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Free Post: SNL Seasons 6-8 (1980-1983) by the Numbers
Last time we talked about season rankings, we had just finished Season Five of Saturday Night Live, the final season featuring the original cast (sort of). As you may recall, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi had bolted the cast that year, leaving Bill Murray and a random cast of writers to fill in for the two missing legends.
According to our rating system, in which we give a number grade of 1-5 to every single sketch, Season Five was the lowest-ranking season between 1975 and 1980.
Of course, that came before the notorious Season Six, the year after the original cast and Lorne Michaels left the show. This season is widely regarded as the worst in SNL history - but what do the numbers say about how bad it was?
Perhaps the most telling number is how many one-star sketches we rated in Season Six. It takes a lot for us to give a sketch one star - it means it was not only bad, but objectionably terrible. And needless to say, S6 was full of them.
Here is a chart of how many one-star sketches we graded in the first six seasons:
Season One: 36
Season Two: 14
Season Three: 13
Season Four: 12
Season Five: 29
Season Six: 95
That’s right: Season Six saw just about as many one-star sketches (95) as the first five seasons combined (104). And to make it even worse, because of a writer’s strike, Season Six only lasted twelve episodes, as compared to the normal 20 episodes. So those 95 one-star sketches came in about a half a season.
Here are the individual episode grades for Season Six:
(Note: The thirteenth episode, with no host, was the first helmed by new executive producer Dick Ebersol - he only ran one episode before the writer’s strike hit. So that final episode is a bit of an outlier.)
The following season, with Ebersol at the controls, brought good news and bad news. The good news is that the show, behind the strength of Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo, seemed to be back on track. The bad news is that it ranks as the second-worst season so far. So while the collapse had been reversed, it still had not returned to the glory of the first five seasons:
But then, gloriously, Season Eight returned the show to its 1975-1980 form. Murphy single-handedly carried the show, loading up episode after episode with classic bits. (Gumby, Buckwheat, Velvet Jones, Mr. Robinson, etc.)
And, of course, it featured The Assassination of Buckwheat, a series of sketches that stand as some of the best the show has ever produced.
As a result, the quality of the shows surged:
So, naturally, our first question was: did Season Eight eclipse any of the first five seasons with the original cast?
The answer: YES.
In fact, we graded Season Eight higher than TWO of the first five seasons - it ranked higher than both Season One and Season Five.
One important caveat: Episode Two of Season One was essentially a Simon and Garfunkel reunion episode, which led it to being a completely disjointed mess. Without that episode, the season would have rated a 2.61, placing it higher than Season Eight.
However, S8 clearly beats S5 fair and square. By the end of their run, the original cast members obviously just wanted to move on and do other things - in Season Eight, Murphy, Piscopo and the others look like there is nowhere they would rather be.
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