Saturday Night Live (Season 6)

Saturday Night Live Season 6
The Saturday Night Live title card as seen in the opening credits of the 6th season.
Country of origin United States
No. of episodes 13
Original channel NBC
Original run November 15, 1980 – April 11, 1981
Season chronology
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List of Saturday Night Live episodes

Saturday Night Live aired its sixth season during the 1980–1981 television season on NBC. Season six started on November 15, 1980 and ended on April 11, 1981, with only 13 episodes (caused by the show being put on hiatus for retooling and a 1981 Writers Guild of America strike[1]). This season was alternatively known as Saturday Night Live '80.


According to Tom Shales' book Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, Executive Producer Lorne Michaels cited burnout as the reason behind his desire to take a year off, and had been led to believe by NBC executives that the show would go on hiatus with him, and be ready to start fresh upon his return.

However, Michaels learned from associate producer Jean Doumanian that the show would go on with or without him, and that she had been chosen as his replacement, much to Michaels' surprise and dismay.

Angered by this news, the entire cast and all but one writer (Brian Doyle-Murray) followed Michaels out the door. The sixth season began with a completely new cast and new writers, with Doumanian at the helm.

Doumanian hired Denny Dillon, Gilbert Gottfried, Gail Matthius, Joe Piscopo, Ann Risley, and Charles Rocket as repertory players, and Yvonne Hudson, Matthew Laurance, and Patrick Weathers as featured cast members, passing on such then-unknown comics as Jim Carrey, John Goodman, and Dom Irrera.[2] Doumanian sought a non-white cast member to fill Garrett Morris's previous role. As SNL scholars Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad phrase it,

Jill still needed an ethnic, and a special series of auditions was set up to find one. For two days in mid-September some thirty black actors and comedians filed through the writers' wing on the 17th floor [of Rockefeller Center] to read for Jean and her people. At the end, Jean told her group she was leaning toward hiring a stand-up by the name of Charlie Barnett. But talent coordinator Neil Levy had another black performer he wanted her to see, a kid from Roosevelt, Long Island, named Eddie Murphy.[3]

Some accounts state that Doumanian preferred instead Robert Townsend, but Eddie Murphy was added (as a featured player) starting with the fourth episode, after much convincing from her colleagues and staff.[4]

With its team of entirely new writers and cast members, the show was plagued by problems from the start and deemed a commercial disappointment[5] by both critics and by viewers as reflected in the Nielsen ratings. For much of the season, the show was in turmoil and many critics wrote the show off as a pale imitation of its former glory due to budget cuts, lack of support that was promised to Doumanian by either the network or her staff,[6] and stiff competition from ABC, which, at the time, was gaining popularity with a similarly-"edgy", late-night sketch show that aired on a weekend: Fridays.

On February 21, 1981, the show featured a parody of the "Who Shot J.R. Ewing?" episode from the hit TV show Dallas. In a cliffhanger titled "Who Shot C.R.?", cast member Rocket was "shot" in the last sketch of the episode, after a running gag in which other members of the cast shared their grievances about Rocket with one another. Onstage for the goodnights, Dallas star and that week's host, Charlene Tilton, asked Rocket (who was still in character and sitting in a wheelchair) his thoughts on being shot. "Oh man, it's the first time I've been shot in my life", he replied. "I'd like to know who the fuck did it." The cast, along with some of the audience, reacted with laughter and applause. According to Neil Levy, Jean Doumanian was notified by a staff member that Rocket said the expletive and was so angry, she was ready to pull the cables out with her teeth.

Though this was not the first nor last time the expletive would be uttered live on SNL, Rocket's line, unknown to him, would cause him and everyone else (save Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo) to be dismissed.[4] This would be Doumanian's last episode. "This woman was a trainwreck," said then NBC President and CEO Fred Silverman in the Shales book. "The shows were just not watchable." Doumanian, Gottfried, Risley, and Rocket were fired before the show returned from a month-long break.

The Ebersol Era begins

SNL was given one more chance when Dick Ebersol, one of the original developers of SNL in 1974 and the man responsible for hiring Lorne Michaels as show-runner in 1975, was hired to replace Doumanian. In his first week, Ebersol fired Gottfried, Risley, and Rocket, replacing them with Catherine O'Hara, Tim Kazurinsky, and Tony Rosato. At the end of the season, he would eliminate the rest of the 1980 cast except for Murphy and Piscopo. Ebersol made offers to John Candy and O'Hara of SCTV to join the cast. Candy turned down the offer, so Tony Rosato was added to the cast in his place. O'Hara initially accepted, but changed her mind after Michael O'Donoghue – the show's original head writer, who had been brought in to rejuvenate the show – screamed at the cast about the season's poor writing and performances. O'Hara suggested Robin Duke as her replacement, and Duke was brought in. O'Hara never appeared on SNL as a cast member. Laurie Metcalf and Emily Prager joined as featured players.

Dick Ebersol's first produced episode was on April 11, 1981. After Ebersol's first episode, the 1981 Writers' Guild of America strike started, forcing the show into a hiatus during which it was extensively retooled.[7][8]


bold denotes Weekend Update anchor


Brian Doyle-Murray returned as the only writer from the previous season. Pamela Norris and Terry Sweeney were also hired; the latter would become a cast member in 1985. Musician and Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour writer Mason Williams was the head writer but left after clashing with Doumanian.[10] Michael O'Donoghue was rehired after Doumanian's firing.


Saturday Night Live season 6 episodes
No. # Host(s) Musical guest(s) Original airdate
1071 Elliott Gould Kid Creole & the CoconutsNovember 15, 1980
Gilbert Gottfried, Gail Matthius, Joe Piscopo, Ann Risley, Charles Rocket, Denny Dillon, and Patrick Weathers' first episode as cast members. The cold opening showed many cast members in bed with Gould (a play on Gould's 1969 film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice), who tries to allay their anxieties. He tells Matthius she is "kind of a cross between Jane [Curtin] and Gilda [Radner]," that Risley is "a cross between Gilda and Laraine [Newman]," and that Rocket is a cross between Chevy Chase and Bill Murray.[11] In his monologue, Gould waxed nostalgic about his old underwear. The first sketch, set in the Oval Office, showed Rosalyn Carter (Risley) trying to seduce Jimmy Carter (Piscopo), with Amy played by Dillon. In a later sketch, Matthius demonstrates how to give a breast self-examination.[12] Wendie Malick appears in the background of the Nose Wrestling sketch. 
1082 Malcolm McDowell Captain Beefheart & His Magic BandNovember 22, 1980
Charles Rocket interviews John Lennon (played by Malcolm McDowell) during Weekend Update. Eddie Murphy makes his first appearance in this episode in an uncredited cameo, in a sketch called "In Search of the Negro Republican," written by David Sheffield. Matthew Laurance, previously an assistant director on the show during seasons 3−5, makes an appearance. Dillon, in dominatrix leather gear, abused Rocket, who was chained, spread-eagle, to a weather map. "Jack the Stripper" "had something to do with Prince Charles being a royal flasher—exactly what it was about was impossible to decipher."[13] Another sketch made light of the 1979 Greensboro massacre. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band performs "Hot Head" and "Ashtray Heart." Many SNL veterans consider the McDowell show the single worst night in the program's history.[14] 
1093 Ellen Burstyn Aretha Franklin
Keith Sykes
December 6, 1980
The episode features a short film entitled "Fish Heads"; this music video for a song of the same title starred Bill Paxton and Bill Mumy.[15] Eddie Murphy's and Patrick Weathers's first episode as cast members. Doumanian wanted to run three sketches ("one about planned parenthood, another about a nun who was not a virgin, the third about a junkie selling potholders door to door to support his drug habit"), all of which were cut by NBC's Standards and Practices department.[16] 
1104 Jamie Lee Curtis James Brown
Ellen Shipley
December 13, 1980
Danny DeVito appears in a black and white film short. Eddie Murphy begins a run as a "Weekend Update" commentator with a successful diatribe about basketball players. 
1115 David Carradine Linda Ronstadt
The Cast of The Pirates of Penzance
December 20, 1980
This is Matthew Laurance and Yvonne Hudson's first episode as credited cast members. Hudson had appeared as an uncredited background player since the fourth season. 
1126 Ray Sharkey Jack Bruce & FriendsJanuary 10, 1981
Eddie Murphy delivers the line Live from New York, it's Saturday Night! Gail Matthius's first episode as Weekend Update co-anchor. Murphy impersonates Stevie Wonder and Bill Cosby, mocks Garrett Morris, and does his stand-up act when the show threatens to run five minutes short. 
1137 Karen Black Cheap Trick
Stanley Clarke Trio
January 17, 1981
SNL historians Hill and Weingrad write that this show "was actually funny all the way through."[17] 
1148 Robert Hays Joe "King" Carrasco & the Crowns
14 Karat Soul
January 24, 1981
Eddie Murphy is promoted from featured player to repertory player in this episode. 
1159 Sally Kellerman Jimmy CliffFebruary 7, 1981
A sketch "Lean Acres" features a sadistic fat camp counselor (Sally Kellerman) who punishes two women (Denny Dillon and Ann Risley) for cheating on their diets. The sketch is interrupted by an audience member (portrayed by an unnamed writer) who hates the sketch and vocally speaks out against the sketch's cruel take on plus-sized women. The protester is forcibly removed from the studio after a commercial break. 
11610 Deborah Harry Funky Four Plus OneFebruary 14, 1981
Patrick Weathers' final episode as a cast member. 
11711 Charlene Tilton Todd Rundgren
February 21, 1981
The debut of Eddie Murphy's "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood" sketch. During the goodnights, Charles Rocket (in a wheelchair after getting shot during the last sketch, in a parody of the Who shot J.R.? promotion for Dallas, on which Tilton had played Lucy Ewing) grumbles, "I'd like to know who the fuck did it" in response to Tilton's query on how Rocket felt after being gunned down.[18] 
11812 Bill Murray Delbert McClintonMarch 7, 1981
In the cold opening, Murray encourages the cast members not to worry about ratings or reviews. Mark King appears as Dr. Jonathan Lear in the "Saturday Night Newsline" sketch. Ann Risley, Gilbert Gottfried, Charles Rocket, and Matthew Laurance's final episode as cast members. Jean Doumanian's final episode as executive producer.[19] 
11913 Chevy Chase, Al Franken, Christopher Reeve, and Robin Williams Jr. Walker & the All-StarsApril 11, 1981

Robin Duke, Tim Kazurinsky and Tony Rosato's first episode as cast members. Laurie Metcalf and Emily Prager are credited as cast members. Chevy Chase appears in the cold open along with Mr. Bill, reminisces about the good old days, then stumbles and crushes Mr. Bill. Chase also returns to anchor Weekend Update. Al Franken joins him to discuss Season 6, frequently using the phrase "me, Al Franken," as he had done in previous seasons when arguing that the 1980s be known as "The Al Franken Decade."[20]

Prior to introducing Jr. Walker & the All-Stars' second musical number, Chase appears with Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve to tell the audience that the show was improving. Denny Dillon, Gail Matthius, and Yvonne Hudson's final episode as cast members. Jr. Walker & the All-Stars performs "(I'm a) Road Runner," "Shotgun," "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)," and "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)." Dick Ebersol's first episode as executive producer. 

Critical reception

Responses to Doumanian's SNL were disappointed and disappointing. The Associated Press, mocking the Carters-in-the-Oval-Office sketch, wrote, "The new Saturday Night Live is essentially crude, sophomoric and most of all self-consciously 'cool.' It is occasionally funny... Under producer Jean Doumanian, Saturday Night Live will define 'risk-taking' as a little naughtier, perhaps a little raunchier; it won't wander too far off the beaten path... They're all clones. This is television. If they can be funny once in a while, that's all we can ask."[21]

Hill and Weingrad summarized other reviews:

The Washington Star said the show "strained and groaned" while the humor was "almost completely lost, despite desperate attempts to ring it out of raunch." Newsday's Marvin Kitman, as expected, ravaged the show gleefully, calling it "offensive and raunchy," and worse, not funny. "This new edition is terrible," he wrote. "Call it 'Saturday Night Dead on Arrival'."[22]

Tom Shales's review in The Washington Post was devastating.

Shales had always been Saturday Night's strongest and most prestigious booster, and thus his reaction to the new show was more important than most. The headline on his review read FROM YUK TO YECCCH. The first sentence was: "Vile from New York—It's Saturday Night." The show, Shales said, was a "snide and sordid embarrassment." It imitated the "ribaldry and willingness to prod sacred cows" of the Lorne Michaels years without having the least "compensating satirical edge." It was, he wrote, "just haplessly pointless tastelessness." Shales concluded that despite one or two imaginative moments from the show's filmmakers, "from the six new performers and 13 new writers hired for the show, viewers got virtually no good news." ... Jean made it clear that she thought the writing was primarily at fault. "It's just got to be funnier," she said. Then she put a tape of the show on her videocassette machine to begin a sketch-by-sketch critique. According to writer Billy Brown, as she did she said, "Watch this. And I hope you hate it, because you wrote it."[23]


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