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SNL “Special Treat” breaks TV/Web ground

December 21, 2006

Television is getting a little more brazen with its use of profanity. Ever since Bono’s awards-show f-bomb, producers have been figuring out ways to submit questionable content without alarming the censors.

Timberlake's special treat (NBC)In other words, how to be edgy, without drawing blood…

This weekend, Saturday Night Live aired a “SNL Digital Short” film by Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island troupe called “Special Treat.” (or “A Special Christmas Box,” I’ve heard it many different ways)

The film featured Samberg and the week’s host Justin Timberlake doing a parody of a ’90s boy-band duo (think Color Me Badd), crooning about a special boxed gift for their ladies this Christmas.

This film, now available on YouTube and NBC’s video site, has become an instant classic, with already two million downloads in just 5 days.

Producer Lorne Michaels revealed to the New York Times that the cast had to do an edited version of the skit for air with “bleeps” over the key vulgarity, describing the male anatomy, but intended to release the unedited version on the Internet — the first time a broadcast TV show has tried this unique method.

A link to both versions of the “Special Treat” on the NBC site is available here.

Mr. Pibb and Red vines = Crazy Delicious! (NBC)SNL has already has two wildfire viral Web video hits in a year’s time, both involving Samberg: The “Lazy Sunday” film (clip here) about going to see the Chronicles of Narnia and eating cupcakes, and the “No More Questions” gangsta rap parody (clip here) starring Natalie Portman.

Lazy Sunday was so popular then, it was the first free TV episode download on iTunes then-new television download store. Double True!

Portman and Sanberg from Both were pulled off YouTube by NBC due to copyright infringement, but now, NBC’s on board, and reaping the benefits.

From the NY Times article:

Still, the material was touchy enough, Mr. Ludwin said, that he sought final approval for the Web version of the video from the highest echelons of NBC, including Kevin Reilly, the president of NBC Entertainment , and Jeff Zucker, chief executive of NBC Universal Television Group.. Both approved the idea, he said. Another executive suggested that a disclaimer be placed before the Web-only version of the video that warned of its explicit content, a proposal that was immediately accepted.

As yet another production featuring Mr. Samberg spreads like electronic wildfire, the performer said he was pleased that the show was becoming so adept at finding alternate routes to viewers, beyond the 6.5 million who, on average, watch the show on NBC each Saturday night, according to Nielsen Media Research. (A figure that is down slightly since last year at this time.)

“A sign now of success with a certain audience when you do a short comedy piece, anywhere, is that it gets on YouTube and gets around,” Mr. Samberg said. “It’s always something you’re thinking about unconsciously. It’s not our main objective. But there’s no part of us that doesn’t want to be on YouTube.”

Which is not to say that NBC intends to make such decisions lightly in the future. “We’re still not going to put just anything out there,” said Jeff Gaspin, president of digital content for NBC Universal. “We still have to protect the brands.”

So my question is: If the clip is funny with the edits (it obviously is), why release the uncensored version? Is it just a case of artistic integrity?

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