VH1 Classic will run a selection of episodes of “Saturday Night Live” in reverse seasonal order over the course of 19 days in January and February in an effort to hitch on to interest in that program’s 40th anniversary celebration, slated to air during a three-hour special on NBC February 15.
The Viacom-owned cable outlet said it would work its way from the show’s 39th season straight through to the first episode of “Saturday Night Live,’ which was broadcast October 11th, 1975 and featured George Carlin as host. VH1 Classic will air that episode on Sunday, February 15 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern, leading up to the NBC special, which is slated for 8 p.m. that night.
The network won’t be able to broadcast every episode of the series, explained Ben Zurier, executive vice president of programming strategy for VH1, VH1 Classic and Palladia, in an interview. Some episodes are too difficult to clear again for rights to broadcast music or other intellectual-property elements. And the network had to cull the episodes it could show to fit the hours it had available, Zurier said.
“Not all the content is cleared. Music in particular is difficult to re-clear,” he said. “Somewhere along the line we will have episodes that will be missing a performance or a sketch or something like that, and there are others where we made editorial choices for what made sense for ourselves.”
The executive pointed to a first-season episode hosted by actress Candace Bergen that is, in his view, “fantastic.” It includes a sketch featuring Chevy Chase as President Gerald Ford involved in trimming a Christmas tree; Gilda Radner as Emily Litella; and a sketch featuring members of the show’s “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” as the “Killer Bees.” Yet “I could not find room for that one, and I feel bad that I could not,” Zurier said. “We tried to make choices about which have a critical mass of great sketches, great musical performances.”
In attempting this feat, VH1 Classic appears to be borrowing a page from FXX, the youth-skewing 21st Century Fox cable network that garnered great ratings by running a marathon of 552 episodes of “The Simpsons” over the course of 12 days. The programming stunt, done to kick off a landmark pact that gave FXX cable and video-on-demand rights to at least 24 seasons of the much-celebrated series, resulted in a ratings boost for the nascent network, which launched in the fall of 2013.
Special themed blocks will dot the 19-day schedule, giving viewers a deeper dive into the classic episodes featuring a particular host, skit or musical artist. VH1 Classic will run six episodes featuring Justin Timberlake on Saturday, January 31, for example, and a long look at “The Eddie Murphy Years” from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, February 11. During each Saturday of the 19-day marathon, VH1 Classic will take a break from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. to show a film starring an SNL alum, including “Macgruber,” “Black Sheep,” “Trading Places” and “The Blues Brothers.” The network will also run a marathon of the show’s retrospective specials by decade for at least 10 hours on Sunday, February 15.
(Updated, 10:40 AM PT)