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September 3, 2015

The Not Ready for Prime Time Players who made it to the big time: 1986-2006

by Richard Keller, posted Apr 24th 2008 12:04PM

The SNL cast of the early 1990s -- one of the most successful during the show's runAs AOL Television continues their look at the 50 Best TV Comedies -- Ever with numbers 20-11, we here at TV Squad are also looking at television comedy, but with a slightly skewed difference. Last week, we took a look at the Saturday Night Live cast members from 1975-1985 that made it to the big time. This week, we focus on the SNL casts from 1986 to 2006.

Aside from the first season of Lorne Michaels' return to the show he created and the 1994-95 season, this period was a very successful one for SNL, introducing a slew of characters and sketches that fans of the show still talk about today. It also produced a good number of Not Ready for Prime-Time Players who went on to bigger things in television and the movies (and some theater as well). Sometimes those bigger things were movies or television shows based on characters developed on SNL.

We here at TV Squad have compiled a fairly lengthy list of those SNL performers who went onto bigger and better things after the ending credits rolled. Like last week a few caveats were added to provide an accurate list. First, the cast member could not have been successful prior to being on SNL. So, members like Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Chris Elliott, Michael McKean and even Colin Quinn are all out. Second, they needed to hit it BIG somewhere during or after their SNL career -- not just appear once in awhile in a cameo appearance in a B-movie or second-rate television show. Third, even though there were a ton of writers and behind-the-scenes people out there who went on to bigger things after SNL, I focused this list on those who appeared as full-time cast members or featured players. So, no Conan O'Brien on this list.

So, with all of that in mind...

1985-1990: Like Dick Ebersol the year before, Lorne Michaels packed his 1985-86 cast with known and unknown performers during his first year back. While Ebersol's cast of bigwigs like Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal and Martin Short was a critical and fan success, Michaels' cast of bigwigs like Anthony Michael Hall, Randy Quaid, and Robert Downey Jr. didn't fare as well. In fact, NBC was ready to cancel the show at the end of 1986. To redeem himself Michaels went back to his old ways and filled the 1986-87 cast with comedy unknowns. The resulting cast, along with better writing, started a resurgence of the show that lasted well into the 90's and made stars of many of the cast.

Dennis Miller -- One of only three cast members to remain after the 1986 season ended (the other two were Nora Dunn and Jon Lovitz), Miller's claim to fame was his stint as anchor on Weekend Update, which he used to deliver his hilarious, yet sometimes metaphorically confusing, take on the week's news. After he left SNL in 1991 he took his style of comedy and made it successful with Dennis Miller Live in 1994. The 30-minute HBO talk show aired 215 episodes and lasted until 2002. During his stint on the talk show Dennis also became a color commentator for ABC's Monday Night Football, which lasted from 2000 to 2002. Lately he has been seen hosting game shows such as Grand Slam and the recently canceled Amne$ia, and can also be heard via your local radio station (and on the web) on The Dennis Miller Show.

Damon Wayans -- Damon is more famous for something he shouldn't have done on SNL than what he had done on the show during his short time there as a featured player. After appearing as a flamboyant gay cop in a scene that required him to play a straight cop, Wayans was let go from the show. This didn't stop him from continuing his career in sketch comedy, though. Four years later he joined several members of his family in the FOX sketch comedy series In Living Color. It was there that he established such famous characters as Homey D. Clown, Tom Brothers and Blaine Edwards. He also starred in a number of fairly successful movies such as The Last Boy Scout (with Bruce Willis), Mo' Money, Blankman, and Major Payne. He returned to network television in 2001 with the ABC sitcom My Wife and Kids, which lasted until 2005.

Phil Hartman -- Out of all of the cast members from SNL during the late-80s and early-90s Phil Hartman is probably one of the most loved and most missed. In addition to portraying characters such as Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra and Bill Clinton on SNL Hartman was voicing characters attorney Lionel Hutz an Troy McClure on The Simpsons. After leaving Saturday Night in 1994, Hartman remained in television and took a role in the NBC sitcom NewsRadio, where he played newsman Bill McNeal. He remained on the show until his untimely death on 1998 at the hand of his wife.

Mike Myers -- One of the most successful SNL cast members to come out of the 1986-1990 grouping. Joining as a featured player in the winter of 1989, Myers created such memorable characters as Dieter, Linda Richman and Wayne Campbell (actually, Wayne evolved from another character Myers created during his days at the CBC). It was the character of Wayne, along with Dana Carvey's Garth Algar, that catapulted Myers into the world of movies with the full-length motion picture version of Wayne's World. After that came a series of movie successes with both the Austin Powers and Shrek trilogies. He also dabbled in non-comedic film roles, like Steve Rubell, the owner of Studio 54, in the movie 54. This year we can look for Myers as a new character in the movie The Love Guru.

Ben Stiller -- I kid you not! I had to double-check two sources, because Wikipedia can be somewhat inaccurate at times, but it turns out that Stiller was a featured player on SNL starting in the winter of 1989. Granted, it was only for five episodes, but he was a featured player nonetheless. We know what happened to Ben after that, don't we? The Ben Stiller Show on FOX; directing the movies Reality Bites, The Cable Guy, and Zoolander; starring in a number of 'nice guy' films like Flirting With Disaster, There's Something About Mary, Meet the Parents, Keeping the Faith, Madagascar, and Night at the Museum. The last two have sequels planned for this year and 2009.

1990-1995: Of the seven new cast members that joined SNL for the 1990-91 season, five of them went on to the big time in either movies or television. They, along with the cast members that remained from the 1986-1990 seasons, would help the show reach one of its more creative and critical peaks. Yet, as they say, what goes up must come down. And, as the show reached the middle of the 1990s both fans and critics were once again panning the program, setting the stage (literally) for a brand new cast.

Chris Farley -- Like his predecessor John Belushi, Chris Farley's career and life after SNL ended all too soon. After creating such Saturday Night favorites as motivational speaker Matt Foley, Superfan Todd O'Conner, one of the "Gap Girls" and a Chippendale's dancer, Farley moved over to the big screen. His first major film roles, Tommy Boy and Black Sheep, paired Farley with fellow cast member David Spade. After that he appeared alone in Beverly Hills Ninja. His last projects, Almost Heroes and Dirty Work were completed after Farley's untimely death at the end of 1997.

Adam Sandler -- For some, Sandler is one of the greatest comedy actors of our generation. For others, his baby-voice makes their heads explode. Either way, there's no doubt that Adam has had a very successful career. After leaving SNL at the end of the 1994-95 season, Sandler jumped right into movies and had an immediate hit with Billy Madison. After that he starred in Happy Gilmore and Bulletproof. In 1998 he starred in two of his biggest movies -- The Wedding Singer and The Waterboy. Since then, in addition to more comedic fare like Big Daddy and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Sandler has appeared in a number of dramatic roles. His first, Punch-Drunk Love, provided him with a Golden Globe nomination. His most recent dramatic roles have been in Spanglish, Click, and Reign Over Me.

Rob Schneider -- I had to think about this one for a bit. Sure, he hasn't been the star like Adam Sandler has been in the movies, but Rob Schneider has had enough success, and steady work, that he could be considered a cast member that hit it big. It's not like he was cast in B-movies once he left SNL. He had some pretty decent parts in movies like Judge Dredd and Demolition Man (both starring Sylvester Stallone) and Down Periscope. Then there was his breakout hit, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, followed by The Animal. Plus, add in all of his appearances in the various Adam Sandler films. On the television side, Schneider had sitcom success on Men Behaving Badly. Unfortunately, that success was short lived after two of the co-stars left after the first season.

David Spade -- While he made his mark fairly quickly in the movies co-starring with Chris Farley in Tommy Boy and Black Sheep, Spade actually made more of an impression in television once he left SNL. In 1997 he joined the cast of the NBC sitcom Just Shoot Me!, where he remained for seven seasons. After that he joined the cast of 8 Simple Rules after John Ritter's untimely death. Currently, he stars in the CBS sitcom Rules of Engagement.

Chris Rock -- While Rock has had his share of movie roles during and after his time on SNL, his claim to fame has been his numerous HBO comedy specials. His second special, Bring the Pain, won him two Emmy Awards while his commentary on the 1996 presidential race for Politically Incorrect (then on Comedy Central) garnered him a nomination. He won a third Emmy for his HBO talk show The Chris Rock Show. Since 2005 he has been the narrator and executive producer of Everybody Hates Chris.

1995-2006: Despite the amount of talent that crossed the stage of Studio 8H between 1995 and 2006 only a few of the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players of that era really made it to the big time. One possibility was that they were so burnt out after spending many years on the show -- a good many of the cast members remained on the show for 7 seasons or more. Another possibility was, even though they had the talent, there was never a strong platform for them to grab onto once they left the show.

Will Ferrell -- Out of the three SNL cast members who made it big out of this era I think Will Ferrell is the one who has had the longest streak of big success. After portraying characters on Saturday Night like George W. Bush, Gene Frenkle and Alex Trebek, Ferrell jumped right into the movies with A Night at the Roxbury in 1998, which wasn't the success it was supposed to be. He really hit it big after he left SNL with movies like Old School, Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Blades of Glory. In 2006 audiences were introduced to Ferrell's dramatic side in the movie Stranger Than Fiction.

Tina Fey -- While Will Ferrell has had the box office and fan success, I think Tina Fey has had more critical and award winning success during and after her time at SNL. Becoming the first female head writer on the show, Fey struck it big even before she left the show by writing and co-starring in the film Mean Girls. In 2006 Tina became the star and executive producer of 30 Rock, one of the two 'inside the sketch show' shows on the network schedule -- the other being Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. While Studio 60 faltered, 30 Rock became a success winning an Emmy Award for Best Comedy as well as a Peabody Award. On Friday, Fey will join SNL cast member Amy Poehler in the movie Baby Mama.

Tracy Morgan -- If your thinking of The Tracy Morgan Show as the venue that rocketed the SNL cast member to stardom, think again. It has been his role as Tracy Jordan on 30 Rock that escalated him to big time status.

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I'm glad to see Jimmy Fallon is NOT on the list. Good job otherwise, though.

I never knew Tina Fey helped write Mean Girls. No wonder the movie was so good.

May 23 2008 at 1:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good stuff! I don't remember Farley's roll in Dirty Work... but I did love that movie! Another thing I think worth mentioning is Chris Rock's hosting of the Academy Awards. Though it maybe didn't go so well, it's still a pretty big role and have any other members (besides Billy Crystal) done it?

May 01 2008 at 1:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Charlie Conner

you also seem to forget Joan Cusack, owner of an Oscar nomination...while not a current superstar, an Oscar nom does speak for itself!

April 25 2008 at 9:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I guess you're not counting anyone from 1995-2006 who's still on the show? I'd say that Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, and to a lesser extent Kristin Wiig are all starting to "hit it big", and Andy Samberg isn't far behind.

I actually find it interesting how the current cast is pretty much jumping into the movies while still being at "SNL", whereas in the past it was usually something you did once leaving the show (at least to this extent). Hader's now a big part of the "Apatow Machine", Poehler's done a bunch of sizable movie roles and now co-stars in her own flick, Wiig's had memorable roles for a couple years now in some big comedies, and Samberg starred in "Hot Rod" and voices the main character in a new animated movie coming out this summer ("Space Chimps").

April 24 2008 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How about Sarah Silverman? She was on from 1993-1994 as a featured player...

April 24 2008 at 6:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How about Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz? Sure, they don't do much anymore, but they had several years where they did a lot after they left SNL.

Also, Robert Smigel was a feat player for a little bit in the early 90s, people might not know the name, but they know his work on Conan, his SNL cartoons and of course Triumph!

April 24 2008 at 6:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How about mentioning, possibly, David Spade's best moment? Joe Dirt anyone?

April 24 2008 at 2:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Joel's comment

"Joe Dirt" is by far the funniest movie of all time!

April 25 2008 at 7:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"In 1999, Macdonald starred in the sitcom The Norm Show (later renamed Norm), co-starring Laurie Metcalf, Artie Lange and Ian Gomez. It ran for three seasons on ABC."

Two feature movies (Screded and Dirty Work) and, voice acting on a number of films and TV, his own TV show for 3 seasons, and cameos in dozens of other sitcoms and movies, give the guy his props.

April 24 2008 at 2:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

David Spade was in Police Academy 4 before SNL!!!! I mean talking about peaking early!

April 24 2008 at 1:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Molly Shannon?

April 24 2008 at 1:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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