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The Museum of Television & Radio Presents From Albert Brooks to the TV Funhouse: Selected Short Films from Saturday Night Live

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Los Angeles—The Museum of Television & Radio presents From Albert Brooks to the TV Funhouse: Selected Short Films from Saturday Night Live, a ninety-minute compilation package highlighting one of SNL's most intriguing achievements, its emergence as network television's premier showcase for short films. Running in Los Angeles from February 3 through April 30 at 1:00 p.m., Selected Short Films from Saturday Night Live will feature such films as Christopher Guest's "synchronized swimmers," Walter Williams's "Mr. Bill" pieces, and Tom Schiller's "La Dolce Gilda" and "Don't Look Back in Anger."

On October 11, 1975, Saturday Night Live arrived onto a late-night landscape dominated by reruns and galvanized its young audience with a defiantly countercultural sensibility. SNL's incalculable impact on popular culture over its thirty-one-year run has been well documented, but one of the show's most intriguing achievements—its emergence as network television's premier showcase for short films—has been curiously neglected.  Searching for a "name" comedian to act as permanent host and draw viewers to a program otherwise populated by unknowns, SNL's producers approached ultrahip Albert Brooks, whose "anticomic" persona dovetailed with the show's underground flavor. Brooks declined, suggesting that SNL book a different guest host every week. Instead, he would contribute a series of short it began. 

Brooks used the assignment as a de facto film school, turning out polished, satirical pieces on show business that foreshadowed his work in features. His successor, Gary Weis—a former apprentice of legendary director Sam Peckinpah—crafted whimsical slice-of-life documentaries and wry character studies that contrasted sharply with Brooks' cutting "inside" humor. Tom Schiller was SNL's next in-house filmmaker, an accomplished documentarian who had worked with such luminaries as Willem de Kooning and Henry Miller. Schiller was a master stylist, adept at parodying a wide range of material, and his pieces were filled with heady references to the likes of Fellini and Picasso. Later in the show's run, cast member Christopher Guest perfected his deadpan improvisational style in shorts like the classic "synchronized swimmers" piece.

SNL also welcomed films from a wide variety of outside contributors: Robert Altman offered a piece featuring Sissy Spacek that referenced the identity games the two would explore in the film Three Women. Eric Idle debuted a segment of his parody masterpiece, The Rutles, on the show. Rutles editor Aviva Slesin contributed short pieces before winning an Academy Award for her documentary feature on the Algonquin Round Table. Andy Warhol offered elliptical musings on various topics. Tim Robbins gave his right-wing folksinger Bob Roberts a dry run in an SNL short.  Eclipsing all of the above in terms of popular impact was Walter Williams, an accounting school dropout who submitted a bare-bones home movie featuring an accident-prone little fellow made of modeling clay; Mr. Bill went on to become one of the most beloved characters in the show's history.  The tradition has continued with Adam McKay's disquietingly absurdist pieces and Robert Smigel's TV Funhouse, an umbrella title for a series of animated shorts that cloak pointed social commentary in the guise of the Saturday morning cartoon shows of the seventies. These short films still provide many of the show's most treasured highlights, as SNL continues to champion this vital and often marginalized aspect of the filmmaker's art.

The Museum of Television & Radio, with locations in New York and Los Angeles, is a nonprofit organization founded by William S. Paley to collect and preserve television and radio programs and advertisements and to make them available to the public. Since opening in 1976, the Museum has organized exhibitions, screening and listening series, seminars, and education classes to showcase its collection of over 120,000 television and radio programs and advertisements. Programs in the Museum's permanent collection are selected for their artistic, cultural, and historic significance.

The Museum of Television & Radio in New York, located at 25 West 52 Street in Manhattan, is open Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to 6:00 p.m. and until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays. The Museum of Television & Radio in California, located at 465 North Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, is open Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 5:00 p.m. Both Museums are closed on New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Suggested contribution: Members free; $10.00 for adults; $8.00 for senior citizens and students; and $5.00 for children under fourteen. Admission is free in Los Angeles. The public areas in both Museums are accessible to wheelchairs, and assisted listening devices are available. Programs are subject to change. You may call the Museum in New York at (212) 621-6800, or in Los Angeles at (310) 786-1000. Visit the Museum's website at