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Saturday Night (TV) Fever

“Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!” When Chevy Chase uttered those six little words 25 years ago, America’s late night craze began. Since then, there have been many nighttime sketch comedy shows, including “In Living Color,” “Hype” and even a kid friendly version named “All That.” Yet the two most popular late night shows in recent years are “Saturday Night Live” and “Mad TV.”

In its 26th season, “Saturday Night Live” is still going strong. The 90-minute show began in 1975 and featured the “not ready for primetime players.” These cast members included such well-known names as Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner. “SNL” was a first of its kind. With a different celebrity guest and musical act each week. The group would then takes on anything and everything it felt could and needed to be satirized. One such example is the “Weekend Update” in which the world of news is satirized. Over the years the anchors have changed, but the element of spoofing the news has remained consistently funny. This satirical look at the news led, of course, to the great presidential parodies still popular today.

Oddly, the show didn’t initially take off. Eventually, though, it caught on and has been thriving even since. Its blend of comedy and music started to appeal to many people and has landed countless nominations and awards from the American Comedy groups, TV Guide and its readers and, of course, the Emmys. The basis for the show came directly from its creator and point man Lorne Michaels. He has been behind the scenes of the show since the beginning and occasionally does cameos on it.

Yet, perhaps the main thing “SNL” is known for is its cast. The ensemble has changed a lot over the years, but one thing is true for the “players,” 95 percent of them have gone on to film careers. Granted not all of them have been good film careers, but “SNL” has served as the vehicle of movement from the small screen to the big screen. Adam Sandler, Chris Farley and Mike Myers all got their starts on “Saturday Night Live.” Each has created his own distinct character that many people tuned in each week to see. From Matt Foley, motivational speaker to The Church Lady, each had a style all their own.

Compare that to “Mad TV,” and it may seem like the FOX show could never come out of the “SNL” shadow, but that is only at first glance. The show premiered in fall 1995 and last year passed the coveted 100th episode milestone.

Airing a half-hour before “SNL,” this hour-long show takes the “SNL” style and does the opposite. Based on the hit, “Mad Magazine,” the show is edgier and further tests the boundaries than its nightly competitor. It is a surprise the show gets away with some of the skits it pulls off, especially holding an early time slot.

“MAD TV” does things its own way. It is not live. “SNL” is one of the few nighttime shows that is live for every episode. This makes the show stand out. “MAD TV” has no catch phrase to start the show and most sketches are not based on real events; they are creations of the show’s ensemble cast. Yes, of course the show does mix in the occasional presidential banter (who couldn’t pass up a chance to at least mention the name “Monica”), but “SNL” is more advanced in that field.

Here are the main differences between the shows. For starters “MAD TV” does not have a different guest host every week. Insteadit incorporates the guest celebrities into the sketches and sometimes hype their appearance, but sometimes they don’t and simply allow it be a surprise for their fans. “SNL” occasionally adds a guest star into the mix along side the guest host, but “MAD TV” as of late has been doing it more.

“MAD TV” does follow an almost identical musical path as “SNL.” Generally there is a musical guest, but viewers do not know who the guest will be before the show airs.

The two shows draw their cast members from the same pools; either from “The Groundlings,” the “Kids In The Hall” or the “Second Comedy Theatre” in Toronto. These ensembles are made up of some of today’s top young comic stars. Both show’s material is fresh and lively. Its style is all there own, yet “SNL” has the edge by being live, but “MAD” has the advantage of being newer. Each show has its own voice but to decide which one is better is best left up to the fans.

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