Why SNL Has WWF's Saturday Night's Main Event to Thank for Season 48

Well, I did tell you that our looks at the collisions between professional wrestling and the rest of the television world that have happened over the years would be semi-regular. But I thought after last week's post, a proper follow-up was due. As we hope you already know because you check it out, our first go-around threw a ton of love & respect at "Rowdy" Roddy Piper for his contributions to FXX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia as "Da' Maniac" and speculated about what could've been. And then, last week, we looked at how The Big Show" ("The Giant") Paul Wight nearly stole NBC's Saturday Night Live from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson when The Rock hosted back in March 2000. But there was something I left out of last week's post that's been gnawing at me over the past week, mostly because it's an important point to raise when discussing SNL and the WWE (known as the WWF back in those days). As much as being on Saturday night on a major network was a major boost exposure-wise for Vince McMahon's WWE, it could also be argued that Saturday Night's Main Event also helped keep SNL on the air.

Image: Peacock, WWE & NBC Screencaps

The late-night wrestling events first debuted in May 1985 for two reasons. First, the late Dick Ebersol (then-SNL EP) wanted some of the "ratings bonanza" that the WWE got for MTV with its two specials over the course of the previous year. So the special would run when SNL would normally be on break or running repeats, with Ebersol producing. But the second reason was the part of the equation that not many television folks talk about. Because as much as the WWF benefitted from the national exposure, Ebersol was able to use the WWF to help keep the Saturday late-night programming block away from local affiliates. Why? Because in the mid-80s, it would be safe to say that SNL was still going through an identity crisis, looking to define itself in the post-"Not Ready for Prime Time Players" era.

And that meant a lot of trial & error creatively, some very questionable casting decisions, and a lot of "Saturday Night Dead?" headlines. That also meant some painful hits to SNL's ratings- and worse than that? They were losing in the key younger demos that the show used to be able to pride itself on (and use to defend its late-night existence). Smelling metaphorical "blood in the water," the local NBC affiliates began pressuring the network to give them back that late-night programming block so they could rent it out for some sweet money. So having a ratings injection like Saturday Night's Main Event from 1985 to 1991 (moving to FOX briefly in 1992, and then revived on NBC for five specials that ran between 2006 and 2008) gave Ebersol and the SNL team some breathing room to get SNL back on track. And considering we're now in the middle of SNL's 48th season, it looks like it worked. Ironically, Ebersol and SNL would part ways not long after the deal was put in place, with SNL creator Lorne Michaels returning to the helm once more.

Image: Peacock

NBC's Saturday Night Live Season 48 includes Michael Che, Mikey Day, Andrew Dismukes, Chloe Fineman, Heidi Gardner, Marcello Hernandez, James Austin Johnson, Punkie Johnson, Colin Jost, Molly Kearney, Michael Longfellow, Ego Nwodim, Sarah Sherman, Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson, Devon Walker, and Bowen Yang. Executive produced by Michaels, SNL is directed by Liz Patrick, with alum Darrell Hammond announcing. Based out of Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center, the long-running late-night sketch comedy/music series is produced by SNL Studios in association with Universal Television and Broadway Video.

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Ray FlookAbout Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.
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