As someone who has lived with the East Coast television feed his entire life (a lot of that was in the Central Time Zone, but it’s the same feed), it’s always such a bummer to watch Saturday Night Live when I’m in the Mountain or Pacific Time Zones. It didn’t used to be this way, but with social media it feels like Saturday Night Live holds a party for half the country, while the other half will just have to wait and see it later after it’s already been exhaustively discussed (I realize I add to that problem. But when I was at Sundance I watched the Aziz Ansari-hosted show and I already felt like I had missed out. The La La Land sketch was long over and everyone else had already had their laughs.)
Saturday Night Live will air its final four episodes of the season live across the country, basically turning it into a prime time show in Los Angeles. Right now, NBC is being non-committal on whether this will continue next season. But from what I heard, when this was first discussed it was only going to be for the season finale – then after that it expanded to the final four shows. So it seems like it’s an idea popular enough that it went from a one-off idea into a full-fledged thing.
And the reason is because SNL is live. There’s always been a sense with SNL that “anything” can happen and that’s part of its allure. Chuck Klosterman dove into this once when writing about live sporting events and why it just doesn’t work on DVR:
Seven years ago, the Pistons and Pacers were involved in a brawl that spilled into the stands, ultimately resulting in 146 game suspensions (86 for Ron Artest alone). When the fight happened, I was in a tiny bar in Brooklyn with no TV, listening to “Buffalo Stance” at a semi-intimate birthday party. Twitter did not yet exist, and — even if it did — my 2004 phone didn’t have Internet access. Yet I knew everything about this fight long before I got home; late-arriving party guests told us what had transpired the moment they walked into the bar.
What I’ve come to accept (and this is both good and bad, but mostly bad) is that — for the rest of my life — I will never not instantaneously know about any marginally insane event. There’s just no way to avoid the information. The world is too mediated and interpersonal relationships are too connected. Because most adult relationships are now predominantly based around new technologies, it’s almost as if there’s a built-in responsibility to immediately distribute whatever interesting information we acquire.
This is correct. And we just saw this happen at the Oscars. If you were someone who decided to DVR the Oscar and try to avoid who won, you would have failed. You would know Moonlight won Best Picture long before you hit “play” on your DVR because you would have been told about 30 times before about the “crazy” thing that happened. But watching live? It was exhilarating and I’ll never forget it. It’s impossible to reproduce that feeling later. Unless you’re watching something live, the era of “surprise” is long over.
And it’s the same for Saturday Night Live airing on the West Coast – only it’s worse than just having to watch it on DVR. If a cast member accidentally uses the word “fuck” on air or there’s an interesting cameo, not only will someone on the West Coast know everything about it the second it happens, the expletive will be deleted from the taped broadcast. (When something like this happens, SNL will just aired the non-expletive dress rehearsal version of the sketch. So not only do you get to hear all about it before it airs, that version will not even be on your television.) All the excitement and spontaneity of watching a live event is taken away.
And live events are really the last vestibule of Must Watch Communal Television. Huge sporting events and award shows: They are the last entities that connect all to the same thing at the same time. And Saturday Night Live, being one of the only non-news or sports based live properties is smart to finally tap into that for everyone. And it should be permanent. SNL should be live for everyone who gets NBC! And I suspect this is already the plan unless something disastrous happens – because once West Coast people actually experience the show live, they’re not going to want to go back to the way it was before. Because that way is bad.
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