On October 11th, 1975, American late night television changed forever.
35 years ago today, the very first episode of Saturday Night Live aired from studio 8H in 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the same studio the show continues to broadcast from. During the first season the show was called NBC’s Saturday Night due to a conflict with a sports show on ABC at the time named Saturday Night Live.
The format of the first episode was different as George Carlin was the host, but only appeared on stage to do stand up, never appearing in an actual sketch, of which there was very few. The episode also featured two musical guests that week, Billy Preston and Janis Ian. This particular episode was rerun on June 28, 2008 to commemorate the passing of Mr. Carlin, and after having watched it that night, and on DVD, I am honestly shocked the show ever survived. It was so rough compared to later seasons, but there was no denying that the original cast (Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman. Gilda Radner, George Coe and Michael O’Donoghue) were all talented, but I don’t think anyone knew just how talented.
It’s interesting to compare the impact of SNL on comedy to Monty Python’s 40th Anniversary, which happened earlier this week. Although only 5 years separate the two series, people can quote every sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and with SNL, people only remember the players, and really none of the skits from that first season. I remember a few of them such as the very first sketch of Belushi trying to learn English and saying, “I would like … to buy … a wol-ver-ine”, and the Bees showed up a few times, but that season was so rough that very people remember it.
The show has certainly had its ups and downs over the years (the 1985-1986 eleventh season was a complete train wreck), it has continued to deliver quality comedy now for 35 years. How much longer can it go? Who knows, but I know I will continue to watch it though until the end.