Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi "SNL" vs. "MAD-TV"

By Devin D. O'Leary

FEBRUARY 23, 1998:  Saturday night may seem an odd night in which to wage a war for TV viewership. Most networks give up on capturing any kind of respectable demographic and pour on the geriatric programming (i.e., "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman") in hopes of ensnaring old folks who aren't gonna make it out of the house on a Saturday night anyway. But for more seasons than I'd care to count, NBC's "Saturday Night Live" has been the unchallenged king of the post-prime-time slot. That is until two seasons ago when the FOX network put out a little rival called "MAD-TV." Inspired by the comic magazine of the same name, FOX's upstart comedy revue has been chipping away at the hip demographic of NBC's doddering old workhorse.

"Saturday Night Live" has always had its ups and downs. For every John Belushi that emerges, there are three Tim Kazurinskys. Still, "SNL" has contributed an entire frontal lobe's worth of memorable characters to our public consciousness (Belushi and Aykroyd's Blues Brothers, Dana Carvey's Church Lady). But even the most popular characters of this current "SNL" cast (Jim Breuer's "Goatboy" and Molly Shannon's Mary Katherine Gallager) do nothing more than creep me the hell out. The addition of the animated "Saturday TV Funhouse" with its rude cartoons like "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" is often the only high point in an otherwise laughless night. Most recently, NBC fell on its own sword when West-Coast Prez Don Ohlmeyer summarily kicked Norm MacDonald off the "Weekend Update" slot. The anchor position has been filled now by Colin Quinn. Quinn, one-time co-host of seminal MTV game show "Remote Control," looks embarrassingly out of place. His gravel-throated frat-boy delivery is hardly suited for news commentary, and his rambling monologues sound like a poor imitation of Dennis Miller. It's just another nail in the coffin from my vantage point.

Over at FOX, though, the cast of "MAD-TV" have been having a banner run. Like any sketch show, there are highs and lows; but thanks to the edgy young cast and the lack of "SNL's" strangling structure (how many more dull celebrity hosts can we stand?), "MAD-TV" is gaining a serious Saturday beachhead. Sketches like the Claymation parodies of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (crossed with Apocalypse Now last Christmas and The Godfather the year before) have already become TV classics. The cast, meanwhile, does have a few recurring characters but relies more on fresh material week-in and week-out. Expect cute blonde Nicole Sullivan to be the first cast member to make the fast break to Hollywood.

In the future, "MAD-TV" should concentrate more on the things that distinguish them from "SNL"--their MAD Magazine- inspired bits like the "Spy vs. Spy" segments and their pitch-perfect prerecorded movie parodies (like the immortal "Gump Fiction.") "SNL," on the other hand, should just give it up and surrender the late-night NBC airwaves to valuable infomercials. Of course, this whole debate may become moot this fall when CBS unveils Howard Stern's Saturday-night comedy show. Talk about a war!


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