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Exploring the Outer Boundaries of Sex.

Fresh Air's film critic John Powers reviews the new French film, "Romance."



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Other segments from the episode on September 24, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 24, 1999: Interview with Camryn Manheim; Review of the film "Romance X"; Interview with David Byrne; Review of the television show "Saturday Night Live."


Date: SEPTEMBER 24, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 092401np.217
Head: Interview with Actress Camryn Manheim
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

BARBARA BOGAEV HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, this is FRESH AIR.

I'm Barbara Bogaev, filling in for Terry Gross.

On today's FRESH AIR, Emmy Award-winning actress Camryn Manheim. With her role as an attorney on the ABC drama "The Practice," she's become an unofficial spokesperson for the fat acceptance movement. A new season of "The Practice" begins this Sunday.

We also hear from musician and artist David Byrne. Byrne is best known for his work with the band The Talking Heads. The 1984 Talking Heads concert film, "Stop Making Sense," has just been re-mastered and re-released on DVD, VHS and CD.

Also, film critic John Powers reviews the new French film "Romance." And "Saturday Night Live" celebrates its 25th anniversary with a primetime special. T.V. critics David Bianculli has a review.

That's all coming up on today's FRESH AIR.

First this news.


BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

ABC's hit TV series, "The Practice," starts its second season on Sunday night. One of its stars is Camryn Manheim, who won an Emmy for her portrayal of the powerful yet sensitive attorney Ellenor Frutt.

Here's a scene from the season opener. Ellenor is talking to a client she once defended in a murder trial.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP - "The Practice")




MANHEIM: Oh, actually, I'm -- I'm running late for a deposition. I just stopped by to -- well, I'm just feeling a little uncomfortable about last night's kiss.


MANHEIM: I've been thinking about it all night, and you know, George, your trial was the biggest professional victory of my life.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Pretty big for me, too.

MANHEIM: I mean, I think on some level I try to relive that victory every chance I get. And being in your company, on some unconscious -- I just think I feel better about myself when I'm with you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You kissed me on some professional high?

MANHEIM: No. No! It's not that. I -- I like being with you because -- what I came here to say is that our friendship is very complicated, and my kissing you is probably not going to happen again. And I just want to be clear on that, that we just keep it as friends.


BOGAEV: Manheim has become known for her confrontational presence both on and off-screen. As she would say, let's get this straight right now. Camryn Manheim is no Slenderella. She's not plus-sized or robust or generously proportioned. She's fat, and she's not afraid to say it.

Manheim has appeared in the films "Happiness" and "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion." She's also the author of a memoir about her struggle with fat, the acting business and self-acceptance. It's called "Wake Up, I'm Fat."

I spoke with Camryn Manheim in May about "The Practice," her book and her lifelong struggle with her own and other people's attitudes about fat.


BOGAEV: What tack did your parents take? Did they try to pressure you outright to lose weight, or did they go the more indirect route, like keeping your portions small and hoping you didn't notice it or something?

MANHEIM: Wow, that's funny. My mom and dad did everything they could think of, you know. First of all, in defense of them, I just want to say that there wasn't as much insight back then to child rearing as there is now. There's not -- wasn't as much focus on it. So my parents were doing what they thought was best, but inadvertently, you know, really screwed me up. (laughs)

Not that I blame them now. But my parents bribed me all the time. They would actually have me sign contracts like, "If you lose 15 pounds by March, we'll get you a new bike."

And you know, I was learning the value of a contract and what it meant to keep a contract. And I would sign it. You know, but I never really did anything. Just the contract itself was kind of exciting.

But when you're, you know, 11, it doesn't -- you know, losing weight and your self-image and how you fit on the planet doesn't make any sense. You're just doing it to please somebody else because you don't get it. It's very hard with children.

And my parents -- my mom took me to psychologists and to hypnotists. Everyone was struggling to try to figure out, you know -- I think they blamed themselves. I know my mom blamed herself, you know, that she hadn't taken care of me better or, you know, made me gain all this weight, because I was a skinny kid so I think everyone was a little freaked out that I had gained a lot of weight.

But I really attribute it to the fact that I moved to southern California when I was 11. That, to me, is where it all began. You know, I had come from the Midwest where literally they don't even sell bikinis in the Midwest. It's just one piece, and some of them are turtlenecks. You know, nobody shows their bodies in the Midwest. It's not -- no flesh. No flesh here.

And I -- you know, I got off the boat in southern California, and people were walking around in bikinis. And then I'd go to the grocery store, and they'd be shopping for food in bikinis.

And my instincts told me that, you know, shopping for Double Stuff Oreos in a bikini was a no-no. So I got fat. And I think it was some really deep, subconscious way of never having to put on one of those bathing suits and do that. And I think that, coupled with a whole bunch of other things, you know, helped me put on the weight.

But I don't even care about that anymore. I don't want to go back and relive it and whose fault it is. I really just want to take what I have and do as much good with it as I can.

BOGAEV: You decided pretty early on you wanted to be an actress. Where did the idea come from?

MANHEIM: You know, that's really funny. I was at camp. I was at a commune. My parents were on a sabbatical, and I was at a commune. And I remember really vividly I was sitting under a big orchard tree and having a popsicle, and a counselor came up to me and said, "Do you want to be in a play?"

And I said, "OK." And I went with her. And I didn't realize that you had to do it more than once. I just thought, you know, you'd do it the one time and that was it. It didn't occur to me that I was making a -- you know, a pact with them to spend the rest of my summer vacation doing a play.

But I did this play, and people clapped for me and came up to me afterwards and told me how great I was. And that was the most seductive drug I have ever come encountered -- you know, have ever encountered. And I never looked back.

BOGAEV: When you're on stage, do you have a different relationship to your fat, a different consciousness of your body?

MANHEIM: Hmm. Wow. I don't -- that's a really interesting question. I know this, that when I was in acting school, I had no sense of my body and I acted from my neck up. And all my teachers said, you know, "You carry all your tension in your neck. You act with your face. You never include your body when you're acting."

And it took me many years to actually incorporate my body into my acting because I just, like I said, wanted to disappear, make it go away. And I think I also felt that if I used all my force from my body and my breath that I would -- you know, I'd yell at somebody and they'd, you know, go through the wall.

So what would happen is, I'd end up being in an argument, and instead of really, you know, screaming at somebody and telling them how angry I was, I'd end up going, "I'm so mad at you I can't believe it!" And I would lose my voice. And I refused to let any energy come from me because I think I was afraid of my power.

And when I finally found my power, I embraced it. And you know, there's no stopping me.

BOGAEV: You started doing speed...


BOGAEV: ... in graduate school. Did you consider it a diet aid?

MANHEIM: Yeah. I never considered -- you know, when I was taking speed -- and I took it because I had a -- I knew a friend who -- who -- well, I knew a friend who dealt it. And one summer I was at her house, and this woman came in to get some. And I was really, you know, intrigued by the whole thing because I had never done it.

And I happened to be back at that same woman's house about four months later, when the woman came back to get more speed. And she had literally lost about 70 pounds. It was phenomenal. And I always had remembered that.

And when I started to get more and more pressure from the industry and from my school and from my parents and from my lovers to be thinner, I always kept in the back of my mind that I could go back to my girlfriend and ask her for some of that stuff. And I did.

And when I took it, it was entirely as a diuretic and not in any way to, you know, get, you know, high. So in fact, I don't really remember ever feeling particularly high, just that I didn't want to eat. And I lost so much weight so quickly.

And nobody ever, you know, inquired how I did that. No one ever seemed to be very concerned. You know, you'd think if someone lost a lot of weight who had had a lot of trouble with it earlier, one might say, "Are you OK? Are you doing this, you know, in a healthy fashion? We're just interested and curious about you."

But I never -- you know, it was me again just trying to hide and disappear and make sure nobody knew what was going on. And even my friends now who read my book or I tell this story to say, "I never knew. I never knew." So, yeah.

BOGAEV: What made you stop?

MANHEIM: That's a great question. I was lying on my bed one day. I have a 22-pound cat, Steve. And Steve likes to sleep on my chest. And he -- and every morning I push him off because I can't breathe.

And one morning I woke up, and I couldn't breathe. And I pushed Steve off, only he wasn't there. And I realized that I couldn't breathe anymore, you know? So that was one of the reasons why I quit smoking.

And ultimately, the reason why I quit speed is because I had a near-fatal overdose. I did too much, and I landed in the hospital. And I knew that it was, you know -- it was D-day. There was no -- there was -- my body wasn't going to have any more of it. My heart couldn't take it anymore. And I mean that in every sense of the word.

So I quit smoking, and I quit doing speed. And I obviously rapidly put the weight back on because, you know, smoking and the speed, that combination was just so -- my metabolism was so screwed up. And I put the weight back on very quickly. But this time, I was in therapy and really trying to work it out. And I was devoted to finding a healthy place for me to live and -- you know, mind, body and soul. And you can't do that when you're on speed.


BOGAEV: Camryn Manheim plays Ellenor on the ABC TV series "The Practice." The show begins its second season this Sunday.

We'll continue after the break.

This is FRESH AIR.



BOGAEV: We're back with actress Camryn Manheim. She plays Ellenor on ABC's "The Practice."

After you finished your post-grad work, you were out there auditioning. What were you generally offered in the way of parts? Were you the big-breasted gal with the heart of gold?

MANHEIM: No, I never even got close to the big-breasted gal with the heart of gold. That would have been good!


MANHEIM: Because that's so true, you know? I -- you know, people have this unbelievable perception of fat women. And usually they're very self-loathing and self-deprecating. And my experience is they usually have, like, an upper respiratory problem and are wheezing, you know, "OK." You know, and they've got lots of Kleenex.

There's not a very nice view of fat women out there. You certainly never see, you know, big, beautiful, sensual, sophisticated, articulate women, you know, laid out in scripts. So when I was just starting, I was going up for prison wardens, for nurses, you know, for the Swedish masseur -- the masseuse, you know, who is, like, pounding on your back. And you're, like, "Uh, uh, uh," and you're, like, "No, stop it! I'm doing your back," you know, it's like...


MANHEIM: ... It's like these horrible, you know, stereotypes. And one time I got a script that said -- the description of the character was, "We're looking" -- you know, "Susan, a morbidly obese woman of 200 pounds." And I thought, "Wow, this is so screwed up because I weigh over 200 pounds and I don't think of myself as morbidly obese."

So I walk into this audition. And I, you know, do my thing. And they say, "You know, you're very talented, and we like you very much. But you're really, you're not big enough for her."

BOGAEV: "You're not fat enough."

MANHEIM: "You're not fat enough. You are not grossly overweight, over 200 pounds." And that's when I said, "I just want to say that you've got this all wrong because I weight a lot more than 200 pounds, and if I'm not fat enough, you have to rework your description here."

And I think that they were all, you know, shocked that I was over 200 pounds and I didn't need a walker to come into the room. So I started asking my agents to be more creative with me, to not set me up for the fat girl roles, mostly because I wasn't the fat girl they were looking for. They wanted that pathetic girl, yeah.

BOGAEV: You had an interesting strategy to buck the stereotype. You started auditioning for male parts.

MANHEIM: That's right.

BOGAEV: How does that work? Are you allowed to go on a call for a male part?

MANHEIM: Well, if you have an agent who is willing to stick their neck out for you and is willing to run that extra mile, they basically have to call the casting person and say, "I understand you have a call for a male lawyer. Would you consider seeing a woman?"

And some of them will, you know, be closed-minded and go, "No." And some might say, "Well, who do you have in mind?" And if that casting person knows their theater, they would have known about me, because I was kicking around in the theater for about 10 years.

And you know, my agent, Mike, said, "Well, you know what? I was thinking about Camryn Manheim. I think she could be a -- you know, a ballsy attorney who can command the room." And maybe 1 out of 10 times a casting director would say, "You know what? Let's do it."

BOGAEV: What part did you originally audition for in "The Practice?"

MANHEIM: I originally auditioned for Ellenor. But you know, David Kelly wasn't that interested in me. He had somebody else entirely in mind. And I don't think David, when he saw my -- went sent him a tape of a couple of things that I had done in the past, one of them being a lawyer that was originally supposed to be a man and turned out to be me. And I don't think he was really impressed by my tape.

BOGAEV: You did get an audition, though, with David Kelly, the creator...


BOGAEV: ... and the executive producer of "The Practice." Did you hit it off with him right away?

MANHEIM: Well, like I said, he was not that impressed with the tape that we sent him. He had actually expressed to the casting director that he felt that I was too conservative.

And the casting director said, "OK, you've got this girl wrong. She's acting on those tapes as a conservative lawyer. But you know, she's got 12 holes in her ear. She's got a tattoo. She rides a motorcycle. She is not conservative."

And I think, you know, David, just out of respect for his casting director, said, "All right, fine. I'll meet her."

So I get in there and -- David Kelly is an extraordinary man. And I'm not just saying that because he's my boss. First of all, he looks 12. And that will throw anybody off right away. You know, to me, he was Mr. Michelle Pfeiffer because, frankly, I didn't really know who David Kelly was. All I knew was he was married to the most beautiful woman in the world. And I thought, well, he must be special in some way.

And not only is he 12, but he is a very -- he can be very shy. And we had this very awkward interview. And I knew right then that I was never going to work on a David Kelly show. I knew it. That was going to be the end of it.

So I was literally halfway out of my chair, ready to leave, when I noticed that he had a cribbage board sitting next to his table. And I just said, "David, do you play cribbage?"

And he looked at me and he said, "I don't think you want to go there with me." Now, I don't know about you, but I am a tournament bridge player and a very major competitor. And my father was a mathematician. So the one thing you don't want to challenge me to is a game of cards.

And he turned to me and he said, "I don't think you understand. I play the computer." And I said, "I don't think you understand. I play for money."

And I said, "Why don't we just screw this audition right now, and I'll play you right now for the part."

And he hemmed and hawed a little bit. And he said, "I think you have a better chance of getting the part if you actually audition."

And that's when I said, "You know what? I can smell your fear. So if you want to play, I'll play you for the part. If not, we all know who's the fraidy cat."

And he laughed, and I knew that I had made some inroads because it was a far cry from the nap he was taking earlier during our other part of the interview. But I got a script. And the description of the character said "Big, ballsy woman walks in." And I knew right then that I had made some kind of impact on Mr. Michelle Pfeiffer.

BOGAEV: So you landed the part. And you write that on the first day on the set of "The Practice," your first scene called for you to walk to work with Bobby, the head of the firm, played by Dylan McDermott (ph).


BOGAEV: And you were supposed to eat a donut on the way to work.

MANHEIM: Do you believe that?

BOGAEV: So how did that sit with you?

MANHEIM: Well, you know, it's my first day. They've got this big Hollywood director directing the pilot. You know, he's a big deal. And I've never been -- you know, I've been on a couple of TV shows as a guest, but never as a principal. And I wasn't really quite sure of the rules about how soon into the, you know, project they could fire me, you know. (laughs)

I wasn't sure how the contract read. And it's the first scene. It's not only the first scene of my shooting, but it is actually the first scene of the pilot.

And you know, the prop guy comes over and hands me a cup of coffee and a donut. And I'm, like, "What are these for?" He goes, "Oh, you know, just -- they're your props." And I was mortified. I was so embarrassed. I didn't know what to do, and I walked up to the director.

And I -- you know, in my pretend, being-very-cordial voice -- because I was pissed. And I said, "Listen, you know, I don't know if it's such a good idea for me to have a donut, you know, to introduce the character with a donut."

And he said, "Look, you don't have to eat it. I just want to give that we're-rushing-to-work kind of feeling. And you know, with the donut and the coffee and all the files, it just looks like you didn't have time for breakfast." And he made this plea. And I didn't know what to do.

I knew I couldn't really argue it because I wasn't sure if I could get fired. So I -- my mind was racing a mile a minute. And I walked over to Dylan, and I didn't really tell him what my motive was. But I just said, "You know, Dylan, don't you think my character would be, like, your right-hand woman?" because we were still trying to define who our characters were, because we didn't know.

"I think that I'd be holding all your files. I think I'd be holding your coffee and your donut and I just have everything and that, you know, you'd just be talking and I'll be there holding everything for you."

And he went, "That's great."

I said, "In fact, you know, maybe you could be just taking a bite of a donut, and I'll be pulling it out of your mouth."

And he goes, "That's great. That's a great idea."

So I don't think Dylan really knew my ulterior motive, but he was -- he saved my butt! (laughs) And the coolest thing about it is it's all there on tape for you to see. If you ever see that first episode of "The Practice," you can see the first shot is me stuffing a donut into Dylan McDermott's mouth.

And it's a victory. It's a huge victory, you know?


BOGAEV: Camryn Manheim of "The Practice." The show begins its second season on ABC this Sunday.

I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev
Guest: Camryn Manheim
High: Actress CAMRYN MANHEIM. Last year she won an Emmy Award for her role as attorney Ellenor Frutt on ABC's "The Practice." When she went up on stage to receive the award she joyously exclaimed "This is for all the fat girls!" She's written a memoir about her struggle to accept herself and her weight. It's called "Wake Up, I'm Fat!" (Broadway Books). The season premiere of The Practice airs this Sunday. (rebroadcast from 5/18/99)
Spec: Entertainment; Radio and Television; Awards

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Interview with Actress Camryn Manheim
Date: SEPTEMBER 25, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 092402NP.217
Head: "Romance" Review
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.

"Romance is a new French film that explores the outer boundaries of sex. It's directed by a woman and told from a woman's point of view. Our film critic, John Powers, has this review.

JOHN POWERS, FILM CRITIC: A few months ago, we were inundated with publicity for "Eyes Wide Shut," a movie that was supposed to provide a daring look at love and sex before the millennium. What few Americans realized was that France would be sending us a far more provocative new film, one that makes the Kubrick picture look like something from an Edwardian time capsule.

It's called "Romance," and it puts a feminist spin on the high-toned erotic tradition of Sade, Georges Battaille (ph), and "In the Realm of the Senses.

A weird blend of abstract philosophy and explicit sex, this is a kinky "Pilgrim's Progress" for the '90s. The courageous newcomer Carolyn Dussie (ph) plays Marie, a strident school teacher who can't get no satisfaction. She lives with her boyfriend, Paul, a male model who's one of those vain, withholding types. He exercises control by refusing to have sex.

Insulted by his inattention and inflamed by her desire for sexual transcendence, Marie begins exploring the frontiers of her appetites. She enjoys a zipless fling with studly Paolo, played by Italian porn star Rocco Zofredi (ph), who's a wizard in the sack but doesn't take her out of herself.

She launches an affair with Robert, a gentle gray (ph) womanizer who helps her unearth her innermost longings, including the desire to be tied up. She even gives herself to a total stranger who offers her money. It ends badly, I should mention.

Through all these sexcapades, Marie keeps coming home to Paul, the elusive pretty boy she masochistically adores.

"Romance" was written and directed by Catherine Braillard (ph), the 51-year-old bad girl of French culture. A filmmaker, novelist, and mother of two, Braillard takes pride in shaking things up. Her work invariably views life through a prism of sex, focusing on women who pursue self-realization in the bedroom.

And though these women are often driven, foolish, or downright annoying, Braillard's invariably on their side, in much the same way that, say, Oliver Stone is on the side of his macho obsessives. She knows these women are often making mistakes, but she respects their desire to reject the conventional and seek a new way of living.

Braillard's movies have always been uneven, and this new one has its dull patches. The editing rhythms are simply too slow, and the story occasionally veers into goofiness, as when Marie and Paolo hop into bed. While our heroine earnestly yaks away about her inner life, the camera is gaping at Paolo's outstanding member, which dominates the screen like a prize-winning kielbasa.

Yet for all its flaws, the movie holds you and builds to a startling daydream about the abyss that separates sex from romance. Marie imagines a surreal bordello in which women's lower bodies are callously plundered by strangers while their upper bodies adoringly embrace the men they love.

Braillard doesn't have a sentimental bone in her body, and like many cutting-edge European directors these days, she laces the action with snippets of X-rated footage. But her aim is not pornographic. She believes that if you're serious about examining sexual desire, you can't shy away from the showing the flesh it inspires, nor, for that matter, can you ignore the babies that lovemaking creates.

Indeed, for all her desire to create a scandal, what's most disarming about Braillard is her matter-of-fact treatment of risky topics that other filmmakers are even afraid to mention.

Watching "Romance," many women will feel the shock of relieved recognition. At last, a film that isn't terrified of female desire in all its wild complications! Meanwhile, most men will simply be shocked. After all, women aren't supposed to think, behave, or make movies like this one.

BOGAEV: John Powers is film critic for "Vogue."

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev
Guest: John Powers
High: Fresh Air's film critic John Powers reviews the new French film, "Romance."
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; Romance

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: "Romance" Review
Date: SEPTEMBER 25, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 092403NP.217
Head: Saturday Night Live Silver Anniversary
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:55

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This weekend on NBC, "Saturday Night Live" celebrates its silver anniversary by presenting a live special in prime time on Sunday night.

TV critic David Bianculli takes a retrospective look.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC: The Sunday night edition of "Saturday Night Live" will be two and a half hours long, but only an hour or so will really be live. Frequent guest hosts Tom Hanks and Steve Martin and tons of the regular cast members will be there, but much of the special will be devoted to taped highlights from 25 years' worth of shows.

That's a lot of ground to cover. Killer bees and wild and crazy guys, Weekend Updates and Church Ladies, presidential parodies and special moments. Like Steve Martin's '70s musical salute to a touring museum exhibit.


STEVE MARTIN: I'd like to talk seriously just for a moment. (laughter) One of the great art exhibits ever to tour the United States is the Treasures of Tutankhamen, or King Tut. But I think it's a national disgrace the way we have commercialized it with trinkets and toys, T-shirts and posters.

And about three months ago I was up in the woods and I wrote a song. I tried to use the ancient modalities and melodies. I would like to do it for you right now. Maybe we can all learn something from this.

(singing): Now, when he was a young man, he never thought he'd see people stand in line to see the boy king. How'd you get so funky? Did you do the monkey?

CHORUS MEMBERS: Born in Arizona, moved to Babalonia, King Tut. King Tut.

MARTIN: Now, if I'd known they'd line up just to see, I'd have taken all my money and bought me a museum. Buried with a donkey, he's my favorite honkey.

CHORUS MEMBERS: Born in Arizona, moved to Babalonia, King Tut. King Tut.


BIANCULLI: When you think of the history of "Saturday Night Live," it's almost impossible to do without thinking about its place in TV history as a whole. After all, it's a format that's as old as television itself, a comedy-variety show performed live.

Actually, the path to "Saturday Night Live" is pretty clear. From the '50s, there was the groundbreaking satire and outrageous comedy of "Your Show of Shows" with Sid Caesar, and "Colgate Comedy Hour" with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. From the '60s, there was the taboo-busting topical comedy of "That Was the Week That Was," "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," and "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In." And from the '70s, just before "Saturday Night Live," there was the surreal anything-goes sketch comedy of "Monty Phython's Flying Circus."

Put them all together, the live energy of TV's golden age, the antiestablishment attitude of the best '60s variety shows, and the Monty Python craziness, throw in a weekly guest host, and you've got "Saturday Night Live." The difference is, none of those shows lasted longer than six years. "Saturday Night Live" has been on the air almost as long as all of those other shows put together.

When "Saturday Night Live" premiered in 1975, television was a very different animal. The Smothers Brothers had been kicked off of prime time for being too topical, "Laugh-In" had come and gone, and there weren't really a lot of viable TV options for younger or discerning viewers. This was before cable, before "Hill Street Blues." It was when prime time TV was filled with shows like "Tony Orlando and Dawn" and, believe it or not, "Saturday Night Live With Howard Cosell."

That's why, for its first few years, NBC's late-night show had to settle for calling itself "Saturday Night," as in the signature opening it still uses.

So this late-night show came on TV in a time slot formerly filled by a weekend rerun of "The Tonight Show." Expectations were low, and so was the pressure. And producer Loren Michaels didn't even want NBC to promote the show in the beginning. He wanted to distance the show from the rest of NBC and the rest of television. He wanted to make it seem like a bunch of kids had come in after hours, taken over, and put on a show, which, essentially, is just what they did.

"Saturday Night Live" was the first time a network TV show set out specifically to shoot for a college-age audience. I know, because I used that fact as an excuse to talk my way into writing a review for "The Gainesville Sun" while I was a senior at the University of Florida. "This is the first show aimed at people my age," I told the features editor. "Why not let me review the first show?"

So he did. It was the show hosted by George Carlin with a wacky appearance by Andy Kaufman, and I raved. The editor of the paper offered me a job, and I've been writing about television ever since.

So in a very real sense, I owe my career to "Saturday Night Live." And because of that career, my job has been to watch it ever since, in good times and bad, as it generated more catch phrases and stars than any other show in modern TV history.

The original cast, with John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Larraine Newman, and Garret Morris, started the show off brilliantly. Bill Murray was the first cast addition and still one of the very best. And since then, the list of great "SNL" repertory members has included Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Martin Short, Dennis Miller, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Mike Meyers, Chris Farley, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, David Spade, Norm McDonald, and several members of the current cast.

Quite a list. And not a bad reason to throw a party and celebrate.

BOGAEV: David Bianculli is TV critic for "The New York Daily News."

FRESH AIR's senior producer today is Roberta Shorrock. Dorothy Farabee (ph) is our administrative assistant. Our engineer is Bob Purdick.

For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev
Guest: David Bianculli
High: Saturday Night Live celebrates its silver anniversary this Sunday, with a prime time special. Fresh Air's TV critic David Bianculli has a review.
Spec: Radio and Television; Entertainment; Anniversary

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Saturday Night Live Silver Anniversary
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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