Tung's Reviews > Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests

Live from New York by Tom Shales
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's review
Jan 16, 2009

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Read in January, 2009

After thirty-plus years on television, SNL is officially an American institution. Clips from the show play in syndication or float around YouTube, and this past year’s election coverage re-affirmed the power humor has, and the power this show has. Live From New York gives you the inside scoop on the first twenty-five years of the show: the backstage relationships, the infighting, the show’s creation and near-cancellations, etc. What makes this book’s prose unique is that rather than dig up dirt by speaking to people and then finding ways to summarize other people’s words, Shales and Miller simply paste together snippets of interviews and use the important players from the show to tell the oral history of SNL directly. The book features quotes from virtually everyone you would expect to hear from: Lorne Michaels, NBC executives, SNL writers, guest hosts, and cast members from every time period of the show – both those that loved their experience on SNL to those that despised their experience. The only ones missing are the ones that died before the book’s inception (Belushi, Hartman, Radner, and Farley) and the ones who have distanced themselves from the show for various reasons (read: Eddie Murphy). The book also covers all of the various topics you would expect an oral history to cover: how the show started, how extensive Lorne’s influence over the show and over the cast members really is, how people felt about the deaths of the castmates, the difficulty of being a woman or a minority on the show, how meddling particular NBC execs really were. It’s an engaging read, especially if you grew up watching the show. My three criticisms: first, as expected, there’s a lot of hero worship – A LOT. It is repeated throughout the book what a creative force SNL is and how ground-breaking and culturally influential. We get it; SNL is one-of-a-kind. Lorne Michaels is given a similar treatment. Even though Shales and Miller include a number of quotes from people describing how difficult Lorne is to work for or how he screwed them over, for every negative quote there are ten reverential ones. Sometimes the ongoing fawning grew tiresome. Secondly, as one might expect from a narrative that bounces from quote to quote to quote, there are places where it feels a little ADHD. There’s too much history and too many events and milestones and scandals to cover, and even though the book is 600 pages, there were places where the narrative feels rushed and forced. Lastly, even though there is a diversity of voices in the book, a number of similar sentiments are uttered by the interviewees, so some of it feels repetitive. For example, all of the cast members and writers describe how their experience on the show was like going to war, and how everyone is now bonded and friends for life. That cliché is repeated at least a dozen times by different people. Another example, everyone hated Chevy Chase, and critical quotes appear throughout. Over 600 pages, the similarity of quotes wore on me. But these three criticisms are minor ones, and the entertainment value of the book more than makes up for them. A recommended read.

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