Beginning at 8pm ET tonight (that’s like NOW), PBS is airing what looks to be a ripsnorting gala: On Stage at the Kennedy Center: The Mark Twain Prize salutes Lorne Michaels, creator of NBC’s Saturday Night Live and the recipient of the Kennedy Center’s seventh annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Taped at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on October 25, 2004, the 90-minute special features tributes and comic performances by an all-star cast including Dan Aykroyd, Candice Bergen, Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut), Darrell Hammond, Tina Fey, Steve Martin, Tim Meadows, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), Tracy Morgan, Conan O’Brien, Paul Simon, David Spade and Christopher Walken. The show’s live band is led by former “SNL” musical director G.E. Smith (former husband of the late great Gilda Radner).
The special features television clips from the NBC series and screen tests of some of the original “Not Ready for Primetime Players,” as well as clips from Kids in the Hall and a selection of Michaels’ movie productions, which include Mean Girls, Tommy Boy and Wayne’s World.
I watched the SNL The First Five Years on Feb 20 — the night Hunter S. Thompson died, by the way — and it reminded me how wildy innovative, exuberant, and anti-showbiz-establishment those first five years were, when Lorne and the original cast created from whole cloth a careening format we have come to take for granted, using themselves and their experiences as the foundation of both narrative and a platform for biting, often slashing social and political commentary – a format of perpetual adolescence. Michaels is still at it 30 years later.