A new kind of late night show, able to tap into a new generation’s funny bone and love of music, made some rules, broke others and changed Saturday nights forever. Broadcast live from New York, “Saturday Night Live” became everyone’s late night obsession and the bane of empty clubs everywhere. The show is still going strong 40 years later. This is why.
A young television producer named Lorne Michaels had an idea. Along with NBC’s freshly-minted Director of Weekend Late Night Programming, Dick Ebersol, Michaels conceived and developed a new concept for late night television and “SNL” was born. The show made its debut on October 11, 1975. An immediate sensation, the show featured an ensemble cast of comics and improv performers, as well as a stable of writers seamlessly able to tap into their sweet spots. As executive producer of the show, Michaels led an irreverent team of comedians, writers and musicians on a magical journey, taking viewers along for an astonishing ride.
The hallmark of “SNL’s” humor is equal parts political parody and “I can’t believe they thought of that” concept humor. The show launched a thousand careers, including iconic, original cast members, “The Not Ready For Prime Time Players,” Laraine Newman, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase. As the seasons changed, so did the cast. New members included Bill Murray, break-out sensation Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Dana Carvey, Tina Fey, Chris Rock and baby-faced Jimmy Fallon. Established comedians also graced the show’s roster over the years and included the incomparable Billy Crystal and caustic Martin Short. In all, the show has featured over 130 cast members during its 40-year run.
Live television has its challenges and some of the show’s skits have remained more popular than others. Those with staying power include the tongue-in-cheek news focused “Weekend Update,” which has starred a number of cast members including Seth Meyers, Chase, Fey, Fallon and Amy Poehler. Other timeless skits include Belushi, Murray and Aykroyd’s “Killer Bees,” Aykroyd and Belushi’s “Blues Brothers,” Eddie Murphy’s “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood,” and Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady.”
Actors, comedians, musicians and sports stars have all hosted the show 90 minute show over the years and have included Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, George Carlin, Dave Grohl, Tom Hanks, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. Hosts who appear on the show five times or more are said to be members of the coveted, “Five-Timers Club.” These include Martin, Baldwin, Danny DeVito, Ben Affleck and John Goodman. The hosts typically open the show with a goofy monologue and good-naturedly appear in a number of skits.
The roster of musicians who have graced “SNL’s” stage over the years are impressive. Musical guests have included Lady Gaga, Billy Joel, Bill Withers, Elton John, Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Justin Timberlake, James Taylor and The Grateful Dead.
The “SNL” Band also lends its music to the show each week, playing instrumental leads between skits and in and out of commercial breaks. Members have included iconic studio musicians Paul Shaffer, David Sanborn and David Johansen.
On Feb. 15, 2015, SNL celebrated its 40th anniversary with a star-studded broadcast.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.