Tonight, Saturday Night Live guest host Charles Barkely played a game show host, a tv detective and himself; Alicia Keys sang in her typical angelic fashion sat behind a piano; and a nation stayed up late after an afternoon an evening of football to laugh. The videos of Barkley’s and Keys” peformances are already online and are sure to be among the early 2010 hits of the virtual national water cooler.
For Saturday Night Live, a show that has more than its share of ups and downs through the years, this was one of the better shows in recent years. While we are in an age of Jon Stewart, the Colbert Report and online satirists too many to count, in addition to a news cycle that never shuts down, the relevance of Saturday Night Live is often questioned. As a network show, it still needs to appeal to a wide audience, and it advertiser base will not likely be as accomodating to provocative sketches as the ones found on more narrowly focused cable shows.
When Saturday Night Live was founded, it fit perfectly into post-Watergate America. It was a cynical, irreverent and funny look at politics, social issues and the entertainment industry. In 2010, however, there is nothing particularly unique about doing this…and the format of the show makes it difficult to adjust to news breaking day to day, and even hour to hour, the way many of the descendants of Saturday Night Live (i.e .The Daily Show with John Stewart) can do.
But the trump card that Saturday Night Live still holds is that when the stars align, it can still be seen as an event. Indeed, during the closing moments of the National Football League telecast tonight, winning Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo even mentioned the fact that Barkley would be hosting the show later on.
As information and entertainment has become extremely focused and fragmented, there is still some charm left in national campfire events, particularly when they are held live. In fact, because there is relatively little that crosses over anymore, the few things left that can do so stand out. The Super Bowl is probably the best example of this; the Grammy Awards, though diminishing, do as well.
While Charles Barkley hosting Saturday Night Live is hardly on the same level as the Super Bowl in terms of wide popular appeal, his performance, along with that of Alicia Keys, will be viewed online many times and for a long time. This is actually where the ‘old fashioned’ national event combines with new media available today and both become larger thanks to the other.
While we will inevitably go back to more polished and personalized content, there will always be a place for something as funny and ‘live’ as Charles Barkley and as classy and talented as Alicia Keys on live national television. And thanks to online video sites, their performances will be watched by millions more than saw it live.
Source: Sean Leahy, “Tony Romo to NBC: Let’s get to Saturday Night Live”, usatoday.com