Of all the great things about television, the greatest is that it’s on every single day. TV history is being made, day in and day out, in ways big and small. In an effort to better appreciate this history, we’re taking a look back, every day, at one particular TV milestone.
IMPORTANT DATE IN TV HISTORY: April 20, 2002
PROGRAM ORIGINALLY AIRED ON THIS DATE: Saturday Night Live, “Alec Baldwin / P.O.D.” (Season 27, Episode 18)
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: What Alec Baldwin has meant to Saturday Night Live over time has been an evolution. In his early years, he represented the breed of movie star who took to SNL‘s week-long sketch-comedy sprint surprisingly well. Over the years, he came up with some really memorable sketches, from his Charles Nelson Reilly impersonation to the Canteen Boy sketch to the famous Schwetty Balls. By 2002, Baldwin hadn’t quite reached the next phase of his SNL career (30 Rock-starring friend of the family), but he was established enough as an every-year host to have earned a recurring character or two. And so we ended up with “The Tony Bennett Show,” a typically odd SNL take on the talk show featuring a purely random host.
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It was reminiscent a bit of Jim Bruer’s “Joe Pesci Show,” a recurring sketch that only existed because Pesci was an impersonation that Bruer could do. Whether or not Baldwin had the Tony Bennett impersonation in his back pocket all along, he makes for a surprisingly accurate take on the legendary crooner.
Bennett had become, at this stage of his career, a living icon who would often record albums with younger celebrities. This became a cornerstone of the Baldwin impersonation, as evident here as he talked about “great gal” Tweet and his weekend hanging out with Casey Affleck. Baldwin’s take on Bennett’s personality was aggressively, blandly cheerful, unconcerned by propriety, yet unfailingly nice. This was on display in his interview with his talk-show guests.
Even though this sketch aired 15 years ago, it sometimes feels like Liza Minnelli’s marriage to David Gest is twice that old. A tabloid tempest in a teapot, Minelli’s marriage to the waxy, effeminate Gest raised all sorts of eyebrows. Baldwin’s Tony Bennett reflected the national fascination at the time — confusion; revulsion — while also being obliviously un-PC, yet unfailingly positive. It’s an odd alchemy, flirting constantly with being offensive but ultimately landing on the side of the bizarre. It’s almost hard to believe this sketch led to a good half-dozen further appearances of Baldwin as the crooner, but it kind of became his signature SNL sketch for a while there.