- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 20, 2002

Ever find yourself snickering at the performers on "Saturday Night Live" when it becomes apparent they are reading their lines off cue cards?
You won't feel so snide after you watch a special two-hour edition of the cable series "Biography" that goes behind the scenes of NBC's long-running late-night show.
The special, which airs at 9 p.m. Monday on the A&E; Network, gives viewers a backstage glimpse at how a typical "Saturday Night Live" is put together. It makes for eye-opening television, and it will give you a new appreciation for a show that has become an institution, even if its cutting edge has gotten a little dull.
The special shows that "Saturday Night Live" is a weekly exercise in controlled chaos, populated by frazzled writers and performers who struggle to stay funny. As cast member Darrell Hammond says, "The show goes on at 11:30 not because it's ready but because it's 11:30."
For example, who knew that Mr. Hammond and the show's other performers are encouraged not to memorize their lines, since the dialogue can and often does change 30 seconds before airtime? It's a wonder some of the show's more cringe-inducing guest hosts (think New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who hosted in December) are capable of performing at all.
The special, narrated by Harry Smith, takes viewers through six days last November, when actress Gwyneth Paltrow prepared for her "Saturday Night Live" hosting gig. It's fun to see Miss Paltrow and the show's creator and longtime executive producer, Lorne Michaels, munch on popcorn while the show's writers pitch them ideas on the Monday before showtime.
It's equally heartbreaking to watch one of the show's cast members, newcomer Dean Edwards, work all week on a sketch about Michael Jackson, only to have Mr. Michaels cut it hours before airtime. The sketch is thrown out because Mr. Edwards needs too much makeup to look like Mr. Jackson, breaking Mr. Michaels' cardinal rule that the performers must be recognizable. (Is that why Chevy Chase never bothered to look like Gerald Ford in the 1970s?)
Since this is "Biography," the show has lots of interviews with current and former cast members and lots of old clips that will remind you just how good "Saturday Night Live" can be. There's also rare footage, including some of Mr. Chase's pretelevision days with the Lemmings comedy troupe and John Belushi's "Saturday Night Live" screen test.
Prime-time television is awash with clip shows these days, after the unexpected success of the "Carol Burnett Show" retrospective last fall. During the next few weeks, the networks are scheduled to air retrospectives of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Cosby Show," plus clip-laden tributes to Bob Hope, NBC's enduring Thursday-night lineup and CBS' famed Television City studios.
This A&E; special may turn out to be the best. You'll not only relive some fond memories of fun Saturday nights gone by, you'll also learn something about a show that, as Mr. Smith says, is as much worshipped as it is watched.

***
WHAT: "Biography Close-Up: Saturday Night Live"
WHEN: 9 p.m. Monday
WHERE: A&E; Network
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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