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The History of Saturday Night Live

VO: Rebecca Brayton
"Saturday Night Live" first aired in 1975 on NBC. The sketch comedy and variety television show was an immediate success and also helped turn many of its cast members into stars as well. Known for its edgy, often political humor, its hilarious skits, celebrity hosts and musical guests, the show has made a truly unique mark on pop culture. The show has won many Emmy Awards and continues to evolve and adapt throughout the years. In this video, we take a look at the history of "Saturday Night Live".

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First Episode

Developed by Lorne Michaels and Dick Ebersol, “Saturday Night Live” is a late-night comedy and variety program that aired its first episode on October 11th, 1975 on NBC.

Initial Line-up

Following its premiere, the show’s immediate success turned its cast members into bona fide stars. Known as The Not Ready for Prime Time Players, the initial line-up consisted of actors such as Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase.

Season 1

“Saturday Night Live” was conceived as a variety program to showcase edgy, often politicized, humor. The first season highlighted young comedians acting with a different guest host each week as well as musical performances, and included the program’s longest running sketch, Weekend Update.

First Few Seasons

During the second season, Bill Murray was hired to replace Chevy Chase. Throughout the next few years, “Saturday Night Live” became popular among a younger television audience for its memorable characters and catch-phrases, as seen in skits such as The Blues Brothers, The Coneheads and The Nerds.

Lorne Michaels' Departure

Season five was fraught with tension and personal problems behind-the-scenes. This led to the departure of Lorne Michaels and many of the cast and crew, including writer and featured player, Al Franken. Helmed by Jean Doumanian, the next season was a commercial disappointment, though it did introduce the comedic talents of Eddie Murphy. His contributions were seen in his impersonations of the clay-figure Gumby and Stevie Wonder.

Dick Ebersol Years

Dick Ebersol then took over the reins for several years, with a mostly new cast and more straightforward sketches. Murphy’s 1984 departure resulted in the hiring of new actors, such as Billy Crystal and Martin Short, and that season was critically acclaimed.

More Changes

Nevertheless, neither Ebersol nor any of the newly added actors returned to the show when Lorne Michaels came back later that year for its eleventh season. Michaels hired both well-known and little-known actors, such as Randy Quaid, Robert Downey, Jr., Dennis Miller and Jon Lovitz, though this cast did not do as well as was hoped.

High Ratings with New Actors

A new crop of actors was hired in the late 1980s, and as a result the ratings for “Saturday Night Live” shot up. This was thanks to classic characters and impersonations like Dana Carvey's Church Lady, Mike Myer's Linda Richman, and, in the early '90s, Phil Hartman's Bill Clinton. There were also quite a few popular recurring sketches during this time, like Pumping Up with Hanz and Franz and Wayne’s World.

Another Transition

Another transition soon came along. New players who found fame included David Spade, Chris Farley and Adam Sandler. These actors became known for characters such as the Total Bastard Airlines Steward, Matt Foley: Motivational Speaker and Opera Man, respectively. A later addition to the cast was Molly Shannon, who created the fictional character of Mary Katherine Gallagher.

Will Ferrell and More

The following years saw a huge turnover as many cast members left and new ones were hired. In the late ‘90s, actors such as Cheri Oteri, Darrell Hammond, Chris Kattan, and Will Ferrell made a splash. Some of their notable sketches were the overzealous Spartan Cheerleaders, Celebrity Jeopardy and the clubbing Butabi Brothers. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, they were joined by Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon, who became particularly successful as co-anchors of Weekend Update.

Digital Shorts

Changes continued in 2005 with the addition of featured players, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg. The latter half of the decade became known especially for the SNL Digital Shorts, produced by The Lonely Island comedy troupe.


Throughout the years, “Saturday Night Live” has been credited with influencing public opinion with their sharp political sketches. Impressions of Jimmy Carter, George Bush and Sarah Palin come to mind. The show has had many hosts coming from a variety of backgrounds as well.

Comedy, Music, Sports and More

From comedy to music to sports and politics, people like Steve Martin, Sting, Charles Barkley and Al Gore have taken over hosting duties. It has also featured many successful musical acts, such as Ray Charles, Sinead O’Connor, Madonna, Nirvana and Coldplay.

Emmy-Award Winning TV

It can thus be said that “Saturday Night Live” has not been afraid to push the boundaries of comic relief. After having launched the careers of many performers, the Emmy-Award winning program is a pop culture staple.

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