What we can learn from 40 years of SNL

5 minute read

shutterstock_23838927140 years of anything is a long time.

It’s 5 years older than the oldest Millennial

Can you imagine doing anything for 40 years?

Saturday Night Live Just Turned 40

What can we learn from SNL turning 40? Plenty!

“The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.”
~ Lorne Michaels

In case you missed it there was a 3 hour long TV show honoring SNL recently on NBC. It was hosted by Steve Martin and he was joined by a cast of dozens. Dozens of guest hosts, musical acts, and many of the stars that made SNL what it is today. We can learn a few things from SNL at 40. We can learn about things that can help each of us Stand Out un Our Careers. We can take away some key points on how to find & keep talent, how to let people go – both to greater things and to lesser things, and how to be a class act.

Something should be noted here … NBC as a television station took a risk and made a bet on SNL too.

Almost just as much as the Father of SNL, Lorne Michaels, did. NBC made a bet on SNL in a turbulent time in history. Back in 1975 there was a lot going on. Perhaps no more than today, but it was a risky move for NBC to make. Lorne Michaels and NBC made a bet on The Not Ready for Prime Time Players and it has paid off.

What Can We Learn From SNL

There are a lot of things we can take away from SNL. I want to highlight a few here, but I also want to hear from you. Drop a comment here with what you have learned from SNL – What are your takeaways? What are your favorite skits? Who are your favorite breakout stars?

These six points can be directly applied to your career, to your business, to your place of business. They are applicable everywhere. It just so happens they are highlighted every week … at 11:30pm … on Saturday Night Live.

  • Star Factory – Under incredible pressure more than a few stars have been launched from the SNL cast into legendary status.
  • Firing and Hiring – Yes, this is a harsh reality of a TV show. Lorne Michaels had the enviable job of finding the next funnyman or woman. He also had the unenviable job of telling them when it was time to go.
  • Keeping Up with the Trends – Or trying to. Current events, trending musical acts, and perhaps one of the most genius moves of all … The Guest Host. In addition to launching dozens of Inside Jokes & Catch Phrases there is a nuance and challenge to staying within tasteful boundaries.

A few more things that I really liked about the SNL at 40 show are listed below. I pulled them out because they stand alone and are things every person and every company should recognize and remember. Ultimately, I think these are the points that have allowed SNL to stay on so long and why people keep tuning in. I also think these points are why SNL can and has spanned multiple generations. Some of these are not shouted from the rooftops, but they are noted … as they should be.

Remembering Talent

Honoring those that have passed. In 40 years there have been a few stand out performers that have been taken before their time – John Belushi, Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, and Gilda Radner. This segment was covered by Bill Murray in a very fitting and somber style.

Take Away: Remember the people that brought you here. Sometimes people have to go. Sometimes people just go. Tragically or comically. When people move on and you still have a job to do … You get it done. Remember those that helped you get there.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

One of the iconic sketches from SNL is Wayne’s World. Which as some know launched a movie and countless catch phrases — think Schwing, No Way – Way, As-if, We’re Not Worthy, Fish on, and a few others. It also was a chance to share credit where credit is due.

Wayne and Garth did a Top 10 list close to the end of the show. The Top 10 things of SNL. Number 2 was Lorne Michaels. Which was not a surprise. As the father of SNL he deserves a spot right near the top. The #1 spot on the SNL Top 10 list was … The Crew.

Which I really liked. I’m guessing there was a toss up over who to recognize here … the audience or the crew. They made the right choice. While the audience may come and go over the years. The Crew was there … through thick and thin. Through years where everyone probably thought it was their last to years where numerous breakouts happened and everyone was smiling.

Take Away: Recognize the people that make you successful. They may not be on the front lines, but they are the ones that make you better. Recognize them. Reward them. Even if that reward can only be a word of thanks.

Leaders Lead

40 years of trying to make people laugh. That’s got to be some kind of record. Very few TV shows last this long. And even fewer are led by the same person for the whole time. Lorne Michaels is is a genius at finding talent. He’s also something else. He has been incredible smart at promoting this “found talent” while staying behind the scenes.

Take Away: Some leaders lead from the front. Other leaders that lead from the side or from the producers chair. Lead the way that is comfortable to you. Realize that you can lead without taking the credit & by staying out of the spotlight. This is both and art and a skill.

SNL Dead

One of the items on the Top 10 list was that SNL is Dead. Wayne and Garth said it with derision. They said that every year some pundit takes it upon themselves to proclaim that SNL is dead. Well, I think as Wayne and Garth noted … they were wrong. Every time.

As John Belushi said in the movie “Animal House” … Nothing is over until we decide it is!

It’s only over if you say so. It’s over when you say it’s over. Until then, like SNL, stick to it. Keep looking for talent, keep pushing the envelope and continue looking for that ever elusive thing that keeps people tuning it.

One should be so lucky as to get a 40 year ride on a rocket ship that is so visible, volatile and avante-garde as SNL.

What are you making that might last 40 years? How has SNL influenced you? Has SNL changed your career choices?