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Don Pardo, whose voice graced NBC's air for 70 years and one network institution, "Saturday Night Live," for nearly 40, died Monday at his home in Tucson. He was 96.
That voice -- a sturdy, redoubtable baritone that seemed to resonate to the rafters of "SNL's" longtime home, Studio 8H -- was among the most recognized in broadcasting history. New Yorkers heard it -- frequently -- on WNBC/4 for years on the "Live at Five" newscast. The rest of the nation became familiar with Pardo's distinct delivery from game shows ("The Price Is Right"), commercials, and even the rare movie ("Radio Days") or series ("The Simpsons") much later in his career, when Pardo effectively became synonymous with how most people assumed the classic TV presenter should sound.
Pardo's voice was magic: Slightly singsong, it was both in on the joke and part of the joke -- that old-time broadcaster's delivery in service to a new-time comedy/TV franchise that was designed in part to send up the conventions of the medium from which it sprang.
He most centrally occupied a cherished place in the history of one franchise in particular: "Saturday Night Live."
Pardo, who joined at the show's launch in 1975, was seldom seen -- a disembodied presence whose words floated out of the darkness and across the country every Saturday night. (His booth was located in the spot where Arturo Toscanni had once conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra.) He didn't actually say "Live from New York!" -- that was left, of course, to whoever closed the opening segment -- but his ritual was just as valuable: A rundown of cast members, repertory players, guest hosts, musical guests and other in-show announcements including "Weekend Update."
To have one's name announced by Pardo on "SNL" was to have been consecrated in some sort of cosmic comic firmament -- or as former cast member Amy Poehler said in a statement posted on The Wrap.com Tuesday, "My whole life changed once Don Pardo said my name."
By all accounts a modest, self-effacing man in an immodest business, Pardo survived nonetheless in grand style, literally phoning it in. During the last few years following his retirement, he would record the intros at his Arizona home. He had a rare lifetime contract, and continued working for NBC and "SNL" well past his official retirement in 2004.
Born Dominick George Pardo in 1918 in Westfield, Massachusetts, Pardo began his career at Providence radio station WJAR in 1942, and joined NBC in 1944. He never left. He read news dispatches on the radio from the front lines during World War II and after the war was announcer for the "The Arthur Murray Party," "Colgate Comedy Hour" and "Your Show of Shows."
In 1954, he was brought in to announce "Winner Takes All," beginning a long run in game shows -- "The Price is Right" (1956-63) and briefly the original "Jeopardy!" (1964-75), hosted by Art Fleming. He also announced the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to NBC listeners in 1963.
In 2010, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame.
Pardo, whose wife, Kay, died in 1995, is survived by five children.
"Saturday Night Live" writer Leslie Jones continued to be kicked around the Internet Tuesday morning in the wake of her performance on "Weekend Update" -- the "in-house image expert" who (umm) explained how "the way we view black beauty" has changed since slavery.
If the current standard for success on TV is defined by Twitter "conversations," retweets, online musings (aka blogs), and the resulting TV commentary, then Jones absolutely is the standout success of the 39th season to date.
Everyone has an opinion about her sketch, ranging from virulently-against to the positively-for, while the very sketch itself has even prompted a broad discussion on the Nature of Comedy, and What is Funny, and even the Too Soon question -- as in, is it too soon to joke about slavery, or will there ever be a time when it won't be too soon? (Jones herself has taken to Twitter to defend herself.)
In fact, a little bit lost in the whole debate seems to be that it's been done before -- comedy about slavery which sought the same sort of reaction that Jones' performance was clearly meant to elicit: Discomfort, anger, maybe even fury. Comedy, after all, isn't always about making people laugh.
Here's briefly the history -- both ancient and modern. Richard Pryor had a comedy series on NBC in 1977 that sprang from a hugely successful one-time special. The series didn't last, but thanks to the Internet, Pryor's famous opening "slave ship" sketch did.
Next, and much more recently, Key and Peele performed a slave skit; also posted below, and which has been cited as funnier take (by some) on the subject than the Jones skit..
Dave Chappelle, meanwhile, worked this material for years. ("Time-haters" is an example -- posted here, and which contains some language that many will find also offensive; but it was on his show and it also has had a long life on the Internet.)
There are a few ways certainly to think about this material, including Jones' skit, and one of them might be this way: Comedy is and almost certainly should be at times about prodding the complacent among us. It can do that by taking something that has been so completely anesthetized and compartmentalized -- in the case of slavery, by history books, and the sheer passage of time, and the sense among people that this towering evil happened long ago and far away and could never happen again -- and then turning it into a visceral gut-punch. Maybe that's not funny, or maybe it is, but it does get people talking and thinking. On that point alone, Jones wins by default.
Louis CK returned as host of "Saturday Night Live" and even the barest glance at Twitter yesterday seemed to suggest a desultory afterglow -- lowest rated, or near-lowest rated edition of the season, and therefore ho-hum.
But as usual, viewers who didn't bother to tune in missed one of the best episodes of the season -- excellent cold open, parodying President Obama's health care hard-sell, and easily the best host monologue of the entire season. Who knows really why ratings were low ... but there were nonrepresentative. (Many good skits, too.)
Meanwhile, here's CK's monologue -- actually an unusually non-blue eight minutes of very good and thoughtful material. "Thoughtful material" in a host monologue? Imagine that.