In the autumn of 1975, NBC premiered a brand-new late-night comedy-variety program that in addition to launching the careers of John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd and an entire generation of comic actors, would also give America its first exposure to some of the era’s greatest up-and-coming musical acts. That show, however, was not called Saturday Night Live—at least not at first. That name was already taken by a program that premiered a month earlier than NBC’s Saturday Night on a competing network, ABC. NBC’s Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell made its first broadcast on this day in 1975, featuring a heavily hyped performance by a pop group Cosell compared openly to the Beatles: Scotland’s tartan-clad teenybopper sensations the Bay City Rollers.
The Bay City Rollers were making their U.S. television debut in headlining the premiere of Howard Cosell’s Saturday Night Live on September 20, 1975, but they were already an enormous phenomenon in the UK, where their every move was being greeted by the kind of hysteria not seen since the height of Beatlemania. All over Great Britain in 1975, teenage girls were dressing in the Rollers’ trademark plaid, snapping up records like “I Only Want To Be With You” and “Saturday Night” and screaming dutifully whenever the shag-sporting heartthrobs showed their faces in public. It was scenes exactly like this in 1963 England that inspired Ed Sullivan to bring the Beatles to America for their historic television debut in February 1964. In September 1975, however, the magic would prove more fleeting for Mr. Cosell and his would-be British invaders.
Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell would last only three months before being cancelled, though its host would continue his unique career in broadcasting for another two decades with ABC Sports. The Bay City Rollers, meanwhile, learned the hard way about the risks inherent in staking their success on the affections of the Tiger Beat demographic. Millions of American preteens did go mad about plaid and the irresistible stutter-step rhythm of “Saturday Night,” but like most first crushes, Rollermania was intense but brief. Within 18 months of their television debut and their unofficial anointment as America’s most kissable new stars, Alan, Derek, Eric, Woody and Les of the Bay City Rollers were at least two crushes old for their once-loyal fan base, whose school binders now proclaimed their love for new acts with names like Shaun Cassidy and Andy Gibb.