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They say it's bloated, inefficient and out of touch. Preoccupied with infighting and unconcerned with serving its constituents. They say the time has come for change.

No, they're not talking about Congress. They're referring to "Saturday Night Live," which, in the view of all too many viewers this season, is about as funny as the average House subcommittee hearing.

The 20th season of "SNL" was scheduled to conclude May 14 with guest host David Duchovny, star of "The X-Files," and musical guest Rod Stewart. Then this august body recesses for the season. But let's look ahead to when it reconvenes next fall.

"I think there will be big changes next year, no question about it," says Lorne Michaels, "SNL" executive producer. "I think we're at the end of a cycle."

Good riddance to that cycle, some would say. And did say, in a flurry of negative articles and reviews the past few months, including a New York magazine behind-the-scenes cover story subtitled "How the Show That Transformed TV Became a Grim Joke."

In short, the press has called Michaels and his show everything but a taxi.

He says he has heard it all before.

Even back in what others may remember as the wondrous, do-no-wrong days of the show's first season, Michaels recalls a "devastating article" in Rolling Stone, "a backstage piece that at the time caused enormous grief."

It was Michaels, of course, who created "SNL" and remains the figure with whom it's most identified (even the 1980-1984 seasons, when he was gone). It is he who gets the credit or, more likely these days, the blame.

In a recent interview at NBC headquarters in New York City, Michaels conceded this season hasn't exactly been a triumph. Then he patiently explained what he sees as its big problem: Too many people vying for lines and camera time.

Consider: "SNL" was launched Oct. 11, 1975, with the Not Ready for Prime Time Players. Belushi, Radner, Aykroyd ... you knew them like the members of your own family, and you still do.

By contrast, last week's show listed 15 first- and second-string cast members. How many viewers could even name them all?

"By having as many players as we have," Michaels says, "I think the audience has had a harder time grabbing hold of them. So whether or not we've shown them to their best advantage is debatable. But these are all really funny people. The two who've been most criticized by the press this year, Adam Sandler and Chris Farley, are as good as anybody who's ever been here."

Another problem with too many cooks in the kitchen: a heightened threat of food fights.

"This many people in this stressful a situation is going to lead to a certain amount of pettiness," Michaels says, "and I think we have more than our share in terms of people not liking someone else's stuff."

He mentions no names, but one hard-to-miss example came courtesy of Sandler, who in February told a national magazine, "I agree with the critics who say that the writing [on 'SNL'] sucks this season."

"There's an enormous amount of pettiness," Michaels sighs. "These are really tough times for us. We need to focus on what the elements are that are going to take us into the next season, or the next four or five.

"There will be changes, big changes, coming in the fall," he vows, although just what those changes will be, other than a leaner ensemble, he isn't saying.

Never mind. Viewers will be there as Season 21 begins, to see what he has up his sleeve. He built "SNL," and they still come.

Come to think of it, "SNL" isn't so much like Congress as a major league team overdue for a pennant. Which would suggest that the TV show Michaels manages is something each of its fans, no matter how heartbroken from seasons past, continues to claim a piece of--and can't help rooting for.

"I think the show is in the middle of a renewal," Michaels says. "I think you'll see the results of that next season."

And the opener is just five months away!

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