Inside the Spanish Version of Saturday Night Live That Aired on Thursdays

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One week off from Comedy Tourism and I get scoops-i-daisied by Splitsider herself. Lesson learned. In past CT’s I’ve written about American television franchises remade abroad, and goodness knows the Hollywood suits have done their fair share of makeovers on popular foreign franchises. But, I admit I was completely surprised to learn of one particular American TV institution that has recently gotten the international makeover: Saturday Night Live.

Now granted, plenty of countries have shows one could call “The Saturday Night Live of…” For example, Eretz Nehederet in Israel. But, something about the actual SNL seems so distinctly American it’s difficult to imagine it any other way. Exhibit A: “Live from New York, It’s Saturday Niiiiiiiiiight!”

But in 2006, Italy premiered Saturday Night Live From Milano and a new revenue stream for Lorne Michaels was born. Last week, Deadline announced Japan is getting its own batch of not-ready-for-primetime players. Michaels’ Broadway Video Enterprises teamed up with Yoshimoto Kogyo (this name should sound familiar to all the diehard Comedy Tourism fans out there — Hi Mom) to produce the series, which premiered this past weekend.

Currently, the only other country to officially remake the show is Spain. Between Nadal’s win at the French Open and FC Barcelona’s victory over Manchester, it seems fitting to put this week’s focus on España.

Spanish production company Globomedia opted to keep the title, naming its version “Saturday Night Live.” Despite preserving the namesake though, the programming department at Cuatro, the channel on which it airs, failed to honor the proper timeslot. Spain’s Saturday Night Live actually airs on Thursday nights and not at 11:30, but rather in primetime. Hmm.

Sure, it’s a little off-brand, but realistically in order for a show to find an audience within its culture, it needs to adhere to cultural norms. If viewers in Spain don’t consume late-night television the same way we Americans do, then it doesn’t make sense to premiere a new show in that timeslot. Well, find an audience Saturday Night Live did when it debuted in February 2009 — its primetime ratings were trumped only by fútbol. Appropriate.

In terms of the content, though, the producers do try to stick to the structure of the original, including having musical and celebrity guest hosts. Sometimes staying true to American SNL got as specific as remaking popular sketches.

Do you got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell? Maybe you should check out this sketch from Spain’s SNL:

It’s not Behind the Music, it’s History of Rock Spain, and in place of the Blue Oyster Cult, this version has some percussive fun at the expensive Spanish heavy metal band Baron Rojo.

Videos with English subtitles are difficult to come by, but sketches like the “cowbell” sketch or this one below that feature broad, physical comedy don’t necessarily need translation to be in on the joke.

See, the Spanish think Italian men are a bunch of horny Lotharios too! We’re not so different after all. Ahhh, stereotypes.

The cast was made up of five well-known comedians in Spain, including Secun de la Rosa who gained popularity as a humorous performer in movies and TV while also being a trained theater actor; Gorka Otxoa, known for the television show A Matter of Sex; and Edu Soto, a famous Catalan comedian who already had an arsenal of wacky characters. He first gained popularity on the television show Buenafuente.

Eva Hache also began in theater, but moved on to do stand-up comedy. She performed some monologues for the Paramount Comedy Channel and Globomedia soon snatched her up to write and produce for them. She’s perhaps most popular for her late-night show Noche Hache.

And lastly we have Yolanda Ramos who like many of her costars came from a theater background, but gained real fame for doing impersonations on the Spanish comedy show Homo Zapping. Lost in Translation Alert: it’s called Homo Zapping, but it’s not what it sounds like. The show parodied popular television shows, news and popular culture in Spain. I’m not certain what exactly the following clip is parodying, but it’s a taste of the show.

And what a taste indeed, amirightladies? Sorry. When it premiered in 2003, Spanish television did not offer many parody-only programs, bolstering the show’s initial appeal. Later in 2007, it was renamed Homo Zapping News and was cancelled shortly thereafter due to low ratings.

According to a BBC languages resource on Spanish, humor in Spain is a group activity with little room for sarcasm. It’s less about being clever and more about being honest and blunt. Which may explain why Spanish humor is often quite sexual and over-the-top. Remember the Italian restaurant sketch from SNL when the waiter is openly boning a patron on her table? Might challenge our Puritanical roots, but in Spain this would probably be viewed as no big deal.

So what happened to Spain’s Thursday night version of Saturday Night Live after its stellar debut?

Cuatro’s page for Saturday Night Live has not been updated in over 700 days, which by industry standards is not a good sign. According to Film Affinity, it ran for only one season of 12 episodes. Voices en Español thought despite the comedy pedigree of the prototype, this Saturday Night Live simply wasn’t so funny. Of course, there’s a lot of Americans who would say the same about the original SNL and it manages to still get renewed after all these years. Feel free to discuss in the comments section below.

The presumed “failure” of Spain’s SNL could prove my thesis that the show is too American to work elsewhere, but I suspect the answer is not that simple. The Italian version ran for four years from 2006-2010. Paltry compared to 36 seasons, yes, but Saturday Night Live is an exceptional case.

Instead of indulging my aversion to the franchise import/export industry, the story of the Spanish SNL makes me curious to learn more about what shows that do succeed in Spain are like. One scoop of that please.

Laura Turner Garrison sometimes writes commercials, she sometimes writes comedy, but she always rights wrongs.