- “Saturday Night Live” premiered on October 11, 1975. The very first host was George Carlin.
- Season 46 is set to premiere on October 3, 2020, hosted by Chris Rock.
- The first cast, to many people, remains the best of all time.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
“Saturday Night Live” remains one of the most iconic institutions in TV history. For decades, it has been the goal of many a comedian to grace the halls of Studio 8H and scream “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night.”
This all started with a group known as the “Not Ready for Primetime Players,” the first cast of “Saturday Night Live,” along with writers, creator Lorne Michaels, and early replacement Bill Murray.
Keep scrolling to see vintage photos of “SNL” in its earliest days â€” and what some would call its best days.
“Saturday Night Live” premiered on October 11, 1975.
The first cast consisted of Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Michael O’Donoghue, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, George Coe, and Garrett Morris. They were called the “Not Ready for Primetime Players.”
The show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, has been with the show since the beginning, barring a brief hiatus in the ’80s.
Michaels created the show, and he was originally a writer and producer as well. Barring his hiatus in the ’80s between seasons six and 10, Michaels has been with the show since its inception. It’s entering its 46th season this year, with no signs of slowing down.
Here’s a peek at what it looked like behind the curtain in NBC’s control room in the ’70s.
“SNL” is exactly what it’s advertised to be: live. That’s why, sometimes, the show has aired people cursing accidentally (or on purpose, in the case of Charlie Rocket). The control room is there to oversee everything.
The very first host of the show was none other than comedic legend George Carlin.
Plenty of other comedic legends have passed through the halls of Studio 8H, like Richard Pryor.
Pryor hosted “SNL” just once, but left his mark forever. He took part in one of the show’s most controversial sketches of all time, the word association sketch with Chevy Chase. You can watch it here.
Here, you can see Desi Arnaz, along with Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase, rehearsing for his debut on the show.
Arnaz, of course, is known for “I Love Lucy.” He was, and is, TV royalty.
Beloved comedian Steve Martin has also stopped by a fair amount of times through the show’s four decades.
To be exact, Martin has hosted the show a whopping 15 times, putting him behind only Alec Baldwin as the show’s most frequent host.
But what really made “Saturday Night Live” the powerhouse that it is today was the original cast and their iconic sketches, like the Coneheads.
The Coneheads, an alien family who was trying to assimilate with American culture, was one of the show’s first smash successes. It was turned into a movie in 1993 with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin reprising their roles.
The Killer Bees was another recurring sketch that was popular during the show’s first seasons.
The Killer Bees was the first-ever sketch to recur on “SNL,” after it debuted in the first episode of the show. The humour almost entirely consisted of puns about bee anatomy.
“The only note we got from the network on the first show was ‘Cut the bees.’ And so I made sure I put them in the next show,” said creator Lorne Michaels, according to “Live From New York,” a 2002 book about the show’s history.
Even the hosts got involved with the bees — here’s host Candice Bergen participating with the cast.
Bergen has hosted the show five times.
Another popular sketch that was turned into a movie? The Blues Brothers, starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.
The Blues Brothers were even a musical guest on the show as time went on. They released an album in 1978 and a film, “The Blues Brothers,” in 1980.
After Belushi’s death, there was a sequel in 1998 entitled “Blues Brothers 2000,” which had John Goodman take over Belushi’s spot.
The longest-running sketch in the show’s history is Weekend Update, a spoof on network news shows. It’s still a weekly fixture.
Chevy Chase was the first to host the segment. The current Weekend Update hosts are Colin Jost and Michael Che.
But not everything about the first season worked. During the first few episodes, Jim Henson created sketches with the Muppets.
“NBC was so scared of what Lorne … was doing that they insisted on Jim Henson and the Muppets [to] soften it,” Bernie Brillstein, Henson’s manager, told Salon. “In the first contract for ‘SNL,’ there were three essential factors. Lorne Michaels, Jim Henson and the Muppets, and Albert Brooks’s [short] films.”
However, Henson and his creations only lasted for a season.
The show’s first star was Chevy Chase.
Chase hosted Weekend Update, appeared frequently in sketches, and was the first person to ever utter the phrase, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”
Chase was also famous for his pratfalls.
He was also famous for his impression of President Gerald Ford, who he’d get to meet at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 1976.
But Chase was also the first person to leave the show — he left Studio 8H behind just over a year after the show debuted.
Chase left right in the beginning of the second season, though he returned a number of times over the years. He even appeared in the 40th Anniversary Special.
Although Chase had left, the show still became a phenomenon.
To get tickets to “SNL,” you can either enter the lottery and wait to see if you win, or you can camp out outside the studio and try your luck with rush tickets, like these gentlemen.
The other members of the cast became stars in their own rights as well, most famously, John Belushi.
Belushi became the other breakout star of the show. He remained part of the cast until 1979, when left to focus on a movie career.
Belushi was one of the most beloved cast members in the show’s history.
Sadly, Belushi died in 1982 due to an overdose. He was 33.
Here’s Belushi with host Gary Busey in 1979.
Busey only hosted the one time, in 1979.
But while Belushi’s comedic chops can’t be denied, he had a more complicated relationship with his female co-stars.
“There were a few people that just out-and-out believe that women should not have been there and they believe that women were not innately funny,” said Jane Curtin on an episode of “Watch What Happens Live.” She added that he thought that “women should not be there.”
But we beg to differ. The first ladies of “SNL,” Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman, and Jane Curtin were, and are, some of the funniest cast members in “SNL” history.
Simply put, the show would not be what it is today without the contributions of these three women.
Gilda Radner, especially, was known for her recurring characters like Roseanne Roseannadanna.
Jane Curtin, the first female anchor of Weekend Update, did say she knew that John Belushi thought Radner was funny. “He thought Gilda was funny, but she really – he didn’t classify her as a woman. She was Gilda,” she said.
Dan Aykroyd was another integral part of the original cast.
Aykroyd left at the same time as John Belushi, in 1979.
Though he’s appeared sporadically in cameos on the show, Aykroyd has only hosted “SNL” once, in 2003.
Garrett Morris was another member of the original cast, and the first Black cast member on “SNL.”
Morris remained with the show until 1980, when the rest of the original cast left as well.
Here’s Morris as Chico Escuela, one of his recurring characters, alongside Chevy Chase’s replacement, Bill Murray.
Bill Murray was brought in to fill the hole that Chase left.
By season two, the show had mainly ironed out any wrinkles, especially with the addition of Murray.
This is part of the cast of season two.
Murray quickly solidified himself as one of the show’s most valuable players.
He began popping up on Weekend Update. Here he is with Don Novello playing his most famous character, Father Guido Sarducci.
Murray and Radner also dated off-screen during their “SNL” tenure.
There’s a legend that, at the 35th birthday party of Laraine Newman in 1987, Murray carried around his ex-girlfriend so that everyone would be able to say goodbye to her. “[Murray] was the one to carry the tired, terminally ill Gilda Radner, the first true breakout superstar of the group, round and round the house, prolonging her departure from the party with everyone saying goodbye a hundred times, not knowing it would be their last,”writes Little White Lies’ Rebecca Nicole Williams.
Sadly, Radner died two years later, in 1989, due to ovarian cancer.
As the decade closed, more and more people began appearing on-screen, like future senator Al Franken and Tom Davis.
Both Franken and Davis were writers on the show who would occasionally appear on-screen. When Lorne Michaels left in 1980, neither stuck with the show. Davis never returned as cast-member, but when Michaels returned to the show, so did Franken. He remained from 1985 through 1995.
Here’s Harry Shearer, who joined the show in 1979, alongside host Martin Sheen, and cast members Laraine Newman and Bill Murray.
Shearer was on two separate seasons: 1979-1980 and 1984-1985.
“Lorne set things up as a zero-sum game,” Shearer told Grantland in 2014. “If someone gets air time, that’s an incursion on somebody else’s chance at air time. As opposed to fostering a cooperative and collaborative atmosphere, a competitive atmosphere is fostered. So I don’t think anybody worried too much about what was happening to the new guy. That’s not a comment on [the cast members], that’s a comment on the system.”
Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten the final piece of what makes “SNL” special: the music.
Musical legend Paul Shaffer was one of the first leaders of the “SNL” band.
Plenty of musical legends have walked the halls of 30 Rock, especially in the ’70s. Here’s Willie Nelson during one of the earliest seasons.
Here’s George Harrison and Paul Simon in 1976.
While the Beatles famously never appeared on “SNL,” Harrison stopped by in 1976 to duet with Simon, who has frequently pulled double duty on the show – in other words, he’s been the host and the musical guest simultaneously.
Another legend to perform on “SNL” was Ray Charles.
Charles alsopulled double duty during his 1977 appearance.
One of the biggest rock stars of all time, David Bowie, also graced the stage of Studio 8H in 1979.
Performing in December of that year, he just made it within the ’70s.
As the years pass, every generation claims that “their” cast of the show is the best …
It’s a contentious battle.
… but those who can claim the cast members of the ’70s probably have the best case.
It’s easy to find these debates online. Rolling Stone ranked every single cast member back in 2015.
What we know for sure is that without the magic of the Not Ready for Primetime Players and their immediate successors, “SNL” wouldn’t be gearing up for season 46 this year.
- Read more:
- WHERE ARE THEY NOW: All 155 cast members in ‘Saturday Night Live’ history
- All 33 musicians who have pulled double duty as host and musical guest on ‘SNL’
- 14 celebrities who got rejected by ‘Saturday Night Live’ and went on to become famous in their own right
- 11 things you probably never knew about ‘Saturday Night Live’
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