History of Saturday Night Live

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Intro

Saturday Night Live is an American late-night live sketch comedy show that airs on NBC every Saturday night. It was originally entitled as NBC’s Saturday Night. The show was created by Lorne Michaels and Dick Ebersol. The show does sketches parodying current events, American culture, and politics.

In every episode of Saturday Night Live has a host who is a celebrity guest starring on the show, they also have musical guests but a host can also be both. At the beginning of the show, a cold opening sketch is performed by the host and it usually ends with someone saying “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”. The cold opening was removed during the seventh season of the show but it quickly returned. Additional sketches include the Weekend Update which functions as a new show, commercial parodies, and a digital short.

History

Saturday Night Live was created from NBC’s desire to have original programming in the 11:30 PM Saturday timeslot. From 1965 until 1975, the 11:30 PM timeslot showed reruns of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson which also aired during the same timeslot on weekdays. But Carson wanted a time off in recording shows to be available for rerun during the week so he asked NBC to stop airing The Tonight Show reruns on weekends to allow him more time off.

Herbert Schlosser, the president of NBC, assigned Dick Ebersol, the vice president of late-night programming, to develop a program to fill the Saturday night time slot. Schlosser and Ebersol then approached Lorne Michaels on the advice of Barry Diller, a director at Paramount Pictures. Ebersol and Michaels worked together over the course of the following three weeks to develop Michaels’ vision for a variety program that would include high-concept comedic sketches, political satire, and musical performances with the intention of drawing viewers in the 18- to 34-year-old audience.

Saturday Night Live was the original name that Michaels and Ebersol thought but the name was unavailable at that time because ABC was doing a show with Howard Cosell entitled Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell. That’s why NBC debuted the show with a simpler name, Saturday Night. After eighteen episodes, ABC canceled Howard Cosell’s show because of poor ratings that’s why NBC purchased the name and renamed their show Saturday Night Live on the beginning of the second season.

The show’s name was not the only thing that NBC took from Howard Cosell’s show. They also took Cosell’s cast of three actors, Bill and Brian Doyle Murray, and Christopher Guest. Back then the trio was known as the Primetime Players. And when they joined the Saturday Night Live family, Lorne Michaels decided to parodied Primetime Players and named them “Not Ready for Primetime Players”. The three of them all anchored in the show’s segment Weekend Update during their stay on the show.

Ebersol and Michaels needed more actors for the show, that’s why they turned to Second City TV, a television show that was being aired from the Toronto wing of the Second City comedy troupe. Ebersol and Michaels hired Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd from Second City TV. They also hired Garrett Morris, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Laraine Newman, and Jane Curtin.

They broadcasted from Studio 8H in 30 Rockefeller Center. The format of the show was uncertain at first because the amount of time that was given to sketches, music, and stand-up comedy varied widely. They also included Jim Henson’s Muppets and content by Albert Brooks. One sketch that permanently stayed was the Weekend Update which was written by Chevy Chase.

“Saturday Night Live” debuted on October 11, 1975, and quickly gained a devoted fan base. However, some NBC executives were unhappy with the show’s ratings during its first season. Lorne Michaels, the show’s creator, pointed out that Nielsen’s demographics measurement showed that most of the show’s viewers were baby boomers who watched little else on TV. Despite initial concerns, “Saturday Night Live” eventually became a mainstream hit and even introduced compilations to reach viewers who couldn’t watch the live broadcasts.

Development

First Generation (Seasons 1-5)

The show had little changes during its first five seasons. Chevy Chase left the show halfway through the second season and he was replaced by Bill Murray. Aykroyd an Belushi also left the show after season four to focus on working for their new film. Several writers were promoted to fill in Aykroyd and Belushi’s places like Don Novello, Tom Schiller, and Alan Zweibel.

Second Generation (Season 6-10)

Michaels, along with several cast members were exhausted from the show’s production schedule by the end of season five. Michaels was worried that the quality of the show might suffer so he asked the NBC executives to put the show on hiatus in order to give the actors some break but NBC denied his requests. Michaels quit the show along with the rest of the cast.

NBC chose SNL’s associate producer Jean Doumanian to take Michael’s place on the sixth season of the show. Numerous aspiring celebrities were keen to join the next season of the show because of its reputation as a launching pad for fame. NBC instantly reduced the show’s budget from the previous $1 million per episode down to just $350,000, and Jean Doumanian was given the challenge of assembling a complete cast and writing staff in less than three months. From the remaining Michaels employees, Doumanian experienced hostility and sabotage. During her time, the show went poorly. The season started late, the cast was not well received by the show’s fans and their performances and their material received negative reviews. 

Despite suggestions from executives to let SNL be cancelled, Brandon Tartikoff, who took over as network chief in mid-1981, believed that the show’s concept was more important to the network than money and wanted to keep it on the air. Tartikoff turned to Ebersol as his choice for the new producer, even though Silverman had previously fired the latter. Ebersol sought approval from Michaels to avoid the staff sabotage that had affected Doumanian’s tenure.

Ebersol attempted to renovate the show with different format changes. The opening sketch was removed for season seven but it was later returned because of insisting public demand. Their segment Weekend Update was renamed Saturday Night News. Ebersol’s tactic was to showcase Murphy and Piscopo and treat other casts as merely supporting cast. But his tactics began to fall after a season. The cast and crew were not happy with Eddie Murphy and Piscopo in taking all the credits. And tensions remained between them until season nine when Eddie Murphy left the show mid-season. Piscopo also left the show at the end of the season because he was unhappy with the direction of the show.

After season ten, Ebersol also asked the NBC management to put the show on hiatus and move toward a pre-taped content but NBC denied both of his requests which resulted in Ebersol walking away from the show.

Third Generation (Season 11-20)

NBC decided to cancel the show but they retracted their decision when they secured Lorne Michael’s return. Michaels put together a new cast with established guest stars like Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Joan Cusack, and Robert Downey Jr. He also changed the title of the news segment to Weekend Update. 

The program was renewed, although, for the first time in its history, just thirteen rather than the usual twenty-two episodes were made. After learning from the mistakes of the previous seasons, Michaels once again fired the majority of the cast and went in search of new talent instead of well-known actors like Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman. However, season 11 went poorly and almost all the cast were fired from the show at the end of the season. The only actors who remained were Dennis Miller, Jon Lovitz, and Nora Dunn.

Michaels decided to seek out new talent just like the original founding of the show. Several cast members were Dana Carvey, Victoria Jackson, Kevin Nealon, Mike Myers, Rob Schneider, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, and Tim Meadows.

However, the cast and media began to criticize the show more and more, which was partially encouraged by NBC management, who wanted to undermine Michaels’ authority. During this period, Michaels turned down an enticing proposal from CBS to create a Saturday night show, opting to stay with SNL instead.

The show’s 13th season saw a lot of challenges, like a fire near Studio 8H and the writer’s strike which resulted into cutting the season short. The show began to decline after several seasons and Michaels admitted that season twenty was the closest SNL has ever come to being canceled. And at the end of season twenty, most of the cast and writers were let go.

Fourth Generation (Season 21-25)

The only cast members that remained from season twenty were Mark McKinney, Tim Meadows, David Spade, Norm McDonald, and Molly Shannon. Seeking to find new talents to fill the cast for SNL’s 21st season, Michaels hired several actors who later on became well-known like Darrell Hammond, Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, and David Koechner. During the 22nd to 24th season, Tracy Morgan, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Parnell, Rachel Dratch, and Maya Rudolph were added as cast members.

Fifth Generation (Season 26-31)

Tina Fey was added as a cast member for season 26, she joined Jimmy Fallon on the Weekend Update after Colin Quinn left the show. Actors who joined the SNL family during this era were Seth Meyers, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Will Forte, Kenan Thompson, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig, and Jason Sudeikis.

And the actors who left the show on this era were Jimmy Fallon, Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey, Chris Parnell, Tracy Morgan, Chris Kattan, and Horatio Sanz.

SNL’s 29th season debuted on a new set that was based upon Grand Central Station which is still used until today.

Sixth Generation (Season 32-38)

SNL’s 32nd season began with a massive budget cut that resulted in the dismissal of Parnell and Sanz before the show started the season.

During this era, several actors that were added to the SNL family were Casey Wilson, Bobby Moynihan, Abby Elliott, Michaela Watkins, Nasim Pedrad, Taran Killam, Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Jenny Slate, Vanessa Bayer, Paul Brittain, Jay Pharoah, Tim Robinson, and Cecily Strong.

But this era also saw the departure of Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Darrel Hammond, Casey Wilson, Will Forte, Paul Brittain, Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig, Abby Elliott, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Jason Sudeikis.

SNL’s 33rd season was very short-lived because of a writers’ strike.

Seventh Generation (Season 39-Present)

SNL’s 39th season the cast expanded with six new featured players like Beck Bennett, Kyle Mooney, Mike O’ Brien, Noel Wells and Brooks Wheelan. It was also known that Seth Meyers would leave the show before the season began to take over hosting Late Night. 

In addition, SNL – broadcast from Studio 8H at NBC’s headquarters in the Comcast Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, has been a mainstay of American television, airing a total of 947 episodes since its debut. Now in its 48th season as of October 1, 2022, SNL is recognized as one of the longest-running network television programs in the United States. The basic concept of the program has been modified and copied in many nations with differing degrees of success, and some of the show’s most popular skits have even been made into full-length movies like The Blues Brothers (1980) and Wayne’s World (1992). In addition to its on-air success, SNL has been marketed in other ways, including home media releases of “best of” compilations and entire seasons, as well as books and documentaries that delve into the behind-the-scenes activities of running and developing the show.

Reception

Saturday Night Live ranked in the tenth spot on TV Guide’s Greatest TV Shows of All Time in 2002. And IT was honored with inclusion on Time magazine’s 100 Best TV Show of All-TIME in 2007. The Writers Guild of America placed the show on the 25th spot on their list of 101 Best Written Shows of All Time in June 2013.

Saturday Night Live is currently the 40th longest running television show in the United States today. And in a New York Times study of the 50-television show with the most Facebook likes in 2016, it showed that SNL is a very much urban show and it is popular in cities throughout the United States.

Awards

Saturday Night Live won countless awards since its debut on October 11, 1975, including 65 Primetime Emmy Awards, three Peabody Awards, and four Writers Guild of America awards. And as of July 2017, Saturday Night Live has received a total of 231 Primetime Emmy Award nominations.

Over its four-decade-long run, Saturday Night Live has garnered numerous awards, including 93 Primetime Emmy Awards, six Writers Guild of America Awards, and three Peabody Awards. In 2000, it was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame and ranked tenth in TV Guide’s “50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time” list. In 2007, Time also recognized it as one of the “100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME.” Remarkably, as of 2022, SNL has received over 305 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, the most by any television program to date. However, the nighttime show’s live nature has also led to controversies and acts of censorship, including mistakes and intentional acts of sabotage by performers and guests alike.

Twenty of the show’s cast members also received individual Primetime Emmy Award nominations. And out of the 36 total nominations for these 20 cast members, five of them have won.

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