History of the ‘SNL Weekend Update’
A Look Back At The Anchormen And Women of Saturday Night Lives's Weekend Update from 1975-PresentJune 10, 2015
These days it’s hard to change the channel without landing on some faux news program mocking the mainstream media’s original info outlet, the nightly news. For every Tom Brokaw, Lester Holt and Peter Jennings there’s a Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver to bring them down to their respective journalistic knees. It’s gotten so wild that during the 2008 presidential election a staggering 54% of the Stewart/Cobert audience statistically ranked at a higher knowledge level about current events then competing audiences of NPR, CNN and FOX respectively.
Of course, none – and we mean zero point zero – of these programs would have ever seen the light of day if it wasn’t for Lorne Michael’s brain child of the Weekend Update on “SNL” some 40 years ago.
For over 780 episodes (and counting), Saturday Night Live has been dishing out some of the funniest fake news on TV, although we’d be hard-pressed to officially declare their news fake. Maybe honest is a better word to describe it? Yeah, that’s a better way to represent what comedians like Dan Aykroyd, Norm MacDonald and Tina Fey have gifted us each week for the past four decades.
In honor of this week’s guest and former SNL anchor Colin Quinn, we decided to highlight some of the groundbreaking Weekend Update alumni to grace the original fake news desk.
He’s Chevy Chase, and you’re not. He started it all as the first news anchor to grace the Weekend desk during the shows first season on air. Chevy turned his short time on SNL into a massive movie career that all but deflated once the ’90s came-a-knockin’. Chevy was so damn good in the spotlight during the show’s freshman season that he landed himself on the cover of “New York” magazine in 1975 and was dubbed “the heir apparent to Johnny Carson.” That never came to fruition, but Chevy is still deeply engraved into our hearts as one of the best anchors to sit behind the SNL desk.
Jane Curtin was one of the original “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” and stuck around on the show until her departure in 1980. She landed the anchor spot after Chevy Chase missed a few episodes in Season One due to an injury and claimed the spot for good once Chevy jumped ship. She became known as the “Queen of the Deadpan,” as she was regularly paired up with a slew of wild characters from the brilliant minds of John Belushi and Gilda Radner. She often played the straight-woman behind the anchor desk and from all counts did it with comedic ease and grace.
Ok, say it with me, “Jane, you ignorant slut.” This iconic rebuttal, directed at his co-anchor, Jane Curtin, was from the famous parody of the “60 Minutes” Point/Counterpoint segment. Dan played the right-winged aggregate who constantly slammed his liberal counterpart for not agreeing with him. Dan’s time behind the desk was relatively short but impactful as future anchors and correspondents would attempt (and typically fail) to replicate the genius that was Dan Aykroyd’s straight and brutal news delivery.
When Bill entered the NBC late night scene he was instantly dubbed Chevy Chase’s replacement by the media, which Chevy was none too pleased about when he came back to host the show in 1977. Regardless of Chevy’s hurt feelings, Bill did a perfect job opposite Jane Curtin for the two years he spent doing the weekly satire news. Of course, when you consider all the great characters Bill brought to life on SNL, his time at the anchor desk barely makes the cut.
“Good evening, I’m Dennis Miller and what can I tell ya?” That’s how Dennis Miller entered our households for six consecutive seasons on SNL. When the show’s creator and EP, Lorne Michaels, finally returned “home” after a five year hiatus, of sorts, he intelligently placed Dennis in the anchor chair to give him the freedom to indulge in his favorite pastime – passionately riffing on everything and anything. His hypnotic head-shaking, wild hair and distinctive vocal delivery made the future O’Reilly BFF one of the greatest to ever grace the update throne.
Not heralded as a fan favorite in the Update anchor position, Kevin Nealon did his best imitation of a true-blue newsman. The assumption could be made that the hardest part of Kevin’s job was following the prodigious Dennis Miller, but flubbing his lines from the teleprompter proved to be his true Achilles heel. But say what you will, Kevin’s stoic delivery opposite Opera Man and other like-minded correspondent characters is when Kevin truly shined “and that’s the news to me.”
Stern show favorite, Norm Macdonald sat on the anchor stool for (almost) three hilarious years. Behind the scenes he might not have been perceived as funny but on-screen Norm’s infamously bone-dry delivery set a tone that would later set the standard for guest characters on “The Daily Show” and in satire news organizations like “The Onion.” We love ya, Norm, in case that matters to you. Which it probably doesn’t.
Colin Quinn was, by far, the most polarizing Weekend Update host to sit at the desk over the past 40 years. Simply enough, people either loved him or hated him. His raw blue-collar delivery made it feel like your old college buddy was telling you the funniest news of the week each Saturday night. Unfortunately, his time began on shaky ground as he had the unfortunate task of replacing one of his good friends and mentor, Norm Macdonald, who was publicly and unceremoniously sh*t-canned mid-season .
Jimmy Fallon teaming up with Tina Fey would be the first time a male and female would co-anchor the news desk since the late ’70s. Jimmy’s childish song parodies and obvious knack for celebrity impressions did him well in the Update chair. Although Jimmy was far from the comedy impresario that we see nightly on the “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” his boyish charm and eventual (and sometimes obnoxious) onscreen breakdown to his own material eventually won over his audience.
What can we say about Tina Fey that you probably don’t already know? She eventually breathed life back into the Weekend Update desk and brought the franchise back to its original glory. Tina, originally hired as a writer, found her way in front of the camera to offer up her politically savvy viewpoint juxtaposed with the ever-goofy Jimmy Fallon. Tina’s most memorable years were beside the next anchor on our list.
2004 – 2008
When Amy Poehler joined Tina Fey at the Update desk, it made them the first (and only) all-female team in the show’s illustrious history. Their chemistry exploded through our TV sets right into our living rooms each Saturday night, as they played off each other like two ballroom dancers perfectly in sync. Her comedic timing was flawless, as was her effortless ability to mock all things in the political and media arena.
2006 – 2013
Once Amy Poehler left the show, Seth retained the Update gig all by his lonesome self – and he did it pretty damn well. His straight-laced, no nonsense approach to the news position gave him firm footing in the satire news game and allowed him to appear in a record 154 episodes as the Update host. Although he chose to play it somewhat safe during his tenure, he was quick to loosen up whenever guest characters like Stefon, Anthony Crispino (pictured above) or Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy showed up.