrusive and effortless. The end result is a history that, in its own way, is a classic. This is one story you don't want to miss.
Postscript: The Kindle edition has been formatted very nicely and includes photographs which let us see what everyone was like back then.