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Live, But Only in New York, It's Saturday Night!
November 17, 2007  | By David Bianculli
At 11:30 ET tonight, for the first time in two weeks, the show Saturday Night Live will go on. But only in New York, as a staged Writers Guild of America benefit at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Michael Cera, of Superbad and formerly of Arrested Development, is scheduled to be the guest host of this sold-out event - and though nothing's confirmed, it's rumored that most, if not all, of the SNLcast will be there.

30 Rock castAt the same small theater on Monday night, another NBC series with SNL roots, Tina Fey's 30 Rock, will present a "live" episode of that series as another WGA benefit show. Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski all are expected to perform, but only for the lucky audience members who get through the door.

This concept, of course, takes the idea of a mass medium and flips it to the other extreme, making it among the most exclusive of entertainments. Krakowski, a Tony winner for Nine and a Broadway baby even before her appearance in the Roundabout revival of Company, is no stranger to performing live on New York stages. For the others, it harkens back to standup comedy or improv groups - but this idea of performing television series as a live stage show, it's an uncommon occurrence.

Maybe it shouldn't be.

I'm not talking about the type of camp comedy as typified by The Real Live Brady Bunch stage show. I'm talking about thinking of TV as a true theatrical resource.

Once, when interviewing Peter Falk, I suggested to him that he and, say, Patrick McGoohan should get together and do a limited-run Broadway show based on one of their classic Columbo episodes. Falk's eyes lit up - well, one of them did, anyway - and he broke into a wicked smile.

"Boy," he growled appreciatively. "We could make a lot of money."

Nothing came of it - but Falk was right.

Think of the shows, new and old, that could follow the SNL and 30 Rock lead and generate big crowds - and lots of money for the striking writers' fund. Take over some Broadway houses on Monday night for bare-bones performances, or even Encores!-style readings, using old TV scripts (by writers!) and featuring stars of those shows (who aren't working because of the strike!). Find other venues on the West Coast, and connect with your TV audience a few hundred people at a time.

The cast of Frasier, certainly, could do a Broadway mounting proud, picking a couple of old scripts and performing them as a two-act play. And a few years ago, when I saw the cast of The Simpsons do a script reading at the Aspen Comedy Festival, the crowd went absolutely nuts. In addition to staging a strike, these TV writers, and the actors sympathetic to their cause, should be hitting the stage.

They should be filming their performances on digital video, too. That way, when the strike is settled and the writers get a share of profits from DVD sales, they can add the live performance clips as bonus material on their boxed sets - and actually benefit from it.

That way, it's a benefit in more ways than one.




Toby OB said:

Off the top of my head, I think the best 'Frasier' episode to use for a staged recreation would be the one where they all spent the weekend at a ski lodge and kept ending up in each others' rooms.

Or along similar lines - and without needing extra guest stars - the one where all of the Crane men kept finding themselves in Phoebe's bedroom. (Even Eddie by the end of the episode!)

Comment posted on November 17, 2007 1:02 AM

Diane Werts said:

You know me, Dave -- I'm always gonna go for the Christmas episodes.

How about the "Frasier" one where Niles is playing Jesus in the local pageant, and has to avoid Frasier's Jewish girlfriend's mother (who thinks Frasier is Jewish), and gets discovered by her in the powder room in his Jesus garb using nasal spray because he's allergic . . .

Well, you don't even have to consider any others.

Comment posted on November 17, 2007 10:55 AM

ericg said:

Dave: The best Frasier, one that had me laughing out loud for most of the last act, was where Kelsey Grammer was MC'ing the on-air fund raising for a local PBS station and somehow, (I think a scheduled act canceled,) and he got roped into performing "Buttons and Bows" impromptu. His rendition of trying to smile and fake his way through the words was priceless, (each verse relievedly landing on a mugging, extended "buttons and booowwsss." Some of his best comedic acting ever.

Comment posted on November 17, 2007 1:28 PM

Mrs. jones said:

"well one of them anyway"? I love your sense of humor. Delicious! Yummy! Sooooo funny!

Comment posted on December 1, 2007 3:02 PM
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