On this day in 1975, Saturday Night Live (SNL), a topical comedy sketch show featuring Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman, makes its debut on NBC; it will go on to become the longest-running, highest-rated show on late-night television. The 90-minute program, which from its inception has been broadcast live from Studio 8H in the GE Building at Rockefeller Center, includes a different guest host and musical act each week. The opening sketch of each show ends with one actor saying, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
Created by the Canadian-born comedy writer Lorne Michaels, SNL has introduced a long list of memorable characters and catchphrases—from Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannada, to the Coneheads, to Billy Crystal’s Fernando (“You look mahvelous”), to Dana Carvey’s Church Lady (“Isn’t that special?”), to bodybuilders Hans and Franz (“We’re going to pump you up”), to Coffee Talk host Linda Richman (“like buttah” and “I’m all verklempt”)—that have become part of pop-culture history. The show, whose cast has changed continually over the years, has also launched the careers of such performers as Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tina Fey. Some SNL sketches have even been turned into feature films, the two most successful examples being 1980’s The Blues Brothers and 1992’s Wayne’s World.
The show was originally known as NBC’s Saturday Night because there was another show on ABC called Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell. However, NBC eventually purchased the naming rights, and since 1977 the edgy comedy program has been called Saturday Night Live. Lorne Michaels served as the show’s producer from 1975 to 1980, followed by Jean Doumanian from 1980 to 1981. Dick Ebersol helmed the show from 1981 to 1985. Michaels returned to the program that year, and has remained executive producer ever since.
The influential comedian George Carlin hosted the debut episode of SNL. Later that year, Candace Bergen became the first woman to assume SNL hosting duties. She went on to host the program four more times. In 1982, seven-year-old Drew Barrymore hosted the show, becoming the youngest person ever to do so. Starting in 1976, Steve Martin has hosted SNL 14 times. Since 1990, Alec Baldwin has hosted the show 13 times. John Goodman has hosted the show a dozen times, beginning in 1989. Other frequent guest hosts include Buck Henry, Chevy Chase, Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken. Musical guests who’ve performed on SNL five or more times include Paul Simon, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, James Taylor, Sting, Beck and the Foo Fighters.
SNL is known for its topical parodies and impersonations, and for pushing boundaries with its sketches. The show is also recognized for its political humor. Chevy Chase famously portrayed President Gerald Ford as a klutz, while Dana Carvey spoofed President George H.W. Bush and his “read my lips” line. More recently, Amy Poehler has played Senator Hillary Clinton in numerous skits (including one with the senator herself) and Tina Fey has portrayed the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin.