Saturday Night Live: 1980-1981

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Season 6: 1980-1981

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SummaryConsidered the worst period in SNL’s history, the 1980 season seemed doomed from the start. The last of the original cast (Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner, not to mention Bill Murray) had left “Saturday Night Live” along with producer Lorne Michaels, and NBC promoted talent co-ordinator Jean Doumanian to take over the show and hire a new cast. Though Doumanian’s comedy expertise was practically nonexistent, she did manage to bring an eclectic collection of musical guests to the show during her short stint as producer. The new cast, which included eventual stars Denny Dillon and Gilbert Gottfried, had the misfortune of being the first new cast since the original cast, a transition which has since become easier on future eras of SNL.

Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy became the quick standouts (Murphy, especially, who started as an extra, became a featured performer, then was promoted to full cast member – all during the course of a 13-episode season) in a seemingly awkward cast. Doumanian was fired and replaced by Dick Ebersol after the season’s 12th broadcast. But even then it was too late for most of the cast, as a writer’s strike took place after Ebersol’s first broadcast.

Charles Rocket – billed as the next Chevy Chase, especially behind the reins of Weekend Update – was fired for saying “fuck” on the air, and everyone except Murphy and Piscopo were released soon after as well. 1980 was the most awkward season in SNL’s history, but look closely, and you’ll find a few bright moments in a period of SNL that was weighed down by its own success.

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Author: Don Roy King

Don Roy King has directed fourteen seasons of Saturday Night Live. That work has earned him ten Emmys and fourteen nominations. Additionally, he has been nominated for fifteen DGA Awards and won in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

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