Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live

Synopsis of TV Show

“Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

It’s 1975. Here’s a list of five good reasons why Saturday Night Live is destined to fail: 1. Nobody does live TV anymore. 2. Variety shows are a dying breed. 3. Nobody hip wants to watch TV on a Saturday night. 4. Nobody at all wants to watch TV on a Saturday night at 11:30 pm. 5. These so-called “comedians”? Never heard of them.

And now here’s the counter-argument: It’s funny…very funny. How funny? Funny enough that arguments 1-5 just don’t matter. This was TV worth staying up for, TV worth staying in for, TV worth talking about, quoting, imitating, and committing to memory for later laughs. This was the kind of funny that would make Saturday Night Live a TV institution for more than a quarter century, still going strong today.

Former Laugh-In writer Lorne Michaels was the show’s original producer, heading up an assemblage of talent that included several National Lampoon magazine writers and a cast of show regulars known as “The Not Ready for Prime Time Players”—Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner. The idea was that the regulars would present a series of comedy sketches during the 90-minute program—broken up by musical numbers—while hosting duties would go to a different guest host each week. George Carlin was the first, and literally hundreds more would follow, including everyone from semi-regular Steve Martin to folk singer Paul Simon to consumer advocate Ralph Nader to pro athletes Fran Tarkenton, Joe Montana, Wayne Gretsky and Michael Jordan.

It didn’t take long for word to spread about the late-night shenanigans on NBC. The comedy was often outrageous (sparking a bit of controversy on occasion), and several characters and sketches became running favorites. Chevy Chase’s comic bumbling (especially as President Gerald Ford) and “Weekend Update” news reports were popular enough that the comic decided to move on after the first season, but there were plenty of other shining moments: The Killer Bees, the Greek restaurant (“cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger…”), Belushi’s Samurai warrior, the Coneheads (Aykroyd, Curtin and Newman), Belushi and Aykroyd as the Blues Brothers, the clever land shark, the Czechoslovakian “wild and crazy guys” (Aykroyd and Steve Martin), and a revised Weekend Update with Curtin and Aykroyd (“Jane, you ignorant slut”) and commentary from Radner’s Roseanne Rosannadanna and Emily Litella (“Never mind”).

Bill Murray joined the cast in 1977, adding characters like a crooning lounge singer and nerdy high school kid Todd de la Muca (played off of Radner’s equally nerdy Lisa Loopner), but the changes were just beginning. The entire cast of regulars left in 1980, many moving on to long careers in television and film (including the SNL big-screen spinoff The Blues Brothers). Lorne Michaels left as well, and new producer Jean Doumanian brought in an all-new lineup in 1980. Ratings were disappointing, Doumanian was replaced by Dick Ebersol, and the cast was once again overhauled, retaining only Joe Piscopo and a young comedian named Eddie Murphy from the 1980 season.

This second wave of SNL programming was less successful than the first, but it had its share of classic bits and unforgettable characters as well. Among them: Murphy’s Buckwheat, Gumby, James Brown and Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood; Piscopo’s Ted Koppel and Frank Sinatra (the latter performing a memorable version of “Ebony and Ivory” with Murphy’s Stevie Wonder); Martin Short as the Pat Sajak-obsessed Ed Grimley; Billy Crystal as Fernando of “Fernando’s Hideaway” (“You look mahvelous”); Crystal and Tim Kazurinsky as a pair of security guards with very odd pain experiences (“Don’t you just hate it when…”); and the infamous moments when (on separate nights) frequent guest Andy Kaufman was voted off the show permanently and cast member Charles Rocket let out a televised F-word that got him fired.

Lorne Michaels returned to the show in the spring of 1985, and once more the cast was overhauled for that fall season. Of this cast, only Nora Dunn and Jon Lovitz (whose “pathological liar” was a season highlight) stayed on for the 1986-87 season, which brought in newcomers Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Victoria Jackson and Dennis Miller (the latter as the snarky new Weekend Update anchor). This cast, along with later additions Kevin Nealon and Mike Myers, sparked a bit of a renaissance for SNL, giving the show its highest popular and critical appeal since the departure of the original cast.

The late 80’s and early 90’s brought such memorable sketches as Carvey’s Church Lady (“Well isn’t that special?”), lounge singers the Sweeney Sisters (Dunn and Hooks), bodybuilders Hans and Franz (Nealon and Carvey), Jackson’s various dumb blondes, Hartman as Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, Myers’ German talk show host Dieter (“Touch my monkey!”) from “Sprockets,” Lovitz’s Master Thespian, Toonces the Driving Cat, Myers and Carvey as the stars of basement metalhead community access cable show “Wayne’s World,” and the singing trio of Tonto, Tarzan and Frankenstein (Lovitz, Nealon and Hartman). As these sketches caught on, Michaels began thinking in bigger and more profitable terms, and Wayne’s World was spun off into its own blockbuster feature film.

Several other SNL films followed (everything from Coneheads to a feature version of long-time writer/performer Al Franken’s unlicensed therapist Stuart Smalley), and new talent was constantly brought in as the late-80’s regulars began to move on. Chris Farley became a major star thanks to hyperactive roles like motivational speaker Matt Foley (“When you’re livin’ in a van, down by the river!”), as did Adam Sandler with his goofy songs and cast of oddball characters (Opera Man, Cajun Man, Canteen Boy, etc.). Julia Sweeney’s androgynous Pat was another early 90’s favorite, as were Chris Rock’s militant talk show host Nat X, Rob Schneider’s copy man (“The Steve-inator, makin’ co-pies…”), and David Spade’s acid-tongued “Hollywood Minute.”

The mid-90’s brought another cast turnover, though not all at once this time. Early-90’s addition Tim Meadows stayed with the show through the end of the decade, as new talents like Molly Shannon, Jim Breuer, Will Ferrel, Darrell Hammond, Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan and Ana Gasteyer filtered in. With the new cast came sketches like Meadows’ Ladies Man, Breuer’s Goat Boy, the boogieing Roxbury boys (Ferrel and Kattan), Shannon’s Catholic schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher, the “Spartan Spirit” cheerleaders (Ferrel and Oteri) and middle school teacher lounge act Marty and Bobbi Culp (Ferrel and Gasteyer).

Even with the show’s countless changes, Saturday Night Live has had a few constants over its more than 25 years on the air. The variety-style format made SNL a showcase for musical talent, from huge acts like the Rolling Stones and Madonna to little-known up-and-comers. The SNL stage has seen performances from Sting, David Bowie, the Eurythmics, Tina Turner, Prince, Nirvana, ‘N Sync, and unforgettable moments from Elvis Costello (who switched from “Less Than Zero” to the incendiary “Radio Radio” in mid-song) and Sinead O’Connor (who ignited a firestorm of controversy when she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on stage).

Another constant in SNL canon has been its spoofery of television commercials (from the Bass-O-Matic to Schmitt’s Gay Beer) and all things political. In the years since Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford, every U.S. President from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan to George Bush to Bill Clinton has been roasted on the show, along with parodies of the Nixon tapes, the Iran-Contra affair, the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings and the Clinton/Lewinsky/Linda Tripp/Kenneth Starr brouhaha. Every political sideshow of the past quarter century has been fodder for SNL sketches, and many an American youth learned all he or she knew about contemporary U.S. politics from staying up late on Saturday nights.

After more than 25 years, Saturday Night Live has become many things to many people. To some, it’s a springboard for film comedy careers—Chase, Aykroyd, Murray, Murphy, Myers, Sandler, and so on. To others, it’s a never-ending catchphrase factory, churning out tee-shirt-ready quotes like “Consume mass quantities,” “I’m Gumby, dammit!,” “Could it beeeeeeeee….Satan?,” “Not!,” and dozens more mentioned already. To still others, it’s the source of endless “small-screen sketch to big-screen comedy” conversions, as films like Superstar and The Ladies Man keep that tradition alive into the new millennium. But to most members of every generation from 1975 to today, it’s still simply the best reason to stay up and stay home on a Saturday night.

Release History of Prime Time Show

10/11/75 - ? NBC

TV Sub Categories


Television Network


Television Studio

NBC, Broadway Video

TV Cast

Dan Aykroyd   Himself (1975-79)
John Belushi   Himself (1975-79)
Chevy Chase   Himself (1975-76)
Jane Curtin   Herself (1975-80)
Garrett Morris  Himself (1975-80)
Laraine Newman   Herself (1975-80)
Gilda Radner   Herself (1975-80)
Albert Brooks  Himself (1975-76)
George Coe   Himself (1975)
Andy Kaufman   Himself (1975-82)
Michael O'Donoghue   Himself (1975-79)
Don Pardo   Himself / Announcer (1975-)
Tom Davis   Himself (1977-80)
Al Franken  Himself (1977-80, 1986, 1987-95)
Bill Murray   Himself (1977-80)
Don Novello   Himself/Father Guido Sarducci (1978-80, 1985-86)
Paul Shaffer   Himself (1978-80)
Jim Downey   Himself (1979-80)
Harry Shearer   Himself (1979-80, 1984-85)
Peter Aykroyd   Himself (1980)
Denny Dillon   Herself (1980-81)
Gilbert Gottfried   Himself (1980-81)
Yvonne Hudson   Herself (1980-81)
Matthew Laurance   Himself (1980-81)
Gail Matthius   Herself (1980-81)
Joe Piscopo   Himself (1980-84)
Ann Risley   Herself (1980-81)
Charles Rocket   Himself (1980-81)
Terry Sweeney   Himself (1980-81)
Patrick Weathers   Himself (1980-81)
Brian Doyle-Murray   Himself (1981-82)
Robin Duke   Herself (1981-84)
Christine Ebersole   Herself (1981-82)
Mary Gross   Herself (1981-85)
Tim Kazurinsky   Himself (1981-84)
Eddie Murphy   Himself (1981-84)
Tony Rosato   Himself (1981-82)
Brad Hall   Himself (1982-84)
Gary Kroeger   Himself (1982-85)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus   Herself (1982-85)
James Belushi   Himself (1983-85)
Billy Crystal   Himself (1984-85)
Christopher Guest   Himself (1984-85)
Rich Hall   Himself (1984-85)
Martin Short   Himself (1984-85)
Pamela Stephenson   Herself (1984-85)
Joan Cusack   Herself (1985-86)
Robert Downey Jr.*   Himself (1985-86)
Anthony Michael Hall   Himself (1985-86)
Nora Dunn   Herself (1985-90)
Jon Lovitz   Himself (1985-90)
Bruce McCulloch   Himself (1985-86, 1994-95)
Dennis Miller   Himself (1985-90)
Randy Quaid   Himself (1985-86)
Danitra Vance   Herself (1985-86)
Dan Vitale   Himself (1985-86)
Damon Wayans   Himself (1985-86)
A. Whitney Brown   Himself (1986-91)
Dana Carvey   Himself (1986-93)
Phil Hartman   Himself (1986-94)
Jan Hooks   Herself (1986-91)
Victoria Jackson   Herself (1986-92)
Kevin Meaney   Himself (1986)
Kevin Nealon   Himself (1986-95)
Mike Myers   Himself (1989-95)
Ben Stiller   Himself (1989)
Chris Farley   Himself (1990-95)
Chris Rock   Himself (1990-93)
Julia Sweeney   Herself (1990-94)
Beth Cahill   Herself (1991-93)
Ellen Cleghorne   Herself (1991-95)
Siobhan Fallon   Herself (1991-92)
Melanie Hutsell   Herself (1991-94)
Tim Meadows   Himself (1991-2000)
Adam Sandler   Himself (1991-95)
Rob Schneider   Himself (1991-94)
Robert Smigel   Himself/Animator (1991-93)
David Spade   Himself (1991-95)
Norm Macdonald   Himself (1993-98)
Jay Mohr   Himself (1993-95)
Sarah Silverman   Herself (1993-94)
Morwenna Banks   Herself (1994-95)
Chris Elliott  Himself (1994-95)
Janeane Garofalo   Herself (1994-95)
Laura Kightlinger   Herself (1994-95)
Michael McKean   Himself (1994-95)
Mark McKinney   Himself (1994-97)
Molly Shannon   Herself (1994-2001)
Jim Breuer   Himself (1995-98)
Will Ferrell   Himself (1995-)
Darrell Hammond   Himself (1995-)
David Koechner   Himself (1995-96)
Cheri Oteri   Herself (1995-2000)
Colin Quinn   Himself (1995-2000)
Nancy Walls   Herself (1995-96)
Ana Gasteyer   Herself (1996-)
Chris Kattan   Himself (1996-)
Tracy Morgan   Himself (1996-)
Fred Wolf  Himself (1996)
Jimmy Fallon   Himself (1998-)
Chris Parnell   Himself (1998-)
Horatio Sanz   Himself (1998-)
Rachel Dratch   Herself (1999-)
Tina Fey Herself (2000-)
Jerry Minor   Himself (2000-)
Maya Rudolph   Herself (2000-)

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