Introduction

When Executive Producer and Creator Lorne Michaels returned to his job on “Saturday Night Live” in the fall of 1985, NBC was about ready to pull the plug on the show. After suffering in the ratings for the past five years, the network felt it was time to end the show after ten seasons on the air. But, Michaels was determined to bring to show back to its glory days of the early years.

The result was quite the opposite.

The 1985-1986 season was lackluster at best—the charisma-deficient cast, not to mention the pitiful writing, drove the show into the ground. So much, in fact, the season ended on an interesting cliffhanger.

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Billy Martin, the disgraced former manager of the New York Yankees (infamous for being fired—and re-hired—five times), did what anyone would have done in order to get rid of a lackluster television show cast—he set them on fire! Yeah, this was probably the single most exciting moment of the season. Lorne Michaels goes in and pulls Jon Lovitz out from certain death. Apparently, Dennis Miller and Nora Dunn were a little smarter than everyone else—they managed to find their way out of the flames and into the next season.

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NBC decided at the last minute to keep “Saturday Night Live” on the air, only picking it up for nine episodes set for the 1986-1987 season. Lorne Michaels and his crack staff started on a casting call, and what they wound up with what may very well be the reason “Saturday Night Live” survived the 1980’s.

In this four-part article, I will recount the story of how “Saturday Night Live” became popular again. We’ll meet the cast, visit with the popular characters, catch up on the headlines, and watch in wonder as a nearly dead-in-the-water variety show took a breath of fresh air and stepped back into the land of the living.