The Lorne Michaels show that wasn't Saturday Night Live
Canadian comedy producer's new show in 1984 featured SCTV, SNL alumni
Comedy producer Lorne Michaels is well known for creating the long-running NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, now in its 45th season.
But Michaels hasn't been with the show for every one of those seasons.
Five seasons in, the Canadian-born Michaels — who got his TV start in sketch comedy with CBC Television — left the show.
It would be more than three years before he returned to NBC — and it wasn't with SNL.
The New Show
The New Show debuted on Jan. 6, 1984. And in the days before it went to air, no one seemed to know what it was about.
Nadine Berger, reporting for the CBC's current affairs program The Journal, caught up with the show's writers and actors in a piece that aired a week later.
"Some old faces were seen along with others who were willing to risk a new show," said Berger, adding they were all working for union scale wages.
The cast, including SCTV's Dave Thomas, SNL's Valri Bromfield, actor Jeff Goldblum and comedy favourite Steve Martin — the first week's guest host — assembled for a press conference alongside Michaels and writer Buck Henry.
Goldblum told Berger he had taken the chance to work on The New Show because of Michaels's track record.
"I was a fan of Saturday Night Live," he said. "And it just seemed like fun."
According to a preview in the New York Times, the show was to be taped live on Thursdays and aired the following day at 10 p.m.
The show would also use "new videotape techniques" to create ''comedy videos'' similar to music videos.
'World of danger'
Bromfield, a fellow Canadian, had long worked in comedy with Michaels.
"You enter into his world of danger," she said. "Television is for here and now. That's why he loves live TV."
But what The New Show would look like was still hard to grasp, so Berger asked some of its writers if they knew.
"No, I don't know," said a young Al Franken. His response echoed two others, and was in turn repeated by two more — including Maggie Wheeler, who would go on to play the character of Janice on the sitcom Friends.
"I think I'm going to just have to wait until TV Guide comes out and see what they think it is," said a sixth writer who was working on the show.
In the 'ratings cellar'
Two episodes in, the reviews were not kind.
"With the exception of guest host Steve Martin's hilarious take-off of Michael Jackson's video Billie Jean ... the memorable moments have been few and far between," wrote The Canadian Press.
"Critics have said they've found little to laugh about and have complained that the show's sketches are long and drawn out. The show is sitting in the ratings cellar."
"Any successful new program needs a year to find its stride," Michaels told The Canadian Press.
Three months in, the New York Times reported that NBC had cancelled The New Show before its initial 13-episode run was up. It stood at 68th out of 70 prime-time programs.
Michaels returned to SNL in 1985, where he has remained since while also producing movies and the Canadian sketch series The Kids in the Hall.