Vile from New York -- it's "Saturday Night."
NBC unveiled the "'80s" version of its once-popular late-night comedy revue Saturday and the result was not only a snide and sordid embarrassment, but one that apparently offended even those viewers accustomed to naughty, irreverent material at that hour. A network spokesman said yesterday the NBC switchboard in New York got more than 400 phone calls complaining about the program.
"Even for 'Saturday Night Live,' 400 is a lot of calls," the spokesman said. In Washington, at NBC affiliate WRC-TV, an operator said that the switchboard closed down at midnight Saturday but that some viewers, mainly women, phoned in to complain on Sunday. "It's unusual that they call the next day," the operator said.
"SNL" in its first five years on the air was noted for its ribaldry and willingness to prod sacred cows; that was part of its bandito charm. NBC censors relaxed their rules because of the late time slot and public acceptance of the show. The new version -- new cast, writers and producer -- had no compensating satirical edge. It was just haplessly pointless tastelessness, the kind of Cro-Magnon comedy that might have appealed to the thuggish Droogies of "A Clockwork Orange."
The sketches that most offended viewers who phoned in were one set in the Oval Office, with actors playing President and Mrs. Carter, and another in which a young woman demonstrated techniques for detecting breast cancer. She removed her blouse and her breasts were immediately blacked out by a large rectangle on the screen.
As she made various gestures hidden by the rectangle, the actress said such things as, "Don't do this like this or these will look like that."
In the presidential sketch, the performer playing Rosalynn Carter expressed delight that her husband had lost his bid for a second term since this freed them to have sexual relations. Among her lines was a pointed reference to male arousal. The sketch ended with the first lady opening her dress to prepare for lovemaking on the desk while the president, holding a gun, left the room implying he was about to shoot his brother.
As written and played, it came across like a piece of virulent wartime ridicule directed against a hated foreign enemy. Say, Hitler.
A new feature on the program, "Short Shots," began with a brief stop-motion film by Randal ("Grease") Kleiser, "Foot Fetish," in which two shoes simulated foreplay and intercourse. In a sketch about a new "Gay Brigade" in the army, a homosexual soldier made reference to a homosexual act but said "Uncle Sam is the only one" with whom he would perform it.
The "Gay Brigade," said the script, would be stationed at "Fort Dix."
From the six new performers and 13 new writers hired for the show, viewers got virtually no good news. However, Denny Dillon, a pudgy blond, consistently rose or leaped above the material. And Gail Matthius was effective as a punk teenager on a date with an older man; it was one of the few sketches with any sort of resonance or subtlety.
Writer Mitchell Kriegman also contributed a creditable, imaginative vignette ("Heart-to-Heart") about a squabbling couple in bed, but it was like a scholar lost in a mob of goons.
Other sketches included guest host Elliott Gould trying to "share" his old underwear with members of the audience, a "nose-wrestling" competition, a "speed-listening" commercial parody, and a sketch about an "accordion killer" that owed something to the hilarious "land shark" attacks from the old show. There were a few references to The Old Show and to such performers as Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Jane Curtin; by the time the 90 minutes was over, you would have paid a week's salary to see just one of them again.
Gould ended the program saying, "We're gonna be around forever." Not only was the prediction premature, but in morale-boosting terms it was about as welcome as a news bulletin saying Jim Jones had risen from the dead. "Saturday Night Live" has not.