by Legendary Lew
This past weekend, NBC cut a sketch from Saturday Night Live that it claimed the long-running series did not have time to perform. The comedy bit in question was the airing of a local St. Louis happy morning “news” show called “Rise and Smile St. Louis.” Co-hosts Kip and Jenny (Kenan Thompson and Cecily Strong) struggle to make it through the show the morning after riots rocked Ferguson.
Although, there certainly will be buzz over whether the network was too nervous to show the sketch, its airing on television, I think, is a moot point, especially when the bit made it online to YouTube and will be eventually be watched by more people than it would have on just TV alone.
A bigger point to raise is that it did get released publicly online while Ferguson, Eric Garner’s death and further issues of police brutality are fresh in the public’s mind. Think Progress astutely points out this is a rare instance when SNL goes for a controversial and deeply evocative emotional issue head on. If Jon Stewart didn’t know what to say, SNL sure did and did so terrifically:
The skit reminded me of some political comedy classics recorded on vinyl back in the late 1960s and early 70s, when LP’s were practically the only serious outlet for very biting social commentary like this. One of the few examples I could find of a comedy sketch on rioting done while the memories were still fresh was “Park Avenue Riots” by comic Charlie Manna and co-written by future “All in the Family” writer Michael Ross.
In fact, the other major TV parallel example of riot satire I could think of is the famed Harry Belafonte appearance on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in 1968. Singing a medley of some of his famous tunes beginning with “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” the lyrics were reworked to match scenes of the the Chicago 1968 Democratic National Convention and riots, which had taken place only a few weeks prior.
CBS snipped this performance from the show and eventually the Brothers’ legendary fight with the network’s censorship issues led the network to break their contract and cancel the series.
Contrast the network’s decision with today: Belafonte’s performance could not be seen for many years. The SNL skit, however, can be seen online and shared freely. NBC may be nervous about airing it on a medium with older audiences, but understands how younger viewers consume their media. This understanding is, in fact, blurted out by Jenny in the morning show when she castigates Chef Darrell (SNL guest host James Franco) for inappropriate comments he makes while cooking up a frittata:
“Too late. You said it, and now we’re all on YouTube forever.”
NBC didn’t “cut the skit” for time. They knew it would live with a longer life of its own online, and indeed it does with currently over 2 million hits on YouTube. That popularity is another indication that TV, in its traditional form, is a dying medium. It needs the reach and relevance of the world wide web to be vital to young audiences and to provide voices and views that counter the mainstream.