"Noogies are not the latest breakfast sensation from Battle Greek nor microscopic animals that can only be routed with foul-smelling ointments. Noogies are small indentations made in the skin of victims' heads by rampaging nerds in high school. If you don't know what a nerd is, you aren't up on your "Happy Days."
The practise of applying noogies may have originated in New Jersey, since that only makes sense, but it definitely spread as far west as Wilmette, III., where stab at growing up. Murray, 27, is the newest member of the msot ambitious and consistently entertaining creative ensemble in television, the Not Ready for Prime Time Players of NBC's "Saturday Night Live," which just completed its third season and will be back in September for a fourth.
Murray was in town yesterday, visiting the White House and the Air and Space Museum and reading aloud on street corners from the autobiography of Mike Douglas ("My Story" - a real cliffhanger). Murray said he will be back next season and expects all of his fellow NRFPT players to the back as well. The chief difference is that they all expect to be making more money. They made about $1,000 a week each when the show started - more if they also write, as Murray does - and have made more as the show became more and more firmly established as a hit.
'We're waiting for Freddie," says Murray, echoing a common sentiment at NBC (as well as the current obsession of the perceptive Garry Trudeau in the "Doonesbury" comic strip). "Freddie" if of course Fred Silverman, incoming president of NBC. "We've heard that Freddie really loves to spend money, really to throw it around," says Murray. So the Troupe has elected veteran member Jane Curtin to go forth and represent them when Silverman arrives.
Of course, she'd better be prepared to wait in line outside his door with 3,000 or 4,000 other people.
At the beginning of this season, it looked like the last for "Saturday Night Live" as we know it. Producer Lorne Michaels was getting tired and grouchy. John Belushi had two movies cooking (both to be reased soon), Larraine Newman was in "American Hot Wax," and a general air of exhaustion seemed to be setting in. Somehow the staff rejuvenated itself, and the past season of "Saturday Night Live" may have been its best ever.
"We're terribly afraid of people saying, 'It's not as good as it used to be,'" says Murray. "I think the writing of the show is better than it ever was. That first couple of seasons there would be pieces that would just collapse in the middle."
As for Michaels, he said recently that he has decided not even to wait for Freddie as far as his decision on whether to continue with the show. He wil be back. If Machaels washaving dreams of transferring his success to prime time, those dreams got clobbered with the poor Nielsen showings of two specials and under his aegis, a Paul Simon specials and "The Rutles," Eric Idle and Gary Weis's whacky take-off on the Beatles that failed to lure substantial audiences to their prime-time slots.
In fact, both specials - and "The Rutles" had gone about $250,000 over budget - landed in the bottom 10 of the ratings the weeks they were televised. People simply chose safer, more comfortable, more mediocre fare.
Michaels says now that "the audience we want to reach, or that wants to reach us, is apparently just not in prime time." There never was much disgrace about late-night as a time slot, and in fact "Saturday Night Live" has hepled make it some way more respectable than prime time. People who know tune in "Saturday Night Live" know that there is at least a chance that something wild and exhilarating and daring will happen. People tuning in prime time know it is virtually hopeless.
In addtion, the program's late berth seems to provide a natural defense against the network censors, who allow material tht wouldn't possibly get on between 8 and 11 p.m., when Mr. and Mrs. America and their 23 kiddies are watching. Recent sketches on the program have included one about a veneral disease detective and, more recently, a visit to the chamber of commerce of ancient Sodom, where city fathers had hired a consultant (Murray) to spurce up the town's bad image, of course, this was before the casino opened in Atlantic City.
THe Sodomites eventually settles on a new judge, "I Love Sod-dom," which was sung to the tune of "I Love New York,"
And yet for all the potnetially inflamatory material on the show, and even considering the touchiness of c ertain special-interest groups when it comes to sexual cander on television, "Saturday Night Live" causes the network relatively little grief. It has found its audience and they forgive it when it goes too far - or else they love it when it goes too far. Whatever a spokesman for the National PTA, which maintains toa toil-free "hot line" for viewer complaints about TV, says there never has been a single objection logged to anything aired on "Saturday Night Live."
Murray started slow on the show but has built to the status of apparent indispensability shared by Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner and Newman. Perhaps no one is better than Murray at lampooning the kind of show-biz fatousness that saturates much of prime time on NBC and the other two networks as well.
More recently he has perfected the characterization of an obnoxious adolescent loser paired off with Radner as his woebegone girl friend. She says, "That was so funny I forgot to laugh," and he gets her in hammer-lock in order to ask her, "How about a couple noogies?" and then proceeds to deliver them.
Things said or dote ritually or even once on the show can catch on overnight and become household expressions, but apparently the NBC brass don't necessarily live in those same households. When executives held a dinner at NBC for the "Saturday Night" whackos, Murray took the occasion to grab then-NBC president Herbert S. Schlosser in just such a hammerlock as he might give Radner and proceeded to ask the rhetorical noogie question of the network's boss.
"he didn't know what was going on," says Murray. "He kept trying to straighten his hair up, and every time he did , I messed it up again and gave him a couple more noogies." In time Schlosser would be dethroned so that Fred "Messiah" Silverman could take his place and, everybody hopes, save the network from ignomity, which means not moral disgrace but low ratings.
That the "Saturday Night Live" people are around to mess up executive hair is one of the best protections NBC has against creative atrophy. There is nothing on television at any hour to compare with the breakneck spontaneity and derring-do of "Saturday Night Live" and the fact that it will be back next year in the hands of the same crazy knuckleheads is once of the few good reasons for not turning one's television set into a lamp.