The success of Saturday Night Live

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

16 February 2015

Saturday Night Live’s structure is king

There’s not many TV brands that last 40 years, so the celebration of Saturday Night Live’s anniversary last night was just that. A celebration.

It wasn’t that great of a show, although I’m no TV critic. The Jeopardy skit with Will Farrell as Alex Trebek was a hit. But it was mostly trotting out old cast members (is that really Chevy?), past hosts and even some musicians.

“For Saturday Night Live, it was the constant turnover of cast members wrapped inside a winning but firm structure.”

 

Saturday Night Live

The funniest skit from the 40th anniversary special.

However, when you look at the TV landscape, how do some brands last so much longer than others? I’m not talking about just success. I’m talking about Gunsmoke and The Simpsons kind of longevity.

I can’t say much about Gunsmoke. I do remember watching it with grandparents, but not much else. The Simpsons’ success is based on a family stuck in time (no aging) and a revolving cast of writers (including Conan O’Brien).

For Saturday Night Live, it was the constant turnover of cast members wrapped inside a winning but firm structure. There’s the opening monologue by the host, a few skits, a musical number, then Weekend Update. Then a dribbling of skits and musical numbers to wrap up.

It reminds me of another successful TV franchise that would change casts but leave the structure the same: Law & Order. It would work just fine as long as the actors were competent (and they usually were, as most L&Os are filmed in New York where it draws from theater actors) and the writing was fresh.

In both cases, the brand itself was king. Neither is overly reliant on the personalities that show up on screen. The only exception was when Eddie Murphy was on SNL in the Eighties, a downtime for SNL as creator Lorne Michaels was on a four-year break.

What do we learn from a brand perspective? It’s that the brand is king. We almost always tell clients that, in order to steal market share, always make your brand the hero in any communication, with whatever you’re selling (usually product benefits) being the support points.

Saturday Night Live is not Saturday Night Live with (insert cast member). It’s what it is and what it always will be as long as Michaels stays on board: Saturday Night Live.

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