Live From New York, It’s Saturday Night!
With yesterday’s posts of the great time compressed video and the camera crew listing, I felt the need to take another peek into NBC’s legendary Studio 8H.
On the left is our friend Eric Eisenstein, who in addition to being an SNL cameraman, is also a sports director. In the center is one of the most important fixtures on the floor…the stage managers podium. On the right is one of SNL’s most vital areas…Q card central where all the scripts and the many changes are written up.
By now, we are used to the cast reading their lines from Q cards, but if you wonder why the do it, instead of memorizing their lines, like in the movies or other TV shows, let’s take a look at the most daunting production schedule in television. By the way, Bob Hope was one of the first major stars to use Q cards, starting with his first special Easter Sunday, 1950.
Production on an SNL episode will normally start on a Monday with a free-form pitch meeting in Lorne Michaels office between the cast, writers and producers including the guest host. The host is invited to pitch ideas too. Although some sketch writing may occur on Monday, the bulk of the work revolves around pitching ideas.
Tuesday is the only day dedicated purely to writing the scripts, a process which can extend through the night into the following Wednesday. Writing may not begin until 8pm on the Tuesday evening. At 5pm on Wednesday, the sketches are read during a round-table meeting in the writers room, attended by the writers and producers present during the pitch meeting, and technical experts like set designers and makeup artists.
There are usually forty or fifty people at this meeting where thirty of forty sketch ideas are read-through, lasting three hours or more.
After completion of the read-through, Michaels, the head writer, the guest host, and some of the show producers will move to Michaels’ office to decide the layout of the show and decide which of the sketches will be developed for air. Once complete, the writers and cast are allowed into Michaels’ office to view the show breakdown and learn whether or not their sketch has survived. A this point, the scenery builders are making lists too.
Sketches may be rewritten starting the same day, but will certainly commence on Thursday, as will blocking rehearsals. Work focuses on developing and rewriting the remaining sketches, and if a sketch is still scheduled beyond Thursday, it is rehearsed on Friday and Saturday.
On Saturdays at 8pm, there is a dress rehearsal before a live audience, which is taped, just in case. That dress will always run long as several optional sketches are included and the audience reaction will help determine which of the extra sketches will go to air or be shelved.
After the dress rehearsal, Michaels will review the show lineup to ensure it meets a 90-minute length, and sketches that have made it to this point, may have to be tweaked (shortened or lengthened) a little to make the final sketches fit. At this point, writers and Q card central is in overdrive revising scripts and Q cards.
As you can see, this often results in less than two days of rehearsal for the eight to twelve sketches that have made it to the stage that then may appear on the live broadcast. The guest host’s opening monologue is given lower priority and can be written as late as Saturday afternoon.
Now you know why Q cards are a necessary evil. With so many changes, such spit second timing and the volume of text for the actors to deliver, it just has to be this way. Oh…and did I mention that this is all done LIVE in front of a national television audience?
The only other way to do this is with an earpiece for each actor. When I do on camera commercials, I prerecord the script and have it played back into a small earpiece. Without reading a prompter, all I have to do is repeat my own delivery by saying what I’ve already recorded with the same inflexions and emphasis. I’ve also done this with a producer reading the script into my ear.
Below is a link to last night’s ‘Steak House’ sketch. Enjoy and share.
#i” target=”_blank”>http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/steakhouse/2772822 #i