"When it first came out, I showed it to my husband and my husband thought it was a documentary!" Sharon Osbourne reveals Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy was fooled by 1984 rock spoof movie This Is Spinal Tap.
The stars of comedy rock act Spinal Tap made a secret pilgrimage to the real Stonehenge site after their performance at Britain's Glastonbury Festival. The iconic stone circle in Wiltshire, England is part of the spoof band's folklore due to its inclusion in 1984 movie This Is Spinal Tap.
In the film, the group orders a giant replica of Stonehenge to be used on stage, only to discover the model is only 18 inches high instead of the intended 18 feet, and the gag was revived in many of the group's live shows.
Harry Shearer, who plays bassist Derek Smalls, now admits they all came face-to-face with the real thing after their performance at the Glastonbury Festival in England in 2009. He tells Britain's The Guardian newspaper, "The most memorable thing (about the Glastonbury show) was driving back to London afterwards. It was 6.30pm, someone saw this little thing to the left of the motorway and went: 'Look, there's Stonehenge.' I went: 'Come on, that's a replica where a petrol station should be.' But of course, it's the real one. So at 6.45pm, we drove in and they (site bosses) said 'No, we're closing at seven. Christopher (Guest) and I are fairly shy but our keyboard player, God bless him, is a fairly forward lad so he just walked up and said: 'You've gotta let these guys in, they put this place on the map.'
"The gates duly opened. So that goes down as my favourite ever solstice."
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Over the almost 50 years of Saturday Night Live, there have been plenty of seasons that were good (more than most casual observers would like to admit) and bad (some spectacularly so). There was, though, only one 1984: quite possibly the strangest season in the history of the show.
With Eddie Murphy completely gone to pursue his superstar movie career and the second most recognizable cast member, Joe Piscopo, having worn out his welcome after the 1983 - '84 season, executive producer Dick Ebersol was left without a star. The remaining cast members, including a young Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jim Belushi, had never quite fit in with the show and were largely dissatisfied with the way that they had been treated. Many people figured that Murphy leaving would finally signal the death knell for SNL.
Righting a Wrong
Instead of trying to develop another young talent like Murphy, Ebersol turned to more established comedians, including one who had almost been part of the original SNL cast. By 1984, Billy Crystal was already a well known entertainer after his stint on the sitcom Soap and his numerous talk show appearances where he imitated celebrities like boxer Mohammed Ali, but in 1974 Crystal had been cut from the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players on the eve of the show's debut. Why that happened depends largely on who tells the story, but whatever the case, when Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd rocketed to fame, Crystal wasn’t with them. Nor was he offered the spot that went to Bill Murray when Chase left after the first season. Ten years later, Crystal was finally being given the chance to right what he considered a wrong.
The Rest of the Gang
Along with Crystal, Ebersol brought in Martin Short, who had already been a cast member of Canada's SCTV (which launched the careers of John Candy, Rick Moranis, and Catherine O'Hara), as well as Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer, fresh off their success in This Is Spinal Tap. Rich Hall, who had been part of an ensemble HBO comedy show called Not Necessarily the News, and Pamela Stephenson, who had been on the British precursor (Not the Nine O'clock News) of Hall's HBO show rounded out the new cast members. It was an odd turn of events considering that Crystal hosted SNL twice the season before he joined the cast, while Guest and Shearer had made a guest appearance as part of Spinal Tap.
Crystal, Short, and Guest wasted little time putting their stamp on the creative vacuum that they walked into. Ebersol was by all accounts a very good network executive, but he was not a comedian and didn’t come from a creative background. By the season opener, Crystal was already doing his Fernando Lamas impression ("You look mah-velous!") and Short had brought his Ed Grimley character with him from SCTV. By the third show, Crystal and Guest had worked up a breakout routine with their characters Willie and Frankie, who would continuously one-up each other with pain-inducing practices ("I hate it when that happens"). The show never missed a chance to exploit the new popular sketches — a hallmark of the Ebersol era — with Crystal doing his Fernando so frequently that the character almost deserved a separate credit in the opening theme.
More than any season before or since, the show relied on pre-taped segments, with Guest, Shearer, and Short preferring to work that way. While it went against the grain of SNL, some of the short films, particularly Shearer and Short playing aspiring male synchronized swimmers and Guest and Crystal portraying aged Negro League baseball stars were as good as anything that the show had produced.
Perhaps the best remembered episode of the season is the one hosted by wrestler Hulk Hogan and Mr. T to promote the first Wrestlemania. In the most famous segment, the pair appears with Crystal on his "Fernando Hideaway" sketch and can't keep a straight face. While Murphy returned to host and the Beatles' Ringo Starr took a turn, the other hosts included figures like Jesse Jackson, Howard Cosell, and Bob Uecker. The first show of the season didn't even have a host.
Additionally, there was little continuity with the show's fake news segment — called "Saturday Night News" instead of "Weekend Update" — with the show's host sometimes doing the anchoring and real newscaster Edwin Newman sitting in once before Guest finally took over midway through the season.
In stark contrast to the hosts, the seasons musical guests were a who's who of mid-80s pop, with acts like The Thompson Twins, Billy Ocean, Bryan Adams, and super-groups The Honey Drippers (featuring Robert Plant), and Power Station (featuring Robert Palmer) all making appearances.
When an industry-wide writers' strike halted production in early March 1985, the show didn’t return from the forced hiatus. The abbreviated season ended after just 17 episodes. NBC was unhappy with spiraling production costs and Ebersol was unhappy with his creative staff. Shearer had quit the show in January citing creative differences ("I was creative and they were different," he said later). Short and Guest didn't want to keep doing a live show. Louis-Dreyfus and Belushi (along with fellow holdover Mary Gross) had been used so little throughout the season that they wanted out. Crystal, enjoying the biggest success of his career, was seemingly the only one who wanted it to continue.
Ebersol demanded a retooling, wanting to change the format to a completely taped show and with possibly a fixed rotation of guest hosts (his ideas for the rotation included Piscopo and David Letterman). Instead, NBC briefly canceled the show. After rethinking things, the network's executives decided that they would agree to give SNL another chance… if its original creator, Lorne Michaels, would take back over.
Then and Now
Eventually, Michaels agreed to return to the show and retained none of the cast or writers from the previous season. Taking a page from Ebersol's book, Michaels tried to use established actors like Randy Quaid and Anthony Michael Hall (along with Robert Downey Jr. and Joan Cusack) to re-launch the show… which very nearly did lead to the show being canceled permanently. It wasn't until the following season when Michaels entrusted SNL to virtual unknowns like Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Victoria Jackson, Jon Lovitz, Jan Hooks, and Dennis Miller that the show started the run that finally established it as the institution it has become.
The goodwill that the show had gained from Crystal, Short and Guest's lone season helped carry it through Michaels' disastrous first season back. Thirty years later, the 1984 - '85 season remains an oddly alluring anomaly in the long comedic history of SNL.
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
For a second there, Better Call Saul was looking like a big excuse for a Breaking Bad reunion.
The upcoming spin-off to the smash television drama has done well to fill its ranks with already familiar faces, but we had yet to see what Better Call Saul has to offer in terms of original characters. Both Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks are set to reprise their roles for the show, and even Aaron Paul has announced he was in serious talks with creator Vince Gilligan about returning for a guest appearance.
While another season of Breaking Bad wouldn’t be entirely unwelcome, we were eager to see some new faces fill out the free spaces in Saul Goodman’s skeezy legal drama. Thankfully, actor Michael McKean has just been tapped to add some new blood to the cast. The actor, famous for playing David St. Hubbins in the classic mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, and a role on the classic sitcom Laverne and Shirley, is set to co-star as Dr. Thurber, a talented lawyer who is hampered by a debilitating medical condition.
If McKean’s role gives you a faint sense of déjà vu, you’re not alone. Dr. Thurber’s story, from the scant few details we know about the character, sounds suspiciously similar to a certain meth kingpin's. Thurber is a gifted lawyer who becomes sick with a strange ailment, while Breaking Bad's Walter White is a gifted chemist who learns that he has lung cancer. Both stories are about smart men whose lives are permanently altered by disease, and in the same way that Walt’s lung cancer sparked a desperate need for recognition inside Walt, whatever affliction is affecting Thurber will likely spark similar feelings of desperation.
There’s narrative power in desperation. It’s a strong, base, human desire, and it fueled some of Breaking Bad’s best stories. You could even make the case that desperation was the most resonant theme in the entire series. Walt’s burgeoning career as a drug dealer started in a desperate attempt to provide for his family before the cancer withered him away, a feat he couldn't possibly manage with the humble earnings of a high school chemistry teacher. Even when Walt's motives changed, and creating meth stopped being a sacrificial act for his family and twisted itself something more prideful, greedy, selfish, and ugly, he was a man still driven by desperation. Walt became a man with a desperate need to be the best, to eliminate his competition, and to create the best product the world had ever seen. He not only wanted fame, but infamy. He was desperate to be somebody after an eternity of feeling like the world's most gifted doormat.
Since McKean's character will likely have similar circumstances surrounding his character, we hope that Vince Gilligan is able to mine the same amounts of depth from this new character of his. November can't come soon enough.
"Cat's out of the bag re (regarding) my new gig. You seem okay with it. I'm over the dang moon." This Is Spinal Tap star Michael Mckean has been cast in the Breaking Bad spin-off series Better Call Saul. He is slated to play Dr Thurber, an attorney who suffers from an unusual affliction.
Singer/songwriter Elvis Costello is set to make his headlining debut at New York City's famed Carnegie Hall with two concerts on 24 and 25 June (14). He first performed at the iconic venue in 2001 as a guest of rockers Spinal Tap.
Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan reunited at the Lincoln Center in New York City on Monday (28Apr14) to honour their When Harry Met Sally... director Rob Reiner. The prolific filmmaker, whose hits include This is Spinal Tap and A Few Good Men, was the recipient of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Chaplin Award in recognition of his hugely successful career.
Stars and former colleagues lined up to pay tribute the Reiner, including Michael Douglas - who arrived hand-in-hand with estranged wife Catherine Zeta-Jones - Martin Scorsese and James Caan, but the big moment of the night was when Crystal introduced surprise guest Ryan to the stage.
The pair reminisced about Ryan's iconic orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally..., revealing that Reiner himself showed her how to act out the moment.
Crystal also explained how his personal relationship with the director was very similar to the film's leading couple: "That was so personal to us because many of the things that Harry and Sally did in the movie, Rob and I did as friends, which we just talked about and (writer) Nora (Ephron) was able to work into the script. That bonding was very much Rob and I."
Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman and Mandy Patinkin also shared their memories of working with Reiner via video messages.
British comic Ricky Gervais is hoping to bring his most famous character, David Brent, back to the screen for a spoof documentary. The star reprised his role as the cringeworthy office manager last year (13) for several sold-out stage shows with his fake band Foregone Conclusion.
Gervais now reveals he will be filming behind-the-scenes at his upcoming concerts in England and hopes to transform the footage into a TV film in the style of iconic rock parody This Is Spinal Tap.
He tells the Radio Times, "It's just an idea. I want to do a tour, a little tour - and people think they're seeing a tour. I film it, but actually it's Brent who thinks he's making a (Martin) Scorsese-type thing of (Jack Kerouac's novel) On The Road.
"Of course, behind the scenes, it is so much sadder and more poignant. It's Spinal Tap meets sad Scorsese meets (Canadian heavy metal band) Anvil. It's more of the breakdown of this man who thought he was going to be something else."
Gervais also suggests the documentary could be shown on TV or online, adding, "That will be on Netflix. Or HBO. Or the BBC."
The David Brent character first appeared onscreen in the U.K. in 2001 when the first season of The Office aired.
Rocker Midge Ure had a "close escape" when he ruled out releasing an Ultravox album with a plain black cover as the idea was mercilessly parodied in spoof music documentary This Is Spinal Tap just weeks later. The Vienna hitmakers were gearing up to release their new album Lament in 1984 and they were toying with the idea of putting out the disc accompanied by a pictureless, jet-black sleeve.
They eventually decided against the move and made sure there was an image on the cover, and frontman Ure was relieved weeks later when he saw the comedy movie upon its release and watched in horror as the producers mocked a rock band for releasing an all-black album.
Ure tells British magazine Event, "When Ultravox made Lament, we talked about having the entire sleeve black. My argument was, it's minimal advertising, and people would say, 'Wow, what's this?' Then Spinal Tap did Smell The Glove - none more black - and it was rubbish. A close escape."
All The Way Broadway/YouTube
Bryan Cranston is going to be appearing on Broadway for the first time ever in his career - he'll be playing President Lyndon Baines Johnson in All the Way - and I can't wait. He already looks like him in the commercials, doesn't he? I'm sure he studied a lot of his mannerisms and refined it as he went along performing it in Cambridge, MA over the fall.
He's shown that he's more than capable of inhabiting a role. He was so believable as the hapless father on Malcom in the Middle and then his slow change in Breaking Bad from a frustrated man who was facing unfair events in his life to someone who was pure, malevolent evil was something to behold. When you're watching a show or a movie that he's in, you are not thinking, "I'm watching Bryan Cranston act right now." No, he becomes the person on the screen and adds so much nuance to each role, it's really amazing to see him talk so differently when he's not on set.
Sure, Cranston won't have what actors on movies and television shows have: a safety net. If he flubs a line, he won't have a chance to stop, laugh at it and then do the scene over again. No, it'll be the theatergoers who exit chuckling and saying, "Can you believe Walter White forgot his lines?" Not that I'm worried about that happening, since the veteran actor is a consummate professional. The Great White Way won't intimidate this man. He's also got one of the masters of ad-libbing in Michael McKean, who will be playing J. Edgar Hoover (who would have thought the Spinal Tap actor would be right for this role?). So if things go sideways, they'll be able to pull it off.
The only thing that might pull me out of the play is if he suddenly tells someone, "What? Do you think I'm just some ordinary president who cowers when danger knocks? No. I'm the leader of the free world ... and I am the One Who Knocks. I. Am. The. Danger!" Or if Aaron Paul bursts on to the stage and blurts: "Veto? But you're the President, b---h!" Then there might be people there demanding some kind of re-write.
Chances are good that this will do very well, since Cranston is still an extremely hot commodity given the popularity of Breaking Bad. It wouldn't be surprising to see him add Tony awards to his ledger.