Saturday, February 26, 2011

Live from New York -- Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller -------------------------- 3 Stars

I don't feel like I have a ton to say about Live from New York. It started out as a really great book and finished as an okay book (hence, 3 stars). I'm a pretty big Saturday Night Live fan and I thought that it would be an incredible read but, in the end, it ended up just being okay.

The book basically tells the history of SNL from its inception to about 2001. Interestingly (though only at times), it's told only through interviews. No, really. The whole book is just people talking about the show. Very, very occasionally the author's will add a short note mid chapter to signal a change of subject but other than that, it's all just the actors, writers, producers and hosts talking about the show.

Positives -- The interview format works on some occasions. When they talk about 'inside stuff' or 'gossip' about people and aspects of the show it's very good. (see: parts of the book about Norm McDonald being fired). Interview format also is great when you want to hear what the famous people think of one another and Lorne Michaels (the genius behind the show). This was great, for example, to hear Chevy Chase, Akyrod and Bill Murray talk about one another and others. It's fun to just hear what random hosts have thought about working at SNL. Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin sort of stand out.

Negatives -- Too often the interviews were simply not interesting and, since it's just people talking, not as concise and well thoughtful as the written word. A lot of people interviewed were writers or producers that I've never heard of. Although they were interesting it wasn't as cool as hearing from Tin Fey or Will Ferrell.

Things I learned that I didn't know before:
  • The show has had very distinct 'stages'. Basically every 5 years they have totally retooled the cast (less so know)
  • After the first 5 years, around 1980, Lorne Michael left for 5 years, a whole new cast came in, and the show was quite different
  • Garrett Morris is crazy ... most people working there were a bit crazy
  • Chris Farley was obsessed with Belushi (like a lot)... I guess I did know this from my past book I reviewed about Chris Farley but I forgot.
  • Eddie Murphy was the biggest mainstream movie star to come from the show
  • I would still love to be on SNL (probably would have to learn to be an actor/funny at some point). No, seriously. The one common theme is that this is basically the greatest show to work on in entertainment.
There's other stuff that I can't remember but that's the type of things you pick up in the book.

Overall, the book is highly recommended to any serious SNL fan. To an avid watcher, it is still probably interesting and to the rare viewer, this book probably is not worth your time.