Roseanne’s concept for Saturday Night Special, her rapid-fire late-night comedy show, is fairly simple: ”I want something other than the usual kind of white-guy college-humor crap,” she says. ”When I hosted Saturday Night Live, I had suggestions to do things different, but they’re stuck in that rut. I don’t think [they’re] funny at all when they sneer at women and talk about t—. I like something with a little bit of intelligence to it.”
Please explain, then, the proposed skit about ”Female Mud Wrestling.” Tacked to the wall of the SNS writers’ ramshackle offices in Studio City are columns of note cards with prospective sketch titles: ”Sherlock Homo.” ”Crack Babies.” ”Foreskin Heads.” ”We’re All Going to Die Cereal Flakes.” (”Sugar-coated grim reminders of a world full of false hopes and shattered dreams, for children who didn’t ask to be brought into this world,” a writer elaborates.) And ”Female Mud Wrestling.”
”It’s just the sort of thing we do at 11:30 to make sure nobody turns to Saturday Night Live,” says Allan Stephan, SNS’s supervising producer (and, it should be noted, a white guy).
Saturday Night Special will debut April 13 on Fox in the 11 p.m.-to-midnight slot. Assuming timing is everything in comedy, you have to wonder if Roseanne’s usually fine-tuned comedic clock might be a bit off. The leaky flagship of the sketch-comedy fleet, SNL, has been shelled by critics and viewers alike; although it remains the highest-rated show in late night, this season’s ratings have dipped 24 percent to date. If it has a challenger, it’s the show Saturday Night Special is replacing, MAD TV, which is currently on hiatus. Since its debut last October, MAD has occasionally tied SNL in the key 18-to-49-year-old demographic and often beaten it in some young demo categories.
But MAD’s success has been modest, hardly a watershed for the beleaguered genre. In the past few years, the coffin has closed on such sketch shows as The Ben Stiller Show, The Edge, The Kids in the Hall, Townsend Television, MTV’s The State (which tanked in a tryout on CBS), and Comedy Central’s Exit 57. And ABC newcomer The Dana Carvey Show is now lagging in the ratings after a top 10 debut. All of which seems to beg the question, Has sketch comedy become as tired a television relic as the stand-up comedian flailing in front of a brick wall?
Roseanne’s defense is that SNS is not a sketch-comedy show; it’s a variety show: ”We’ll have bands, cartoons, short films, man-on-the-street stuff, novelty acts, dancers…”
Maybe so. But as with SNL and The Dana Carvey Show — also technically variety shows — Saturday Night Special will live or die by its sketch comedy. At a press conference before the taping of the debut episode, Roseanne admits to being ”scared s—less.” In nearly the same breath, she also predicts that she can ”finish” SNL, especially considering the damage MAD TV has already done. She maintains that her show will be ”fresh” and ”exciting” and explore ”uncharted territory.” When asked exactly how it will be different, she practically barks, ”It’s funny!”