Monday, October 11, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Debut of "Saturday Night Live"

[Of the original members of the Not Ready For Prime Time Players, only
George Coe and Michael O'Donoghue left the cast before the fame and
adulation - and photographer Edie Baskin - overtook them,
although O'Donoghue stayed four seasons as a writer.

On this day in 1975 Lorne Michaels debuted a new kind of show, a combination of sketches and musical performance and whatever else seemed like a good idea at the time... The idea was that if everything got thrown at the wall, some of it was bound to stick; it's a policy which has yielded some so-so material and considerable moments of transcendence during the last 35 years.

Originally called NBC's Saturday Night (due to a conflict over the original title Michaels wanted - namely Saturday Night Live - which was then being used by sportscaster Howard Cosell on ABC) the show had been conceived by NBC to replace Saturday night repeats of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Then, as now, the show was shot in and broadcast from from Studio 8H in New York's Rockefeller Center.

The first episode was hosted by George Carlin and featured musical guests Billy Preston and Janis Ian; even though it features many of the elements with which we are familiar today - a cold opening followed by the famous phrase 'Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!', announcer Don Pardo (who flubbed, calling the cast the Not For Ready Prime Time Players), a monologue by the host, sketches, musical numbers, commercial parodies, awkward attitudes toward male homosexuality, and Weekend Update - hosted by Chevy Chase and featuring a 'live remote' by Laraine Newman - at the time only Laugh-In came close to the mix Michaels had envisioned.

Among the oddities featured on the first episode were a sketch by Jim Henson's Muppets (which paved the way for Henson's legendary Muppet Show the following year), standup by Valri Bromfield, and a typically surreal appearance by Andy Kaufman. The first episode, and indeed the First Season, is naturally available on DVD.
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