Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live
by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller
A review by Erik Beck
Live from New York is described as "an uncensored history of Saturday Night Live" and that is exactly what you get: no mincing of words, no glancing blows. The only people involved with the show that we don't get to hear from are those that have passed on, but even the dead have something to say if you read closely enough.
For over 25 years, Saturday Night Live has remained one of the most important, influential and popular (and now long-lasting) shows on the air. It has been called everything from brilliant and innovative to "Saturday Night Dead." It has gone through numerous incarnations, starting with the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players (including Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd), survived through the early reign of the "Ayatollah Doumanian" (the in-staff nickname for producer Jean Doumanian) to the glory days of the late '80s with Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman and on into the '90s with Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon.
This is the first book to explore the entire history of the series and the only one with the blessing of Lorne Michaels, the wunderkind who formed the show in the mid-'70s, and since returning in the mid-'80s after a five year hiatus, has stuck with the show through good and bad times. In the end, it was Michaels's blessing over the book that convinced many of the performers and writers through the years to consent to the interviews (the only exception being Eddie Murphy the one major player connected with the show who refused to be interviewed).
In the end, there are many things to be remembered about the show from a reading of the book: the wonderful insane moments of Belushi on the air, the furor over Andrew Dice Clay's hosting, the firing of Norm MacDonald, all the way up to the tragedies of September 11 and how the show survived in the weeks following. But what is best about the book is hearing the words from the performers, the writers and the hosts. You find yourself laughing reading Carrie Fisher's description of Belushi and Aykroyd: "I was set up with Danny by John. John invited me over and then passed out. That was the setup." Chris Rock’s observation, "two guys named Chris, hired on the same day, sharing an office, okay? One's a black guy from Bed-Stuy, one's a white guy from Madison, Wisconsin. Now which one is going to OD?" makes you miss Chris Farley and the insanity he brought to late night television.
See the hatred that Jim Belushi still bears for Bob Woodward for writing about his brother. Feel the love that the original cast had for Gilda Radner. Learn about the reverence with which the later members of the cast look up to Lorne Michaels. Experience the one thing that seems to unite the entire cast, old and young, past and present: an overriding hatred of Chevy Chase.