Our friend Chris Rooney remembers SNL as a new wave-friendly playground…
If you weren’t lucky enough to have cable television in the early 1980s — or a cable provider that offered MTV showing round-the-clock music videos or TBS SuperStation, which had Nighttracks that did so to a lesser degree — then your chances to see your favorite new wave acts on the Big Three Networks (NBC, ABC and CBS) were pretty slim.
NBC aired The Midnight Special from 1972 to 1981. The 90-minute concert program followed the Friday night edition of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, but the show was pretty thin when it came to introducing upcoming post-punk or new wave acts. The time slot was later replaced with Friday Night Videos (1983-2000), NBC’s answer to the by-then-popular MTV.
The stalwart through this whole era leading up to the present is Saturday Night Live. Created in 1975, each week between various live comedy sketches, a music guest, either a solo act or a band, performed one or two songs live. Due to the shows edgy humor and younger demographic, big named acts rolled through the doors of Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Center to perform to a nationwide audience. Unlike NBC’s other big late night franchise, The Tonight Show, SNL stayed up with the times and featured many hot acts.
For many American teens, SNL was — and is — a way to see their favorite artists play live on stage. The rising popularity of the home VCR allowed one to record the show to watch later since the musical guest usually didn’t go on until well past midnight. Being a live television show for the last 40 years, SNL has always courted controversy and not just from its Not-Ready-For-Primetime cast. Whether it was Elvis Costello intentionally changing his choice of song 30 seconds into his performance, or Sinéad O’Connor ripping up a photo of the pope, or a really drunk Replacements mouthing obscenities while playing, the studio heads always have had to keep one finger on the five-second delay button.