THROWBACK THURSDAY: Saturday Night Live Debuts

{excerpted from History online}

Saturday Night Live (SNL), representing a new kind of comedic late-night variety show, debuted on NBC on October 11, 1975 starring then relatively unknown comedians Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman. It would go on to become the longest-running, highest-rated show on late-night television. The 90-minute program, which from its inception has been broadcast live from Studio 8H in the GE Building at Rockefeller Center, includes a different guest host and musical act each week. The opening sketch of each show ends with one actor saying, Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

Cast of the first Saturday Night Live broadcast.

Created by the Canadian-born comedy writer Lorne Michaels, SNL has introduced a long list of memorable characters and catchphrases ” from Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannada, to the Coneheads, to Billy Crystal’s Fernando ( You look mahvelous ), to Dana Carvey’s Church Lady ( Isn’t that special? ), to bodybuilders Hans and Franz ( We’re going to pump you up ), to Coffee Talk host Linda Richman ( like buttah  and I’m all verklempt ) ”that have become part of pop-culture history. The show, whose cast has changed continually over the years, has also launched the careers of such performers as Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tina Fey. Some SNL sketches have even been turned into feature films, the two most successful examples being 1980’s The Blues Brothers and 1992’s Wayne’s World.

The show was originally known as NBC’s Saturday Night because there was another show on ABC called Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell. However, NBC eventually purchased the naming rights, and since 1977 the edgy comedy program has been called Saturday Night Live. Lorne Michaels served as the show’s producer from 1975 to 1980 and then returned in 1985 and has remained executive producer ever since.

In 1974, NBC Tonight Show host Johnny Carson requested that weekend broadcasts of “Best of Carson” come to an end so that Carson could take two weeknights off. Given Carson’s undisputed status as the king of late-night television, NBC heard his request as an ultimatum, fearing he might use the issue as grounds to defect to either ABC or CBS. To fill the gap, the network drew up some ideas and brought in Dick Ebersol “ a prot “g ” of legendary ABC Sports president Roone Arledge “ to develop a 90-minute late-night variety show. Ebersol’s first order of business was hiring a young Canadian producer named Lorne Michaels to be the show-runner.[1]

When the first show aired with George Carlin as its host, it was called NBC’s Saturday Night because ABC featured a program at the same time titled Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell. After ABC cancelled the Cosell program in 1976, the NBC program changed its name to Saturday Night Live on March 26, 1977 (and subsequently picked up Bill Murray from Cosell’s show in 1977, as well). Every night, Don Pardo introduced the cast, a job he held for 39 years until his death in 2014.

Candace Bergen became the first woman to assume SNL hosting duties in the first season and went on to host the program four more times. In 1982, seven-year-old Drew Barrymore hosted the show, becoming the youngest person ever to do so. Starting in 1976, Steve Martin has hosted SNL 14 times; since 1990, Alec Baldwin 13 times; John Goodman a dozen times since 1989. Other frequent guest hosts include Buck Henry, Chevy Chase, Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted SNL together in 2015.

In addition, SNL has welcomed a Who’s Who of the most popular musicians of each time period, from appearances by James Taylor, Carly Simon, and Anne Murray in the early days, Men at Work and The Cars in the ’80s, to hip-hop and pop musicians and bands in the ’90s, and Kid Rock, Norah Jones, Justin Bieber and Cardi B since 2000. Billy Preston and Janis Ian were the musical guests of the first broadcast.

SNL is known for its topical parodies and impersonations, and for pushing boundaries with its sketches. The show is also recognized for its political humor. Chevy Chase famously portrayed President Gerald Ford as a klutz, while Dana Carvey spoofed President George H.W. Bush and his read my lips  line. More recently, Amy Poehler has played Senator Hillary Clinton in numerous skits (including one with the senator herself) and Tina Fey has portrayed 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.