The New Yorker magazine editor and writer Susan Morrison confirmed today that she’ll write a biography of her one-time boss Lorne Michaels, for Random House. The Saturday Night Live creator — and executive producer for all but five seasons since its 1975 debut — has given his blessing to the book. Asked in an email how far along she is on the book and when it’s scheduled for publication, Morrison replied, “Really, I’ve just started the project,” and added, “I do have a day job!”
That job, as articles editor of the storied Condé Nast weekly, is one of the most prestigious in magazine journalism and comes after top-of-the-masthead stints at the late, lamented Spy magazine and The New York Observer. In 1983, however, Michaels hired her as assistant to SNL‘s legendary writer-producer Jim Downey for “The New Show,” a pre-taped SNL primetime clone that was canceled after three rocky months in early 1984. At The New Yorker, she has edited stories by such SNL regulars as Steve Martin and Jack Handey. Morrison already has begun interviewing Michaels and key figures in his wide circle for the book, she said.
Asked whether Michaels’ approval meant it would be an “authorized” biography, Morrison said it did not, adding that Michaels will have “no control over the manuscript.”
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Morrison told the New York Times, which first reported the signing, that, “in the ’70s, Lorne noticed that while movies and music had kept pace with the counterculture, television was still square. With SNL he changed that: suddenly television could be smart and hip, transgressive.”
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While it’s true there can be no doubt of SNL‘s impact on the broad cultural landscape of comedy, primetime television rode several waves of change before the Not Ready For Prime-Time Players’ late-night debut. They included NBC’s transgressive Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and CBS’s subversively provocative The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, in the late 1960s. And Norman Lear’s revolution in topical comedy had begun in 1971 with All In The Family and continued with Maude, Sanford & Son and The Jeffersons, among other shows that altered the tone and complexion of primetime television.
Still, SNL operated on a different plane. “In terms of TV being square, there’s no question (Smothers Brothers and Laugh-In aside) that TV wasn’t as adventurous and cutting-edge as movies and music were in the mid-70s,” Morrison said. “What was different about SNL is that so much of the content was about television, critiquing it— lampooning tired TV conventions like talk shows, game shows, commercials, infomercials. And that still works for the show today.”
The book will include Michael’s early years growing up in Toronto as Lorne Lipowitz, his move to Los Angeles to write for Laugh-In, the creation of SNL and the founding of his powerhouse production company, Broadway Video, in 1979. The deal, terms of which were not disclosed, was made for Morrison by David Kuhn, with Random house editor-in-chief Andy Ward, who will edit the book.
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