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Saturday Night Live on Netflix

Geoff Wood

As mentioned previously on this blog, we're a no-cable, no satellite family. Instead, we consume all tv content either through Netflix (both streaming and on disc), Hulu, or the CBS's website (which is a distant third for a reason).

Netflix streaming is our preferred option since it's on demand and accessible via the Apple TV. The big drawback to all tv on Netflix is that fact it's not current. For instance, I'm always a season behind on AMC's Mad Men since the discs for season three weren't released until right before the premier of season four(1).

However one show is giving me hope for a better tv-over-web delivery future: Saturday Night Live. The old reliable sketch show, now in it's 36th season, is putting it's episodes up on Netflix streaming in real time (well sort of real time, usually within a week after they air live).

This is definitely cool and I'm excited to see if anyone else follows suit. It's interesting that NBC, part owner of Hulu.com, is allowing Netflix streaming to potentially become a competitor to Hulu as a provider of in-season programming online. Netflix, who already has a leg up since it has no advertising in the show and has a much more stable interface could dominate Hulu if they only had access to the programming.

Anyway, one thing I've noticed with the SNL episodes available in Netflix is that they're often edited. The easiest way to tell is when one of the core components of the show is inexplicably missing. I first noticed it in an early episode when the musical guest (Kanye?) performances never happened. The guest was introduced at the beginning of the episode and was visible in the cast send off at the end of the episode but the performance was missing. Odd.

What was more noticeable was this week's episode, hosted by Scarlett Johansson, which was missing a monologue. Now that's noticeable. They do the cold intro, then the opening credits, then jump right into sketches. I ventured over to Hulu to see if their version of the episode appears the same way. It does but also comes with this disclaimer:

Full episodes of SNL consist of material that is cleared for online streaming. Some sketches and musical performances may be omitted due to various restrictions. Episodes are posted Sunday afternoons and are available for 17 days. All of the clips cleared for online streaming are posted on Hulu. Select musical performances are available for a limited time.

They're omitting sketches for "restrictions"? What restrictions? Typically "online" is a place to put material that's not clear to be shown on TV not the place to omit things that were already shown on TV. I guess I understand it, the show is live and things probably squeak through that NBC doesn't want shown to the rest of the world.

But, what the heck happened in Scarlett's monologue to cause it to be restricted? Typically, those are pretty vanilla stuff. Was it just plain bad? Is there a quality restriction? Is there a "whoops you shouldn't have seen that" restriction which would have blocked Ashlee Simpson's lip sync fiasco a few years ago, had Netflix and Hulu been around?

NBC and SNL obviously don't owe me any explanation. As a fan, however, I'd like to know.

Regardless, thanks for taking the lead and getting your current season content on to Netflix.

(1)As a listener of Bill Simmon's podcast, this is quite frustrating since the tv critics are some of his best guests.