After SNL: Is the variety show dead?

After Saturday Night Live finally gives up the ghost is the variety show concept dead, or can it be revived with the proper troupe? I’m talking a regular cast, some guest stars, a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants.

It certainly seems to wheezing and gasping for air to me. There isn’t much out there as far as sketch shows go. MadTV was cancelled by Fox and the State never successfully got to CBS from MTV (which is too bad). There have been efforts to make variety show specials by Rosie O’Donnell as well as Jessica Simpson and Nick Lahey, but those both bombed.

I imagine that everything is cyclical and there are lots of improv troops, comedians, and singers out there, so there’s quite a pool to pull from. Someone’s bound to try it again and maybe it’ll work at some point.

I don’t think SNL is going anywhere either. It’s an institution and it’s been around so long that it can’t fail.

I think that the very nature of television has changed and obsoleted the variety show format. In the days when programs on three channels droned on for an hour at a time, the idea of packing that hour with short acts was innovative and useful. Now that we have 500 channels, flexible time slots and just about every weird program niche you can think of, the idea of packing several different acts into one show is a bit quaint.

I think SNL and the late-night shows survive only (or mostly) because their audiences are semi-catatonic. In the home satellite days, I got to watch Carson et al. at 8:00 or so, and they just weren’t all that funny.

Do you think that its the writing cycle they go through? Or even maybe the writers themselves?

I mean, god, how different would SNL be if they put some real money into cast members and had someone like Matt and Trey, or Doug Stanhope, or Joe Rogan, or Adam Carolla writing the thing and you took all the limits off it. Christ, put those guys in a room with a bong and you’ll get genius every week.

The variety show is already dead. SNL is a zombie, not the last survivor.

I don’t think of SNL as a variety show. It’s a sketch comedy show with a music guest. “Hollywood Palace” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” were variety shows.

This is how I see it. SNL is more like The Carol Burnett Show. I think reality shows like America’s Got Talent et al are taking the place of the classic variety show. I think something will fill the void SNL leaves, probably along that old model of a show named for its comedic star like Carol Burnett.

Part of the strength of variety shows was the fact that there wasn’t as much readily-available entertainment as we have today. Being able to see comedy -and- singing -and- plate-spinning -and- bird-calls all in one place (and sometimes all by the same person!) was, in a sense, entertainment economy.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I haven’t watched SNL in years, but I hear it’s pretty rubbish, and that might’ve helped kill the genre, I don’t really know. I don’t think a good variety show would be impossible to pull off, but I do think that, with the genre heavily in decline (or barely breathing) the chance of a studio wanting to take a risk on it is pretty minimal.

…Although maybe a home-produced web-series…

I think you deeply misunderstand the creative process that leads to what you see on the screen after the SNL opening rolls.

Let’s put it this way: being able to write the occasional scintillating essay does not mean you’d make a good columnist.

I don’t call SNL a variety show. A variety show was the TV equivalent of vaudeville as expressed by Ed Sullivan or Gary Moore.

And I think the reason the variety show is no more harks back to the reason vaudeville existed in the first place. Where could you see so many acts all in one place 100 years ago? The local (live) theater was the only venue until radio, then television. We have become jaded because if you want to see an “exotic” act like plate-spinning, bicycle-riding, opera-singing monkeys, all you have to do is go to YouTube. Nowadays we’ve seen it all before.

SNL is probably the definition of cyclic- at the moment, it’s dreadful, but it’ll come back in a few years and be really funny. I suppose it’s some sort of writer/cast chemistry thing- once they get the right set of comedians and writers together, it’ll click, and there will be some really funny stuff produced, movies will get made, etc… Then, some of them will leave, and the show will go into the trash can for a few years until the right group coalesces again.

I don’t know if Sonny & Cher / Donny & Marie (only variety shows I recall having actually seen first-run) are really a viable form anymore- like others have said, nowadays, that content will be in several different concentrated channels- you want to see a guy armpit-fart the national anthem? Fine- you can find a hundred videos of armpit-fart music on YouTube. Comedy sketches? Watch Comedy Central.

As for sketch comedy shows, I don’t think they’re dead exactly- maybe in prime-time TV, but the big 3 networks are increasingly marginalized as well, for the same reasons the old-timey variety shows are going- they offer variety instead of depth.

Sketch comedy shows are still going as strong as ever, which wasn’t ever that strong. At most, I think you may have had 3 or 4 at a time; in 2002 you had SNL, MadTV and Chappelle’s Show. In 1979 you had SNL, Carol Burnett, and what?

I heard the same question asked as Sullivan, Steve Allen, The Smothers Brothers, Your Show of Shows, Ted Mack, Gary Moore, and Carol Burnett went off the air.

There will be replacements. Television hates a void, even if the void is better than the thing it replaces.

You have to check out Key and Peele. Sketch comedy is certainly not dead yet.

I agree. SNL isn’t a variety show. It’s 90% comedy, mostly sketch with a few other items like the host’s monologue and Weekend Update. A variety show would include several different musical acts, one or two comedians (often standup), plus acrobats, dancers, animals, whatever.

So what was the last actual variety show aired?

SNL should take a lesson from Jon Stewart. The funniest things SNL does are currently topical like Weekend Update, Tina Fey riffing on Sara Palin, Amy Poehler doing Hillary, mocking the debates, etc.

Stewart isn’t just funny, he’s funny about the things we’re thinking about at the time.

SNL should scale back the stuff like What’s Up With That or at least let those ideas go after a few appearances before they become tired and concentrate on what the public is currently focused on.

As I pointed out above, the reality shows like America’s Got Talent and Idol are actually variety shows. They follow the lead of Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour where it is also a talent contest.

Carol Burnett was one, I think there have been some featuring country music stars more recently.

According to Wikipedia (which must be true), the latest variety shows aired was the Osbornes Reloaded in 2009.

Or Portlandia. Sketch comedy is starting to get more “themed,” it seems. A show revolves around one or two stars, instead of an entire troupe, and the comedy is more niche. Chapelle, Key and Peele, Armison and Brownstein, etc.

Who are “we”, Paleface? Who are you calling “the public”?