By — Toronto Sun


Dane Cook.

Wanna feel old? Tonight marks the 32nd season premiere of Saturday Night Live. While SNL obits have been written many times in the past, the notion that the show could finally be nearing the end isn’t so wild and crazy anymore.

This despite — or maybe because — the long-running sketch series has inspired two prime-time network programs this fall: Aaron Sorkin’s behind the scenes drama Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip and former SNL head writer/Weekend Update anchor Tina Fey’s comedy 30 Rock, which premieres in two weeks.

And that’s the problem: SNL has been around so long and has become such a part of the establishment that it is now the target instead of the sniper. As somebody cracked last week, Studio 60 is too much like Saturday Night Live — not funny enough and over after an hour.

No show received more pre-release publicity this fall than Studio 60. Yet, despite generally good reviews, the ratings for the first two episodes have been just so-so. Could the lukewarm response to Studio 60 be linked to a “who cares anymore” about SNL?

Studio 60, in my view, has its own problems. Last week’s episode ended with what was supposed to be a brilliant “cold opener,” a Gilbert & Sullivan-style sketch involving the entire ensemble backed by an orchestra.

The bit screamed clever — just not funny. Now, if you’re going to set something up to be brilliant, it better be killer funny. Instead, “We’ll Be The Very Model Of A Modern Network TV Show” fell flat — not because the lyrics weren’t witty (there was that line about a producer “caught doing blow”) — but because the actors who play the Studio 60 sketch troop are about as funny as, well, Al Gore on Saturday Night Live.

Another mistake is that Sorkin, who idealized the White House on The West Wing, seems bent on crafting the ideal SNL. That’s a bad idea — SNL was never an ideal anything. At its best it was a rock ‘n’ roll comedy show with “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” running the asylum. Now that SNL is ready for prime time, it is so over.

The other tip off is tonight’s SNL host: Dane Cook, one of the hottest comedians on the U.S. comedy circuit. Cook, however, has built his fan base not through television or even so much through touring and club work as through the Internet. He’s a huge deal on MySpace as well as on his own site, danecook.com.

Cook hammers the point home: Saturday Night Live is part of the old medium. It is your parents’ comedy show. It is toast.

Even NBC seems to know the jig is up. They gave executive producer Lorne Michaels a choice this season: Cut the cast back or make fewer shows this season.

The cast is now down to 11 members from last season’s 16. Besides the loss of Fey and Rachel Dratch (also on 30 Rock), Horatio Sanz and Chris Parnell, both with the show since 1997, are gone as is three-year veteran Finesse Mitchell.

Without, arguably, these funniest cast members, it is hard to see SNL rebounding from last year’s average audience of 6 million viewers per week — the lowest numbers in the show’s history.

If SNL has any balls left, it will roar back tonight and goof on that lame Studio 60 production number with a Gilbert & Sullivan shtick of their own. Hopefully, it will be funny. Otherwise, stick around for what is increasingly becoming the only reason left to watch the show: The musical guest. This week, ominously, it is The Killers.