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'Live from New York!': EW preview

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Edie Baskin




In February Saturday Night Live celebrated its 40th anniversary with a TV special that ran for three and a half hours. Live From New York! had to clear a higher hurdle: Winnow 130 hours of footage into 82 minutes that define four decades of comedy. SNL creator Lorne Michaels sanctioned the project but suggested it shouldn’t be a typical backstage doc. “It’s not like Tom Shales’ book, which really gets down to anecdotal history,” says director Bao Nguyen, referring to the tome published in 2002 that has the same title as this film. “This is looking at Saturday Night Live as a reflection of what’s happened in America during that time.”

Dozens of cast members and luminaries sat for interviews in Studio 8H (including Tina Fey, Chevy Chase, and Michaels), but Nguyen aimed for an art-house aesthetic to differentiate his film from glossier TV specials. “We really wanted to be outsiders with an insider perspective,” says producer Tom Broecker, SNL’s longtime costume designer. The outsider/insider motif is at the heart of the doc’s story: The Not Ready for Prime Time Players began as avant-garde rebels and evolved into the Establishment. “Amy Poehler says Saturday Night Live is nostalgia mixed with What’s Next,” says producer JL Pomeroy. “It’s just woven into our DNA as Americans. When something major happens, we’re like, ‘I can’t wait to see what SNL does with it.’” Still true in 2015.