Saturday Night Live (Season 6)

"Saturday Night Live" aired its sixth season during the 1980 - 1981 television season on NBC. This season became notorious as it was considered by many to be one of the worst seasons ever. Lorne Michaels, executive producer, had left after the previous season, along with the whole cast, and all the writers. The sixth season began with a completely new cast, new writers, and a new producer, Jean Doumanian, resulting in many harsh barbs and scathing reviews over the season's humorless writing and inexperienced cast, as well as plummeting ratings. Over at ABC, a new sketch show emerged called "Fridays", featuring a more put-together cast and stronger writing, that outdid SNL in the ratings and threatened to replace "Saturday Night Live" as the edgy sketch comedy show that had celebrity hosts, popular musical guests, and regularly mocked pop culture and current events.

Through all of this, the quick standouts were Eddie Murphy (who appeared in a non-speaking role on the Malcolm McDowell/Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band episode, was made into a feature player in the Jamie Lee Curtis/James Brown with Ellen Shipley episode, and was finally a repertory player in the Robert Hays/Joe "King" Carrasco & The Crowns with 14 Karat Soul episode) and Joe Piscopo, who were the only cast members to return for the seventh season. It should be noted that two future hosts of SNL auditioned to be castmembers in this season: John Goodman and Jim Carrey. It should also be noted that, despite the criticisms of the comedy (or lack thereof), many famous musicians were booked to be musical guests, such as Funky Four Plus One (the first rap group to appear on SNL, an honor erroneously credited to Run-DMC), James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Deborah Harry from Blondie (though as a host, rather than a musical guest), and Prince (who would not appear again on SNL until 2006).

The fate of Doumanian's tenure would ultimately be sealed on the February 21, 1981 episode when, during the goodnights, host Charlene Tilton asks Charles Rocket (in a wheelchair after being shot by a sniper during the final sketch, as part of a running gag parodying the "Who Shot J.R.?" plot from Dallas) what's it like to be shot. In response, Charles Rocket said, "Oh, man, it's the first time I've ever been shot in my life. I'd like to know who the fuck did it." The on-air curse was met with gasps of shock and laughter. However, the network producers and censors saw it as a plot by Jean Doumanian to save the dying series by doing something outrageous. After the Bill Murray/Delbert McClinton episode, Jean Doumanian, all of her feature players, and all of her castmembers (save Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy) were fired, though Denny Dillon and Gail Matthius would appear in Dick Ebersol's first produced episode at the end of the season. In the end, the show was put on hiatus for retooling. All in all, this season was considered so disastrous that NBC barred episodes from being put into syndication. However, there have been rare times when these episodes would show up: Comedy Central (in America) has aired a few episodes from this season up until the mid-1990s, particularly the Bill Murray/Delbert McClinton episode (albeit a scaled-down 60-minute version instead of the full 90-minute version) during a marathon featuring films and "Saturday Night Live" episodes starring Eddie Murphy. The Comedy Channel in Canada has aired the entire season uncut, and even left Charles Rocket's "fuck" incident uncensored on the Charlene Tilton/Todd Rundgren and Prince episode. The most recent sighting of a Jean Doumanian-era episode in the USA happened in 2005 when NBC aired a full 90-minute rerun of the episode hosted by Jamie Lee Curtis (with musical guests James Brown and Ellen Shipley).

Season six started on November 15, 1980 and ended on April 11, 1981, with only 13 episodes (caused by the show being put on stasis for retooling and a writers' strike), cancelling a planned episode for March 14, hosted by Robert Guillaume with musical guest Ian Dury.

Cast

Repertory

"Jean Doumanian's Cast:"
*Denny Dillon
*Gilbert Gottfried
*Gail Matthius
*Eddie Murphy (First Episode: December 13, 1980)
*Joe Piscopo
*Ann Risley
*Charles Rocket

Feature Players

*Yvonne Hudson (First Episode: December 20, 1980)
*Patrick Weathers
*Matthew Laurance (First Episode: December 20, 1980)

"Dick Ebersol's Cast (for the April 11, 1981 episode):"

Repertory

*Denny Dillon
*Robin Duke
*Tim Kazurinsky
*Gail Matthius
*Eddie Murphy
*Joe Piscopo
*Tony Rosato

Feature Players

*Laurie Metcalf
* Emily Prager (Prager was credited for appearing in the live show version of the April 11, 1981 episode, but only appeared in the dress rehearsal version of the episode, making her the only credited cast member to never appear on SNL).

Episodes


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