The History of Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live (SNL) is one of the television staples that has transcended the TV medium. Everyone who watches television knows this show. Dozens of fine comedic actors, from John Belushi in the 70’s and up to Will Ferrell in the 00’s, have gone on to star in some of the best comedies of each individual decade they were either on the show or right after they left. SNL has been a launching point for so many comedy careers it boggles the mind.
It began in October 1975, with one of the greatest stand-up comedy performers of all time, George Carlin, as the first host. The “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” bit was sort of a joke. It was a dig on TV itself, as SNL poked fun at the fact their show was slotted for a prime time slot during the week but rather on Saturday night. NBC had been airing re-runs of Johnny Carson during the weekends but since Johnny wanted some time off every now and then, they decided to air these re-runs during the week to accommodate his wishes.
So then Dick Ebersol, head of NBC’s late night programming, looked to create a show to fill that weekend slot. He approached Lorne Michaels and they came up with a high concept sketch comedy show, to be filmed live in front of an audience every week. The show always starts with a cold intro and at the end of this sketch, someone breaks character and yells “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
It became an instant hit and it’s not really surprising because of the tremendous talent involved. In addition to Belushi, they had Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Garrett Morris and Chevy Chase. Chase was the first major one to jump ship of course but he was fast replaced by Bill Murray. When Aykroyd and Belushi’s film careers took off in the late 70’s, due in part to The Blues Brothers sketch getting a full film treatment, Lorne Michaels began to worry that he was losing the rest of the cast.
His worries were well funded when Murray and the rest dropped out but this initial turn over became a fundamental concept of the show over the years. Old members drop out, new blood comes in and that has always kept it fresh and fun over the decades. Of course many of the audience rejected the next crop of performers but then when Eddie Murphy was unleashed upon the world of television, things were never the same.
Joe Piscopo joined him and SNL was off and running once more. Of course, Eddie didn’t last long on the show because his own film career exploded and SNL was akin to college basketball programs where athletically gifted youngsters break out and move on to NBA careers. The show struggled for a while in this respect and sometimes turned to established comedians that could bring their own materials, albeit at higher costs.
The early 90’s saw a resurgence to the show’s line-up. They featured Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Phil Hartman and David Spade. Many of them did movies in between their stints on the show but it wasn’t long before they were either dead, in the case of Hartman and Farley, or moved on to do movies full time.
The next wave came on the heels of Will Ferrel’s inclusion in the late 90’s. He, along with Tracy Morgan, Tim Meadows and others, carried the torch into this latest millennium to audiences all around the world.
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The most consistent and coveted segment of the show is undoubtedly the Weekend Update, which could be said to be an influence on shows like John Stewart’s Daily Show, where faux news is as revered as “real” news. You can watch new and old episodes of Saturday Night Live on NBC. No matter which cast is present, SNL continues to influence the world of television.