Wasn't That Special: 50 Years of SNL
Wasn't That Special: 50 Years of SNL Podcast
Free Episode: Season Twenty (1994-95): The Cast Splinters, the Show Bottoms Out, and Sandler and Farley Get Thrown Into the Bear Pit

Free Episode: Season Twenty (1994-95): The Cast Splinters, the Show Bottoms Out, and Sandler and Farley Get Thrown Into the Bear Pit


Remember Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s? Chris Farley! Adam Sandler! David Spade! How could it miss?

Well, Season 20 is how it could miss.

Beset by competing personal agendas, terrible press, and a plagiarism scandal, the show was ripped apart in 1994 and 1995, with all the behind-the-scenes drama affecting what was on the screen.

New cast member Janeane Garofalo, effectively hired as a replacement for the departing Julia Sweeney, immediately (and not without cause) began complaining to the media about treatment of women and gays, objecting to the crude humor she was seeing being written. Meanwhile, the press started hammering the show, leading to a famous New York Magazine piece in March 1995 that shredded the show’s disengaged cast and writers, many of whom were already looking forward to their careers in Hollywood (Sandler’s Billy Madison and Farley and Spade’s Tommy Boy came out during the season.)

Then, near the end of the season, the show suffered a plagiarism scandal when minor cast member Jay Mohr was caught lifting a full bit from a local Greenwich Village comedian and submitting it as his own sketch. The bit made it to the air and Mohr lied to producer Lorne Michaels about having stolen it. Nonetheless, the show had to settle with the comedian out of court for having stolen his act.

So what went wrong on-screen? For one, the show tried to break the mold, dismissing much of the formula that made it popular in the first place. Gone are the lovable recurring characters and catchphrases. No one on the cast can be bothered to even try a plausible celebrity impression. The hosts this season (George Foreman, Deion Sanders) are often abysmal.

In fact, the show was so bad, both Sandler and Farley are fired by network executives at the end of the season. The final sketch of the season serves as a metaphor for what happens on the show, with the blood-soaked duo throwing themselves into a polar bear pit to be mauled to death.

However, the show did feature a number of rays of light that portend well for the future. Norm Macdonald took over the Weekend Update desk, injecting it with a wickedness that it had been missing throughout the Kevin Nealon years. And midway through the season, after Garofalo left the show, new cast member Molly Shannon immediately lit up the screen, clearly caring for her performances in a way other cast members had ceased to.

While it was a terrible season, the worst years often make for the best podcasts, so we cover all this tumult in this week’s show. This one is a free show, so have a listen and please subscribe if you like what you hear!