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History of Saturday Night Live.
A History Saturday Night Live- By Alex Macneil.
From 'Total Television', 1991 Penguin Group, New York.
Saturday Night Live. 11 October 1975 - present. NBC.
NBC introduced this freewheeling ninety-minute comedy-variety show into what
appeared to be an unpromising time slot- 11:30 P.M. on Saturdays (the slot had
previously been occupied by reruns of The Tonight Show). To the surprise of
almost everybody, the show took off, and in some ways it represented the
boldest leap in television comedy since Sid Caeser's Your Show of Shows,
which had held down an earlier slot on Saturdays two decades earlier. One of
the few live network programs of any kind, the show is presented on three
Saturdays a month. Each week a guest host emcees the show, backed up by a
stock company of regulars. Originally billed as 'Not Ready For Prime Time
Players', this group has included Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane
Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner (Chase left the series
in the fall of 1976 and was later replaced by Bill Murray; Aykroyd and Belushi
left after the 1987-79 season). The members of this talented group were
virtual newcomers to television (though Chase had appeared regularly on the
The Great American Dream Machine and Garrett Morris had appeared on the
1973 sitcom, Roll Out!). Several of the others, along with a number of the shows
writers, had been featured in various productions under the auspices of the
National Lampoon magazine. George Carlin was the first guest host, but the show
has not always relied on show business regulars for its hosts, among the more
unusual emcees have been Ralph Nader (15 January, 1977), Georgia legislator
Julian Bond (9 April 1977), and even NBC entertainment president Brandon
Tartakoff (9 november 1985). Regular segments have included "Weekend Update,"
a news satire first presented by Chevy Chase, later by Jane Curtin and Dan
Aykroyd; "The Coneheads," the story of a family from another planet trying to
blend incomspicuosly into American society.; "Samurai Warrior," the adventures
of an Oriental swordsman (played by Belushi). Some of the comedy presented on
the show has been critized as being in poor taste, but that criticism can be
made of almost any variety series in television history. NBC'c Saturday Night
Live was developed by network vice president Dick Ebersol, who was its
executive producer during the 1975-1976 season. Lorne Michaels, who begun his
career as a writer on Laugh-In, was the producer. The show was originally
titled NBC's Saturday Night-- the word Live was officially added in May 1977;
NBC's was later discarded. The stable of writers has included Aykroyd, Belushi,
Chase, Morris, and Murray, together with Anne Beats, Tom Davis, Al Franken,
producer Michaels, Marilyn Suzanne Miller, Micheal O'Donoghue, Herb Sargent,
Tom Schiller, Rosie Shuster, and Alan Zweibel. The show's announcer is Don
Pardo, whose melliflous voice is most closely associated with game shows. In
the fall of 1979 the series came to prime time; beginning 24 Octobe, edited
reruns were shown Wednesdays at 10 p.m. as "The Best of Saturday Night Live".
The show's early seasons also featured short films from Albert Brooks and Gary
Weiss, and (in the earliest programs) a special puppet segment by Jim Henson.
The Not Ready for Prime Time Players also performed seventeen skits as The
Killer Bees, a routine that john Belushi found particularly loathsome.
Major changes took place in 1980, as producer Lorne Michaels departed,
together with most of the writers and all of the regulars- Jane Curtin,
Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, and Don Novella (who
had appeared regularly as Father Guido Sarducci for two seasons). Jean
Doumanian was named the new producer, and put together a new company of
performers: Gilbert Gottfried, Charles Rocket, Joe Piscopo, Denny Dillon, Ann
Risley, and Gail Mathius. A young and very talented black performer, Eddie
Murphy, also appeared occasionally that season; not technically a regular, he
was billed as a "featured" player. The results were dissapointing. Ratings
sagged as internal problems mounted, and Doumanian was dismissed in the spring
of 1981. Dick Ebersol, who had put one show on the air in April 1975, succeeded
her as producer, and was able to put one show on the air in April 1981 before
a writers' strike shut down production for the remainder of the season.
Retaining only Piscopo and Murphy from the Doumanian crew, Ebersol assembled
his own group of regulars: Robin Duke (1981-84), Christine Ebersol (1981-82),
Mary Gross (1981-85), Tim Kazurinsky (1981-84), Tony Rosato (1981-82), and
Brian Doyle-Murray (1981-82). Added in 1982 were Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Brad Hall
,and Gary Kroeger (announcer Don Pardo also returned that year). Louis-Dreyfus
and Kroeger stayed for three saesons, Hall for two. Jim Belushi, brother of
John Belushi (who had died of a drug overdose in 1982), joined the group in the
fall of 1983. The new crew succeeded in turning the show around, as Saturday
Night Live began to recapture its audience. Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy
emerged as the most popular members of this crew. Piscopo was able to
impersonate such diverse personalities as Frank Sinatra and Ted Koppel, while
Murphy's repertoire extended from Stevie Wonder to Buckwheat to his own
invention, militant film critic Raheem Abdul Muhammad. Murphy also went on to
enjoy success in films, starring in roles in 48 hrs. and Trading Places (in
which he costarred with SNL alumnus Dan Aykroyd).
In the fall a half-dozen new regulars joined Gross, Louis-Dreyfus, Kroeger,
and Jim Belushi, giving the series its largest annual stable of performers. The
new faces were Billy Crystal, Martin Short, Rich Hall, Christopher Guest, Harry
Shearer, and Pamela Stephenson. Crystal's "Fernando" talk-show host ("you look
mahvelous!") and Short's hyper-nerdy Ed Grimley were probably the most popular
bits of the season.
After five years away form the sho, Lorne Michaels returned as producer in
the spring of 1985. The following fall he introduced an all-new cast, just as
his successor Jean Doumanain had done in 1980. The 1985-1986 troupe was
comprise dof Joan Cusack, Robert Downey, Jr., Nora Dunn, Anthony Micael Hall,
Jon Lovitz, Randy Quaid, Terry Sweeney, and Danitra Vance, with A. Whitney
Brown, Don Novello (again) and Damon Wayans as featured performers. The season
was not particularly successful, and another overhaul took place in the fall of
1986. Joining Dunn and Lovitz were newcomers Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan
Hooks, Victoria Jackson, and Denns Miller: Kevin Nealon, a featured performer
that season, became a regular the following season. this unit managed to stay
intact through the 1989-90 season, and delevoped its own set of memorable
characters: Carvey's "Church Lady" and impersonations of George Bush , Dunn's
talk show host "Pat Stevens," Miller's "Weekend Update," and Lovitz's "Master
Thespian," to name a few. A. Whitney Brown remained a featured player,
usually doing commentary on the Weekend Update segment, and writer Al Franken
returned in 1987 as a featured player. Mike Myers was featured in 1988 and in
1989, Ben Stiller in 1988.
Nora Dunn boycotted the final show of the 1989-90 season, which wa hosted by
contoversal comedian Andrew Dice Clay (scheduled music guest Sinead O'Connor
also boycotted). Shortly afterward both Dunn and Jon Lovitz announced that
they would not be returning to the series for the 1990-91 season. They were
succeeded by new regulars Chris Rock and Chris Farley.
Rock and Roll music has been a central part of Saturday Night Livefrom its
inception. Each week a musical guest has performed--live. The roster of acts
has been impressive. ranging from the Rolling Stones to Roy Orbison, Devo to
Tracy Chapman, and Living Colour to Kate Bush. The show has also had its own
band, which was originally led by Howard Shore; Paul Schaffer succeeded Shore
and remained with the show for several seasons (occasionally appearing in
other roles as weel, such as concert promoter Don Kirshner) before leaving to
become musical director of Late Night with David Letterman. Guitarist G.E.
Smith later became house bandleader.
Saturday Night Live celebrated its fifeenth anniversary with a prime-time
retrospective on 24 September 1989; the festivities were actually held a year
early, as the series had only been on the air for fourteen years at the time.
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