Photo by Pop Culture Passionistas
If you’re a rock and roll fan, imagine the thrill you’d feel if you could see the Beatles reunite. Love baseball? What if you could be in a room with the players from the 1975 Cincinnati Reds? Well last night we had what might go down in Passionistas' history as our greatest Pop Culture Bucket List moment of all time when we saw our rock stars, our heavy hitters together all in one place. We still can’t believe we were lucky enough to be invited to the Television Academy Hall of Fame Awards where the original cast of Saturday Night Live was honored.
In addition to the legendary sketch comedy stars, four other TV greats were being recognized. Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes would become the third African American woman in history to be inducted. Production designer of classic shows like Chico and the Man and Frasier would get a nod. Six-time Emmy-winning writer and producer John Wells of West Wing and Shameless fame would get some more-well deserved acclaim. And Joan Rivers would receive the honor posthumously.
The night kicked off beyond our wildest expectations. Pulling into the parking garage at the TV Academy, we noticed a man in a flat brimmed hat standing by the entrance. Without even seeing his face we realized who it was. Since he wasn’t a member of the freshman class of Not Ready for Primetime Players, we never dreamed that Bill Murray would be in attendance. But there he was. This was going to be an awesome night.
We went into the pre-show cocktail party and were led to a choice spot by the front door thanks to some very clever friends. Together we engaged in a steady stream of star spotting. And there we witnessed Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd reuniting with fellow SNL alum Chevy Chase. They hugged and chatted by the door for a few minutes before heading out to the red carpet together.
Thanks to Shonda Rhimes and John Wells, there was a bevy of TV doctors in the house. Including Noah Wiley, who presented to his ER boss Wells, and many of the staff of Seattle Grace from James Pickens, Jr. (aka, Dr. Richard Webber) to Sarah Drew (aka, Dr. April Kepner).
We watched as former West Wing staffers Toby Ziegler, the actor Richard Schiff, and Donna Moss, the amazing Janel Moloney, strolled the center aisle in front of us. It was crazy to see the stars behind two of our favorite TV characters. Although they weren’t together as they passed so we didn’t get the full on “walk and talk” effect that would have made the moment even more surreal.
There was an electricity in the theater which was filled with TV royalty like William H. Macy and Phylicia Rashad. The good energy seemed fueled by the fact that most of the people present weren’t there to potentially get an award themselves. The majority of the celebrities who showed up were there just to pay homage to the short list of inductees.
Larry Wilmore hosted the event and gave a poignant speech about the onslaught of sexual harassment and assault stories that have been swirling in recent weeks. He gave a pointed plea to the men in the audience to do better before lightening the tone for the rest of the entertaining evening.
Most awards shows build up to the big name talent. Not the Television Hall of Fame. The first presenter was none other than Oprah Winfrey, who gave Rhimes her crystal TV award. The Scandal creator once again proved what a brilliant writer she is when she delivered her answer to the question she said she is always asked — “Why is diversity so important?” Her answer was powerful and gave a nod to Lady O for being her small screen example that it was possible for a woman of color to change the face of television.
Frasier creator David Lee presented production designer Christopher his award and gleefully looked on as his longtime collaborator accepted. Chris Hardwick spoke of his hero and friend, Joan Rivers, before her daughter Melissa got up and read a generic speech that the comedic icon had written before her death in the case of such an event. And Wiley touted Wells as his mentor and inspiration as a young actor for what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Then came the moment it seemed we all had been waiting for. Lily Tomlin came out to announce the induction of our late night heroes. Then Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris and Laraine Newman took to the stage. Although John Belushi and Gilda Radner have long been gone, their spirits were present and their castmates all praised them. Chevy acknowledged that they embodied the wild and dangerous spirit of what SNL was all about.
We were surprised that Chevy’s speech ended up being the most poignant. He did the first few lines of the land shark bit and told a tale about the costume being stolen from the attic in his house — although the crooks left everything else untouched. He reminisced about doing a skit with John and Gilda in which he played a director and they were his devoted actors. He even admitted that he regretted quitting SNL too soon. And to our delight, he ended calling on Garrett Morris to join him in a little Weekend Update throwback of “The News for the Hearing Impaired” — Garrett parroting Chevy’s classic line, “The top story tonight…”
While making his speech, Aykroyd called out another castmate that he felt should have been up on the stage being honored alongside them all — Bill Murray. But since Murray replaced Chase when he left the show at the end of Season 1, he wasn’t on the list.
That didn’t stop him from getting up after the group of inductees left the stage to make a quick speech of his own. But the megastar didn’t do so to steal the spotlight or pout (although he jokingly admitted he’d been a little bitter a few minutes earlier). Instead he was totally respectful of the situation. He said that Laraine Newman had called him to tell him about the event and invited him. So he decided to come because he just wanted to see his friends. If the original cast of SNL were our friends, we probably would have swung by just to see them, too.
Following the ceremony, the inductees and guests mingled in the lobby and out on the Academy plaza. We’re sure it didn’t come close to the legendary post SNL broadcast after parties. But in our own way we got to feel like we had our peripheral hang with these stars who had so dramatically shaped our lives and our sense of humor growing up.
The night ended as we sat alone at a table nibbling on delicious deserts. Suddenly we heard a woman say, “Oh, good, my cell phone is still here.” We turned to discover the legendary actress/director/choreographer Debbie Allen picking up her rose gold iPhone. So we took the opportunity to thank her for entertaining us all these years. When we told her we were sisters she got a big smile on her face and mentioned her own BFF and sibling. “Just like me and my Phylicia.” And with that she sashayed away.
And with that, all that seemed left to say was, “Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.”