What an ITC Group Could Learn from Saturday Night Live (3)

ITC – Instrumental Transcommunication, the use of technology to get in touch with the other side.

INIT – the International Network for Instrumental Transcommunication, founded in 1995.

Not long after I got involved in afterlife research, I remember a small gathering where a gifted medium was in a light trance, channeling information from a cluster of ethereal beings.

At one point the finer spirit beings interrupted the session to ask the group what was going on. “Occasionally we see bright flashes of light.”

Someone in the group replied, “Oh, nothing serious. We just have a good laugh once in a while.”

Apparently finer spirit beings don’t view us as the carnal bodies we see in the mirror. They see our minds as little lights in the darkness out here in the fringes of the material universe. Our inner light, or spirit, can become brighter if we pray and meditate a lot and love the world around us… and apparently it flashes brightly when we laugh.  🙂   

The life of comic Sid Caesar suggests that if you can give people wholesome laughter, they’ll love you for the rest of their lives.

The humor on NBC’s Saturday Night Live isn’t always wholesome, but the show has certainly stirred lots of laughter among its devoted and casual fans over the years.

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(This article is based mostly on the book “Live from New York; an Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live.” Any additional sources are cited and linked throughout the article.)

Mission and Motivation

In 1974 Johnny Carson asked NBC to discontinue his popular Tonight Show reruns, The Best of Carson, on weekends, and to run them instead on one or two weeknights, Monday through Friday. That way, Carson could take some time off from the show that had consumed most of his life for more than a decade. The Tonight Show was the most profitable program on TV at the time, which meant a critical hole would have to be filled on Saturday nights.

Dick Ebersol was hired by NBC that year, 1974, at age 28, to fill the hole. Ebersol took on the daunting task of creating a new show that would round up young, weekend fun-seekers off the streets and herd them back into their living rooms to tune into his new program. He began talking to a wide assortment of actors and comics and writers, some of the biggest names in the business at the time, including George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin, and Steve Martin.

Then Ebersol met Lorne Michaels, who’d been involved in TV specials such as Laugh-In. The two young men were about the same age, and Michaels had that rare ability to chat up his ideas in a way that fired people’s imaginations and got them excited. He told Ebersol he envisioned “the first TV show that spoke the language of the time… the language being talked on college campuses and streets and everywhere else.” The bristling bond that developed between Ebersol and Michaels planted a seed that would become the wild-and-crazy comedy garden that was NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

NBC president Herb Schlosser, who’d hired Ebersol, applied the finishing touch by suggesting a move from Los Angeles to New York… and that led to the now-famous exclamation that launched every episode… Live from New York, It’s Saturday Night!

SNL was an important part of NBC’s imposing infrastructure. As long as the guys at the top of the network hierarchy had nothing better for that hard-to-fill time slot, the show and its cast and crew stayed true to their mission…

  • to entertain a big share of late-night weekend viewers, so as…
  • to attract advertisers, so as…
  • to make money for the network.

From the crew’s point of view, says staff writer Alan Zweibel, the motivation was simple: “If we make each other laugh, we’ll put it on TV and hopefully other people will find it funny and tell their friends.”

The SNL mission would resume through thick and thin, through good times and bad, whether critics happened to be celebrating Saturday Night Live at the moment or eulogizing it as “Saturday Night Dead.”

Our INIT group had a similar lifespan to the original SNL cast: 4 or 5 really good years.

  • SNL cast and crew members had the noble mission of making people laugh, and they all loved what they were doing, despite the grueling work and the many ego and personality conflicts, which we explore in a moment.
  • INIT members had the noble mission of sustaining a resonant contact field while digesting and disseminating some of the most mind-boggling and world-changing information humanity had ever received from beyond our world, and we all loved it, despite the hard work a few of us had to do and despite a few ego and personality conflicts, which we’ll explore to some degree in the final article in this series.

One thing INIT could have learned from SNL was simply to keep our eye on the mission. Everything else should have been secondary.

Funding and Support

And the show did have its ups and downs. The dedication of the cast and crew and the quality of their humor were shaped in very large part by the funding that NBC doled out to the SNL budget. Probably the main exception to that rule was the first few years, when the original cast and crew were just thrilled to be working together on this new, revolutionary comedy project. They were not making a lot of money.

Craig Kellem, a writer on the show, said that in 1975, late in the Vietnam War, the US Military enticed the SNL cast and crew to do recruitment commercial parodies. Producer Lorne Michaels brooded for ideological reasons; supporting the “Vietnam War” in any form wasn’t a good fit for the show. While most of the cast and crew probably shared the ideological conflict, “it was a good way for everyone to earn money,” Kellem recalls, “so I became the guy who was the link to the commercial guy and did all the coordinating and producing…. They all made money, including Lorne, but Lorne kept a very pronounced arm’s length from the whole venture.”

Bernie Brillstein, a talent agent who represented some of the SNL cast, recalled John Belushi earning $800 or $1,000 per show, not a lot of money for a 1975 Manhattan life style. When former Beatle Paul McCartney offered Belushi $6,000 just to do his famous Joe Cocker impersonation at McCartney’s birthday party… “Oh my god, oh my god, he was so happy… not just the money, but singing for McCartney. Oh my god.”

Long story short, the original cast and crew loved the grueling work, which was often compared to Marine boot camp. They didn’t make a lot of money… and most of them have said they’d do it again in a minute. After all, they were young professionals of comedy, and they were delivering laughter to millions of homes every week.

When producer Lorne Michaels jumped ship for five years starting in 1980, nearly all of the actors and writers followed him. His smart, enthusiastic assistant Jean Doumanian stayed behind to pick up the pieces and take charge, but NBC slashed the show’s million-dollar budget to a third its size. Ms Doumanian had to hire all new people and rebuild the show from scratch on a shoestring budget. The virginal cast and crew did the best they could, but it wasn’t enough. SNL had its worst ratings ever. Jean Doumanian left the show less than a year later… after her first season as producer.

Dick Eberhard, the show’s original co-founder, stepped in as producer and insisted on a much bigger budget to attract top talent… and SNL slowly climbed back up in the ratings. In his last season as producer (before the return of Lorne Michaels) Ebersol brought in talented comedians with polished material, who cost about $20,000 per comic per episode and resulted in what some remember as the funniest SNL season ever.

SNL is a small organ in the large, living structure that is NBC. As a worldly social system, the life-blood of NBC is money. As long as money is flowing to an organ, it will survive. If money is cut off, it will die and be transplanted.

INIT, by contrast, was part of an “other-worldly” system. It was not part of a corporation that would give it money. The members themselves weren’t wealthy enough to attend annual meetings in various parts of the world, so we relied on the generosity of donors and supporters.

Personalities and Egos

In the early years of the show, Lorne Michaels was the creative producer who sometimes smoked pot and wore shorts and Hawaiian shirts. Dick Ebersol was the late-night programming vice president forged of network brass.

If the two men were tested for the Big Five personality traits, it’s my GUESS that Michaels would have Trait 1 and Ebersol would have Trait 2.

  • Trait 1 (openness) describes a person’s degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity, and preference for novelty and variety… an openness to experience new things. This quality is sometimes associated with political and religious liberals.
  • Trait 2 (conscientiousness) is a tendency to show self-discipline, to act dutifully, and to aim for achievement, and it provides a basis for planning, organization, and dependability. This quality is sometimes associated with political and religious conservatives.

(Read more about the Big Five personality traits… )

It’s been my experience that opposites (Traits 1 and 2) sometimes attract to form bristling, push-pull relationships, like shock absorbers and springs on a car. These two opposing personality types often work together (whether in a marriage, a friendship, or a business partnership) to keep things from falling apart as the relationship bounces along the rugged social terrain of our noble-savage civilizations.

The original SNL cast (John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Laraine Newman…) seemed to lean heavily toward Trait 1, highly creative and susceptible to creative outlets… with the possible exception of Jane Curtin, who’d grown up Catholic and had a stable family life outside the show. Guest host Eric Idle said that Curtin was “very sensible, very focused,” and disliked the drug culture that many of the cast participated in. SNL writer Al Franken said she “was steady, had a really strong moral center, and as such was disgusted by much of the show and the people around it.”

Throughout the late 70s, SNL flourished in a creative atmosphere. There were few restrictions on people’s behavior, as long as they could put together an entertaining show. Some network executives avoided the marijuana-pungent SNL offices. When former vice president Spiro Agnew was appearing on the Tom Snyder show downstairs, Al Franken went down before the show, found Agnew in the makeup room, accused the vice president (wrongly, it turned out) of calling student protesters bums (President Nixon had called them bums), and said, “Aren’t you the bum?… because you took money.”

The producer of the Snyder show called Franken and told him to quit harassing his guests; it was bad for the show. SNL producer Michaels and several cast members rolled their eyes when hearing about Franken’s outburst, but there were no particular rules against it (political satire was an important part of the program, after all). It was a creative atmosphere with few restrictions.

It was the mid-70s around the end of the Vietnam War when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called the show to get tickets for his son. Al Franken grabbed the phone and yelled, “You know, if it hadn’t been for the Christmas bombing in Cambodia (a couple of years ago), you could’ve had your f—ing tickets!”

The mood of the show seemed to calm a bit as the reverberations of the Vietnam War (1955-75) faded, and with the election of liberal US President Jimmy Carter (1977), who became a popular subject of impersonations by Dan Aykroyd, Joe Piscopo, Dana Carvey, Michael McKean, and Darrell Hammond.

In the 1980s the USA took a conservative swing. Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, the same year that Lorne Michaels left SNL. The show was in turmoil for a year, maybe searching for a new identity in the new conservative climate. With Lorne Michaels gone, it probably made sense, from a political standpoint, that the more conservative Dick Ebersol soon took the reins at SNL and launched his first episode in the spring of 1981.

Show writer Barry Blaustein recalls, “Reagan’s election set the tone. There was a kind of impending doom hanging over the country, and there was palpably a move toward conservatism in the network.” NBC censors began to nix various sketches that would have been acceptable just a few years earlier.

More conservative personalities began to make inroads into the show, most notably Dennis Miller, Victoria Jackson, and writer Jon Lovitz.

Like SNL, INIT was new and revolutionary… but even moreso. Not only did we have to contend with personality differences and ego demands while struggling with new ways of approaching our work (afterlife communication), but we had to assimilate suggestions from our ethereal gatekeepers who were sharing other-worldly concepts of how ITC really works… some of which were brand new to me, and probably to most people. Some of those concepts were at odds with everything most of the INIT members had ever learned about group dynamics… at odds with what many of us had come to believe… most notably, the need for unity of thought to sustain a contact field. So it was more than just a case of following the advice from our invisible mentors and restructuring our group accordingly. It was a very personal matter for each of us, unboggling our minds, assimilating the new information, and slowly, often painfully trying to find new ways to manage a worldly association according to other-worldly principles… amid human personalities and egos.

A few extra sensitive INIT members, who became more attuned to the ethereal principles of peace and love and were averse to conflict, were deeply hurt by the struggles going on at the human level.

What could we have learned from a group like SNL? For one thing, diverse SNL cast and crew members came and went over the years, often burning out from the grueling schedule after a few years, often using the show as a springboard to stardom.

While it was a little more complicated for INIT, requiring unity of thought among members and having to accommodate different languages, an ideal organization of this type (involving other languages, other cultures, other worlds) would still benefit from some sort of revolving door framework that would let us integrate new members smoothly and seamlessly. Members who left INIT often stirred up hard feelings by suggesting that our mind-boggling contacts were faked, or that some members were “in it for the money.”

Management and Direction

James Andrew Miller, a co-author of the Live From New York book, described the Lorne Michaels’ management style in an interview with the website Vulture:

SNL is “a place for advocacy and it’s a place for passion. And you have to make your case, and you have to make it quick. Because remember, time’s wasting; the director, the cue-card people, everybody needs to understand” all the aspects of the show that’s coming together that week. Everyone is expected to advocate their positions and desires, says Miller, with the understanding that the final decisions are made by Lorne Michaels. If certain prominent members of the cast (Seth Meyers or Tina Fey, for example) felt strongly about something, Michaels would usually go along. “But I think it’s a really interesting balance that’s achieved in that room…. It’s a very, very collaborative process.”  (Read the entire interview… )

For most of the five years that founder and creative producer Lorne Michaels was off the show (1981-85), his more conservative co-founder Dick Ebersol took over. He understood network politics and how to get money for the show, but he didn’t resonate with comedy. The cast and crew appreciated his ability to keep the “network wolves” at bay,  but the natural rapport they’d shared with Michaels, they didn’t enjoy with Ebersol, who often seemed like an alien force among the comic cast and crew.

Ebersol introduced some management techniques that became a permanent part of the show, even after Michaels’ return in 1985:

  • Ebersol was the first SNL producer to have the foresight and big budget to hire established comedians (Billy Crystal, Martin Short…) who brought their proven materials onto the show. It was no longer a low-budget show built solely from new material week to week performed by talented improvisers, but the polished material brought guaranteed laughs for Ebersol’s final (1984) season. When Michaels returned to the show, he continued to bring in successful comedians and actors (Joan Cusack, Dennis Miller, Robert Downey Jr…) along with talented unknowns (Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman…).
  • Ebersol insisted that sketches be developed around certain characters who became familiar to viewers, such as Crystal’s Fernando’s Hideaway and Eddie Murphy’s Gumby and Mr Robinson’s Neighborhood

Since the mid-1980s, SNL seems to have found its way, thanks largely to the creative management and network know-how that its co-founders—Michaels and Ebersol, respectively—infused into the program.

Something our INIT group could have learned from a group like SNL was the ability to strike a balance between Trait 1 and Trait 2 management forces who could help the group stay focused, above everything else, on our mission… fostering the good feelings and friendships with each other behind the scenes as best we could, and putting the inevitable personality struggles behind us while moving forward toward our goal of sustaining communication channels with the finer realms of spirit.

My own Trait 1 disposition may have had some influence on the INIT organization with my writing, but most of our policies were shaped and decisions made by a few more autocratic (Trait 2) personalities on both sides of the Atlantic. And, of course, we had the added dimension of wise counsel from the other side of the veil that acted as a balm to soothe (with only moderate success) the personality struggles and ego battles among a few of our members.

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(Watch clips and entire episodes and popular clips of SNL, if you don’t mind the commercials… )

(Get a glimpse of all 141 cast members who spent time on the show…)

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Also in this series (What an ITC Group Could Learn From Other Groups)…

1 intro   –  2 Prologue   –  3 Saturday Night Live   –  4 The United Nations   –  5 Spy agencies  –  6 Disney  –  7 Religion  –

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About Mark Macy

Main interests are other-worldly matters (www.macyafterlife.com) and worldly matters (www.noblesavageworld.com)
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