Saturday Night Live (season 11)

Saturday Night Live aired its 11th season during the 1985-1986 television season on NBC. The season started on November 9, 1985 and ended on May 24, 1986, 18 episodes were produced.

Dick Ebersol left the show after the 1984-85 season, when the network refused his request to shut the program down entirely for six months and shift much of the material onto tape, not live broadcast. Once again, NBC briefly considered cancelling the show, but programming head Brandon Tartikoff (who was something of an SNL fan) decided to continue the show and re-hire erstwhile producer Lorne Michaels.

In some ways the job Michaels returned to was more challenging than the one he took on in 1975. For starters, Michaels' "golden boy" reputation was somewhat tarnished. His most recent effort, the previous season's The New Show confused critics and was ignored by audiences. Also, the 1984-1985 season had been a critical and ratings hit, generating memorable characters and stand-out performers. However, Michaels would not be the only member of the old guard to return: original writers Al Franken and Tom Davis would return as producers, and Jim Downey would be head writer. Fans and critics welcomed Michaels and many of the original producers and writers back, calling it a return to the show's roots.

With Ebersol's cast and writers gone, Michaels went out to find the rest of his staff. He hired Academy Award nominee Randy Quaid, best known for his work in The Last Detail and National Lampoon's Vacation, as well as Joan Cusack and Robert Downey, Jr. Milestones included the first black female regular, Danitra Vance (Yvonne Hudson had been a featured player in 1980 and appeared in uncredited bit parts from 1978 to 1980), Terry Sweeney, the first openly gay cast member, and Anthony Michael Hall, yet another fresh face from Hollywood, who had appeared with Quaid in Vacation and starred in The Breakfast Club earlier that year; At 17, Hall was the youngest cast member ever. Rounding out the cast were unknowns: stand-up comedians Dennis Miller and Damon Wayans and improv comedians Nora Dunn and Jon Lovitz. Don Novello, another member of the old guard, would also return as his popular Father Guido Sarducci character. Writer A. Whitney Brown was also added to the cast mid-season. [1]

Wayans, unhappy with the parts he had been getting, decided to play the minor police officer character he'd been assigned in one sketch as gay, though it did not fit the role. For this, Michaels fired him.

Saturday Night News was changed back to its old name Weekend Update with this season. Miller, who performed in relatively few sketches (and even fewer as the years went by), became known for bringing his stand-up wit to the sketch becoming the most memorable anchor since Chevy Chase back in 1975.

The new cast failed to connect with audiences, due to the cast's inexperience in comedy. The show also featured a frustrated writing crew (that featured future Simpsons writers Jon Vitti, George Meyer, and John Swartzwelder), that didn't know how to write sketches for such an eclectic cast. Tartikoff planned to cancel SNL after its season finale in May 1986; Michaels, however, pleaded with Tartikoff to let the show go on, provided that Lorne find better-suited cast members for the next season.

"Weekend Update" proved to be a highlight in a season plagued by harsh criticism, low Nielsen ratings, and rumors of a possible cancellation. The only people to return to the show in the following season would be Brown, Dunn, Lovitz and Miller.

Notable moments of season included when Chevy Chase hosted the show. Chase was not popular with the cast and crew and, according to the book "Live From New York: The Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live," Chase pitched an idea for a sketch that featured Sweeney as an person with AIDS who is weighed by a doctor to see how much weight he lost. [2]

Another notable moment of the season was in the episode hosted by George Wendt. During the show, Francis Ford Coppola appeared in between sketches where he, Michaels and Sweeney try to fix up SNL to boost the show's sagging ratings.

In the season finale, Michaels invited Wayans back to perform stand up on the show, even though he had been fired from the show two months prior. Also, in the final sketch, Billy Martin is shown dumping gasoline around the studio and then setting it on fire. The entire cast is shown to be trapped in a room as a parody of TV show cliffhangers. Credits rolled with question marks on each name, signaling that the viewer didn't know which cast members would be returning the next season.



Repertory cast members
Featured cast members

bold denotes Weekend Update anchor



Date Host(s) Musical Guest(s) Remarks
196 November 9, 1985 Madonna Simple Minds
  • Joan Cusack, Nora Dunn, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Michael Hall, Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller, Randy Quaid, Terry Sweeney, Danitra Vance, and Damon Wayans's first episode as cast members
  • Prior to being a castmember, Terry Sweeney was a writer for Jean Doumanian's only season of SNL (season six; 1980–1981) and was featured in a sketch that year about Ronald Reagan's (Charles Rocket) birthday.
  • The episode originally had a cold opening that only aired once where Lorne Michaels and Brandon Tartikoff issue urine tests to check the new cast members for drug use, ending with Anthony Michael Hall delivering the opening line, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!". Network executives found this to be "in bad taste" and asked for it to be cut, so all syndicated versions and reruns go straight to the opening sequence. To fill time, a dress rehearsal performance of Simple Minds' second song aired in repeats (they only performed "Alive & Kicking" in the original live show).
  • According to the book Live from New York: The Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, in the "Pinklisting" sketch, a stage light fell in an empty pool, scaring Terry Sweeney to the point that he screamed and nearly fell out of his chair.
197 November 16, 1985 Chevy Chase Sheila E  
198 November 23, 1985 Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman Queen Ida & the Bon Temps Zydeco Band
  • Former SNL castmember Robin Duke appears in the "Pee-wee Herman Thanksgiving Special" sketch as one of the audience members during Diana Ross's (Terry Sweeney) performance. In addition, Phil Hartman (who would later be hired as a season 12 castmember) appeared as a pilgrim in the same sketch and was credited for writing the "Pee-wee Herman Thanksgiving Special" sketch. Hartman and Herman/Reubens worked together on The Pee-wee Herman Show, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, and the first season of Pee-wee's Playhouse.
  • Don Novello rejoins the cast after a five year hiatus.
  • Dan Vitale's first episode as a cast member.
199 December 7, 1985 John Lithgow Mr. Mister
  • This is the last episode to use the paper cut-out opening sequence.
200 December 14, 1985 Tom Hanks Sade  
201 December 21, 1985 Teri Garr The Dream Academy
The Cult
202 January 18, 1986 Harry Dean Stanton The Replacements
  • The Replacements played "Bastards of Young" and "Kiss Me On the Bus", both from the Tim album.
203 January 25, 1986 Dudley Moore Al Green
  • The episode has a live show sketch that was only shown once about a beauty pageant for pregnant teenaged girls featuring Danitra Vance's Cabrini Green Jackson character. In reruns, the sketch is replaced with a taped sketch called Big Ball of Sports (from the previous episode hosted by Harry Dean Stanton) and a dress rehearsal sketch where Dudley Moore plays a man who dates a woman (played by Nora Dunn) who reminds him of his ex (played by Joan Cusack).
204 February 8, 1986 Ron Reagan The Nelsons
  • According to the book Live From New York: The Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, there was a sketch cut after dress rehearsal where a two homosexual men (Terry Sweeney and Ron Reagan) are hired to redecorate a woman's (Nora Dunn) house.
  • Reagan became the first (and so far only) child of a U.S. President to host SNL.
  • Dan Vitale's final episode as a cast member; he appeared in three episodes total.
205 February 15, 1986 Jerry Hall Stevie Ray Vaughan
Jimmie Vaughan
  • Mick Jagger appears in this episode's cold opening where Tommy Flanagan (Jon Lovitz) hits on the host at a bar - told by Hall that Flanagan claims to know him, Jagger "confirms" this and remarks that the two had been on a fishing trip during a recent weekend where Hall didn't know where he was, telling Flanagan "I owe you for this one" before "Live, from New York!".
206 February 22, 1986 Jay Leno The Neville Brothers
207 March 15, 1986 Griffin Dunne Rosanne Cash
  • Damon Wayans, unhappy with the parts he had been getting, decided to play the minor police officer character he'd been assigned in one sketch as gay, though it did not fit the role. For this, Lorne Michaels fired him.
208 March 22, 1986 George Wendt
Francis Ford Coppola
Philip Glass
  • The Philip Glass Ensemble performs "Rubric" from Glassworks and "Lightning" from Songs from Liquid Days. The show's opening theme song was replaced by "Façades," also from Glassworks.
  • Francis Ford Coppola only appears in between sketches in a running gag throughout the episode where he, Lorne Michaels, and Terry Sweeney try to fix up SNL on the air to boost the show's sagging ratings.
  • Al Franken rejoins the cast after a five and a half year hiatus
209 April 12, 1986 Oprah Winfrey Joe Jackson  
210 April 19, 1986 Tony Danza Laurie Anderson  
211 May 10, 1986 Catherine Oxenberg
Paul Simon
Ladysmith Black Mambazo  
212 May 17, 1986 Jimmy Breslin
Marvin Hagler
Level 42
E.G. Daily
213 May 24, 1986 Anjelica Huston
Billy Martin
George Clinton
  • Joan Cusack, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Michael Hall, Randy Quaid, Terry Sweeney, Don Novello and Danitra Vance's final episode as cast members. All of the cast members were shown to be trapped in a room on fire as parody of TV show cliffhangers. Credits rolled with question marks on each name.
  • Final appearance of Al Franken as a cast member until 17 October 1987.
  • After having been fired from SNL, Damon Wayans returns to perform stand-up.
  • Brandon Tartikoff, unhappy with SNL's ratings at the time, wanted this episode to be the last one, but Lorne Michaels pleaded with Tartikoff to keep the show on provided that he find a better cast.