Producing “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) is an intense week-long process, and now fans of the iconic show can learn how it’s done firsthand at the Museum of Broadcast Communications (360 N. State St.).
SNL has made a lasting mark in history, running for more than 40 years, and it’s currently in its 43rd season. The weekly variety show first aired in 1975 and brought to life extraordinary characters, spot-on celebrity impersonations and memorable one-liners.
The exhibit was created to mark the show’s 40th season and was first on display in New York City, according to the exhibit’s creative director Mark Lach. The New York City exhibition was on Fifth Avenue.
It takes about an hour for visitors to go through the exhibit. Audio and video clips play sound bites and scenes from famous SNL sketches and characters such as Rachel Dratch as Debbie Downer and Maya Rudolph as Oprah Winfrey.
The audio and visual experience allows visitors to experience a typical week at SNL and the fast-paced environment its team faces. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at SNL are focused on writing while Thursday and Friday are scheduled for setup and rehearsal for Saturday’s show.
Each day has its own section filled with artifacts and media, and the days are arranged in chronological order. Lach said he believes the structure of the exhibit allows people to realize the immense effort put into the show.
“It’s an incredible operation [and] an incredible machine of people that pull this off every week,” Lach said. “I think you’ll have a new appreciation for how the show is done but also the people that work behind the scenes.”
An introduction video welcomes visitors as they step into the exhibit. A model of SNL creator Lorne Michaels’ office and desk ushers in the week at the Monday display, the day when he meets with the cast and host.
The Tuesday display shows the writing process for that week’s sketches, which are then narrowed down on Wednesday. The cast reads through the scripts and decides which ones will make the show.
Infographics about the table-read process are projected onto a large table in the exhibit. The graphics illustrate what the actual round table would look like on a typical Wednesday. This section of the exhibit also features original scripts from 1978 and an in-depth video about the process featuring current cast members, Kenan Thompson and Cecily Strong.
The set and costume design for SNL is done Thursday, and rehearsal is run on Friday. Visitors can see notable props and outfits, including the character costumes for Church Lady, Stefon and Mary Catherine Gallagher. More recent costumes are also featured, such as the Sean Spicer Easter Bunny played by Melissa McCarthy in the show’s 42nd season.
Lach said he values all the artifacts in the exhibit, but he especially likes one that commemorates Gilda Radner. Radner was a former SNL member, and the namesake of a cancer support group in Chicago called Gilda’s Club.
“I think Gilda Radner’s shoes are pretty special,” Lach said. “She was a very special person [and] an incredible talent. We’ve lost her of course but through Gilda’s Club, she lives on and to have [her shoes] here in the Chicago exhibition, it’s quite special.”
The final part of the exhibit is a replica of Studio 8H, where the show is filmed. It includes the Weekend Update desk that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler anchored from 2004-06, and a video shows Fey giving a special monologue about the impact of SNL for the exhibit.
Pre-production lasts until just minutes before the show airs. Lach said the show runs no matter if the staff are ready or not.
“One of my favorite quotes from Lorne Michaels is … ‘We don’t start the show because we’re ready. We start because it’s 11:30,’” Lach said. “So it’s this sprint to [the] end, sprint to 11:30 and then it becomes this highwire act.”
SNL: The Experience opened Oct. 21 and runs through the end of 2018. Tickets can be purchased at www.snltheexhibition.com. Adult tickets are $25 and student tickets are available for $20.