Live from Cannes!

45 years of lessons from 'Saturday Night Live'
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"With so many shows that come and go, how does SNL continue to stay funny and relevant? The short answer is talent." -Linda Yaccarino, NBCU

Linda Yaccarino

Linda Yaccarino

As the world’s most creative brand storytellers, entrepreneurs, and entertainers take part in the Cannes Lions Festival, I’m looking forward to chatting with one person in particular: Lorne Michaels, the creator and executive producer of Saturday Night Live.

Here’s why: SNL is a storied institution that’s defined storytelling through its iconic characters and unforgettable cultural moments. And, as the show enters its 45th season (which, by the way, is more than double the average lifespan of a business on the S&P 500), SNL is more than a show we can all laugh during, it’s also a success story we can learn from, no matter the industry.

Related: NBCU Pushes Creativity at Cannes Festival

1. New York’s Hottest Club is: Stick to High Standards When former president of NBC Herb Schlosser was developing the time slot that would become SNL, he envisioned something with a “distinctive look” that got people talking. But he couldn’t have imagined was the edgy, whacky, sometimes unpredictable show that went in that slot, and reimagined itself every week. That’s because Lorne and the team at SNL set a new standard in comedy, and continue to raise the bar. And it’s clear that SNL’s commitment to excellence remains essential to its continued success.

2. More Cowbell: No Replacement for Talent and Creativity With so many shows that come and go, how does SNL continue to stay funny and relevant? The short answer is talent. SNL scouts brilliant performers and writers from all over the country. On top of that, SNL’s collaborative, high-stakes environment creates an atmosphere for developing talent. It’s no wonder the show has launched so many stellar careers—including Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Andy Samberg. The list goes on and on and on. We know technology creates amazing opportunities, no matter your business, but there’s no substitute for bringing talented people together. It’s true for the writers’ room and the board room.

3. Opera Man: Ready or Not, the Show will Go On. Lorne once said, “the show doesn’t go on because it’s ready, it goes on because it’s 11:30.” These days, keeping up with the frenetic pace of technological and social change can feel a lot like producing an hour-and-a-half of live TV each Saturday night. And I’ve learned you can’t transform a company, launch a new initiative, or push an industry forward when it’s ready—it’s going to be because it’s time. Every industry leader needs to learn how to evolve, and evolve quickly, like they do on SNL. Otherwise—at the risk of sounding like a Debbie Downer—the show might go on without them.

4. A Van Down by River: Great Stories Matter and More Motivational Advice. The reason SNL has defined generations of culture is because of the power of a great, comedic story. Even in today’s fractured media landscape, families still gather around the TV to watch SNL. They scrutinize the latest episodes in the office on Monday and on Twitter in real-time. And the stories they tell so well are why every generation—from the Coneheads to the Spartan Cheerleaders and the Lonely Island crew—has its favorite cast members, quotes, and sketches.

No matter what changes ripple through society—whether they be in politics, culture, technology—SNL continues to form incredible (comedic) connections with its audience. In doing so, it has not only remained a cultural icon, but it has become a masterclass in how to weather disruption, and a model for excellence far beyond Studio 8H.

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