NEW YORK — Tune in NBC any Saturday at 11:30 p.m. and, whether live or a repeat, you know what you’ll find. It’s been that way since October 1975 and, having just wrapped 40 years on the air, “Saturday Night Live” is long overdue for a fitting shrine.
Now it has one. “Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition” has just opened in (where else) New York, and it’s a riches-filled destination for the program’s three generations of fans, those, that is, who can cover the rich admission ($29 for adults, $26 for children under 12).
Located on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue a dozen blocks south of “SNL”’s home at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the exhibition is a satisfyingly immersive experience, steering visitors step by step, room to room, through the improbable yet tried-and-true process of putting together each show in just six days.
“We’ve taken a little bit of 30 Rock — places on the eighth and ninth and 17th floors that the public never gets to see — and brought it here,” says Mark Lach, the exhibition’s creative director.
The tour nears its end in a mock-up of the TV control room, just before ushering visitors into a downsized version of fabled Studio 8H for a cleverly staged eight-minute simulation of being at a live broadcast as hosted by “SNL” alum Tina Fey, who declares from a video screen, “I’m where most actresses my age end up: on display in a museum exhibit.”
The exhibition resonates with showmanship. But let’s face it: What makes a visit worthwhile is the vast collection of props, costumes and other artifacts from the past four decades.
Premiere Exhibitions has put this all together working closely with Broadway Video, the producer of “Saturday Night Live,” as well with as the man who created and continues to steward it, Lorne Michaels. Happily, they are dedicated packrats.
The exhibit begins with Michaels’ desk (until recently, at least) and, even more impressive, a first wave of documents that include a Mailgram he drafted months before “SNL” debuted outlining the sort of show he had in mind, pretty much the show that has aired ever since.
A few steps farther, the visitor encounters the show’s first “home base” set, in front of which each host in its early months presided. And the tour goes from there.
The oldest artifacts are truly part of TV history, and, especially for senior “SNL” devotees, they are thrilling ghosts from a distant past: the wily Land Shark head, the Killer Bees’ get-ups, the Bass-O-Matic blender and so many more, invoking characters the “SNL” performers, living and dead, who gave them immortality.
The dozens of costumes include Mister Robinson’s cardigan sweater, Steve Martin’s King Tut finery as well as Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake’s matching outfits.
Full-scale sets long stored in some warehouse include those for Celebrity Jeopardy and the Church Lady skits. Even better, visitors can sit at the Weekend Update desk or on the actual couch in Wayne and Garth’s basement setting for their “Wayne’s World” show.
As the Church Lady would say, “Isn’t that special?” Live from New York, it’s a remarkable experience.