Saturday Night Live's Insane Production Schedule EXPLAINED!
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
Ever wonder how Saturday Night Live is made? Well, it's a LOT more work than you might imagine, leaving everyone involved with nary a spare moment from Monday morning, all the way to 11:30 on Saturday night. Nobody ever said that comedy was easy!
Who said comedy was easy? Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're going to be talking about a late night television institution: "Saturday Night Live."
Have you ever wondered how this venerable and influential sketch comedy show gets off the ground each week? Well, it's a LOT more work than you might imagine, leaving everyone involved with nary a spare moment from Monday morning, all the way to 11:30 on Saturday night.
It takes six out of seven days to get an episode of "Saturday Night Live" ready to air. On Monday morning is the all important pitch meeting in showrunner Lorne Michaels’ office, where ideas for 30 to 40 sketches are tossed around, and skeletons laid out for approval. The host for that week is included in the meeting, and the writers are tasked with making that host look as good as possible, highlighting their strong points. In fact, the host often dictates the tone of that episode, and can nix pitches if they don't feel they can execute them well, or if they just aren't comfortable with the content. The meeting takes at least two hours, and by the end of it all, a rough idea for that week's show is laid out in writing and posted on Michaels' office wall.
For SNL writers, Tuesday serves as the longest day of the work week, as this is when the sketches for that week’s show get their first draft. Writing is actually all that takes place on this day, and if you think that's just an eight hour day, then think again. It isn't uncommon for writers to pull all-nighters in order to get these sketches off the ground, with the entire process sometimes bleeding into the following morning.
Don't feel too sorry for the SNL staff, however, as these writers are often performers or comedians themselves, and are well versed in how to write comedy for the stage and screen. Some are hired from prestigious and well-respected stand-up troupes, such as The Second City or The Groundlings, and go on to enjoy thriving careers of their own after they leave the writer's room. Examples include Conan O'Brien, Tina Fey, and Adam McKay, the latter of whom co-founded the website "Funny or Die" alongside fellow SNL alum Will Ferrell.
So the real challenge behind the writing day isn't lack of ideas or talent, but more in the time crunch, and how little wiggle room the SNL writers have to get these sketches ironed out in time. This might explain why the show often goes for topical humor of the day as a quick and easy way of getting a sketch in the can.
Once these sketches are written out, there's a live reading of all of them during a 5pm meeting on Wednesday night. This round table get-together features the cast, writers and producers, while other staff such as hair and make-up might also attend, in order to bring together any visual cues that might be integral to a gag. Additionally, the SNL music director might also be invited to the meeting to play music on the piano or guitar, ironing out beats and timing for each sketch.
This table read could include up to 50 people, depending on the complexity of the sketches, and the meeting doesn't end until every potential sketch has been performed. After this, the meeting moves to Lorne Michaels' office, where the show is streamlined and put into a logical order. The flow of the episode is decided at this point, as the host, head writer, and show producers work together to figure out which sketches are going to be performed, and which get tossed aside. Once this is finished, the writers and cast get invited in to see what's been decided.
Of course, not every sketch makes the cut. And even the ones that have been approved undergo some serious tinkering on Thursdays, where scheduled sketches continue to be worked on and readied for showtime. Further cuts are made to ideas that just don't work, and the sketches that do survive into Friday are usually good to go. Usually.
Thursday is also the day when hair and make-up for the sketches get tested out, and any sets that are needed are built for the show at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Fun fact: none of these sets can be over nine feet tall, in order to fit inside the elevator at 30 Rockefeller Plaza! Jokes for the "Weekend Update" segment - a collaborative effort by the two anchors, alongside a small group of writers - get table read and edited for air. Finally, anything that can be pre-taped for the show, such as digital shorts or parody sketches, start their production here, which continues into Friday.
Things are getting down to the wire by Friday, and there's still plenty of work to be done, mainly with yet more rewrites and edits for the Saturday sketches. Friday is also the day when the scripts are reviewed by network censors, and hours of rehearsal are logged in by the cast to get each sketch ready for a live audience. Speaking of "live," those aforementioned pre-taped segments continue their production on this day, although it's not out of the question for some of these bits to be shot on show day, as well! Finally any sets that have been built get shipped over to the building, and get set up for the live show on Saturday night.
It's showtime! Well … almost. There's still a lot of rehearsing to be done, and this continues from Friday into Saturday, as the cast nails down their work on the sketches. Adjustments that still need to take place get smoothed out here, from costuming and wigs, right down to script ideas that may see further edits.
Believe it or not, SNL is actually live twice, as there's a dress rehearsal performed for a test audience at 8pm. Any sketches or jokes that don't make this audience laugh are cut or edited, until the show is knocked down to a neat 90 minutes. Sketches are edited right down to showtime, when SNL goes live at 11:29 pm and 30 seconds. The show kicks off, and runs 92 minutes, ending at 1:02 am. After this, it's time for a group exhale, hearty back slaps, and that iconic SNL send off tune to launch cast and crew out into a New York City night for all the after-parties....only to get ready to do it all again 24 hours later!