Aaron Sorkin tried and failed to dramatize the process of putting together a topical late-night sketch show with “Studio 60.” And while "30 Rock" was great, we mostly just learned creative expletives from Liz Lemon. But if you want to know what it’s really like, Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition is the closest thing to being on staff.
The exhibit, opening this Saturday at 417 Fifth Ave., resembles a museum project only in size and scope. Television’s most populist and of-the-moment show couldn’t very well sit behind glass walls — you can sit on (a recreation of) Wayne and Garth’s sofa, stand at the “Jeopardy!” podium and make up your own raunchy categories, take a seat at the massive writers’ room table. The exhibit is made for photo ops. The only things behind glass are costumes (sorry, while the “Dick in a Box” suits are there, they’re not interactive) and documents (including the pilot show’s script).
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That feeling of being backstage is part of the exhibit’s concept, which is to trace the making of an episode through its entire week. The scripts are firmed up by Wednesday; the sets are built beginning Thursday morning, when the blueprints arrive at the Brooklyn Navy Yard at 6 a.m.; and Saturday night, when the show is performed twice for the live audience, with tweaks happening until the last second before airtime.
Along the way, you’re guided by interviews with some of the more than 130 cast members over the show’s 40-year run, talking about what it takes to put an episode together. What makes a great host? Kristen Wiig will tell you. What does it take to be relentlessly funny? According to Seth Meyers, “The more tired you got, the part of your brain that judges quality goes to sleep — and sometimes in comedy that's what you need.”
After pulling the curtain back on the invisible process of creating 90 minutes of television every week, the only way to end it is taking a seat inside a replica of Studio 8H, where an eight-minute version of the show plays out, with a special opening monologue by Tina Fey.
Tickets to “Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition” are $29, and it's scheduled to remain open until January — also available to rent out for special events — but organizer Premier Exhibits hopes to make it permanent.