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Saturday Night Live

By Wikipedia

Saturday Night Live (SNL) is a weekly late-night 90-minute comedy-variety show based in New York City which has been broadcast by NBC nearly every Saturday night since its debut on October 11, 1975. It is one of the longest-running network entertainment programs in American television history. Each week, the show's cast is joined by a guest host and a musical act.

Originally, the show was called NBC's Saturday Night because Howard Cosell was hosting a show on ABC titled Saturday Night Live With Howard Cosell. After Cosell's show was cancelled in 1976, NBC retitled its show. The first show with the new title was broadcast on March 26, 1977.

The show — broadcast from Studio 8H at the GE Building in New York's Rockefeller Center — has been the launching place for some major American comedy stars of the last thirty years. It was created by Lorne Michaels who, excluding a hiatus from Season 6 through Season 10, has produced and written for the show and remains its executive producer (Jean Doumanian producing most of Season 6, and Dick Ebersol 7–10).

Format of the show

The show usually follows a standard format. It opens with a cold opening sketch often parodying politics, pop culture, or other current events; this sketch always ends with someone saying "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" The show then segues into the opening credits, which usually open with a shot of the Statue of Liberty and a montage of the cast members cut with various locations around the city. The opening credits are voiced-over by long-time NBC announcer Don Pardo. The show's theme music has been re-arranged many times, but always follows the same basic chord patterns.

Next is the opening monologue performed by the guest host(s), often followed by a TV commercial parody. The show continues with more comedy skits (sketches might feature recurring characters, running gags, celebrity impersonations, movie and TV spoofs, and skits parodying the news issues of the day), followed by a performance by the guest musical act. More recent shows have the second act divided by an animated short by Robert Smigel. The news parody segment Weekend Update marks the show's midway point. The second half of the program continues with more sketches, and in most cases a second performance by the musical guest. Some shows also feature filmed segments, often featuring cast members, or it may feature independent film shorts. In a few rare cases, a third musical performance by the week's musical guest is done at the end of the show, but in most instances this is just a goodbye segment by the host and musical guest. Often times, the show "fades to black", or just blatantly cuts away while the credits roll, most likely a time-saving measure. Also, in some reruns, shows have been edited to contain a mixture of skits, and do not follow this sequence.

The Super70s

In 1974, NBC Tonight Show host Johnny Carson requested that the weekend broadcasts of “Best of Carson” come to an end (back then "The Tonight Show" was a 90-minute program). To fill the gap, the network drew up some ideas and brought in Dick Ebersol—a protégé of legendary ABC Sports president Roone Arledge—to develop a 90-minute late-night variety show. Ebersol's first order of business was hiring a young Canadian producer named Lorne Michaels to be the show-runner. He was given studio 8H, for SNL.

When the first show aired on October 11, 1975, with George Carlin as its host, it was called NBC's Saturday Night, because ABC featured a program at the same time titled Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell. When the ABC program went off the air in 1976, the NBC program changed its name to Saturday Night Live on 26 March 1977.

The original concept was for a comedy-variety show featuring young comedians, live musical performances, short films by Albert Brooks, and segments by Jim Henson featuring atypically adult and abstract characters from the Muppets world. Rather than have one permanent host Michaels elected to have a different guest host each week (Albert Brooks was originally booked to be a permanent host, and claims it was his idea to have a different host each week).

The original (1975-1980) repertory company was called the “Not Ready for Prime-Time Players”; this was a reference to Cosell's show, which featured “The Primetime Players,” a group which ironically included future SNL cast member Bill Murray.

The first cast members were Second City alumni Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner and National Lampoon "Lemmings" alumni Chevy Chase (whose trademark became his usual falls and opening spiel that ushered in the show's opening), Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Garrett Morris. The original theme music was written by future Academy Award-winning composer Howard Shore, who--along with his "All Nurse Band"--was the original band leader on the show. Paul Shaffer who would go on to lead David Letterman's band on "Late Night" and then "The Late Show," was also band leader in the early years.

Michaels fought and cajoled network executives to accept his vision for the show, which was far removed from standard variety-show conventions (one executive, visiting a dress rehearsal, noticed that the band was in blue jeans and asked when their tuxedos would arrive). Before the show began Michaels had remarked that he knew what the “ingredients [of SNL] would be, but not the proportions,” and that the show would have to “find itself” on-air. Indeed, the Not Ready for Primetime Players were hardly featured in the premiere, but quickly became the focus of the show, with the guest host and musical act playing a secondary role. Albert Brooks and the Muppets were also dropped after the first season, but short films by writer Tom Schiller continued to be shown under the title “Schiller's Reel,” as well as Walter Williams' popular budget claymation segment "Mr. Bill".

Perhaps due to his recurring news parody sketch "Weekend Update" (which surives to this day, albeit with new anchors), Chevy Chase was the first breakout star of SNL, garnering magazine covers, in-depth interviews, and even some speculation that he would succeed Johnny Carson if Carson ever left The Tonight Show. Chase had never been friendly with most of the cast (a rivalry with John Belushi went all the way back to their work on the National Lampoon radio show), but by the time he left for greener pastures early in the second season, he couldn't even get along with Lorne Michaels. Chase returned to host the show several times over the next few decades, but relations were often strained, with the cast (whatever their own personal conflicts) usually uniting in opposition or disgust towards him, even hiding en masse so that they would not have to share an elevator with him. Perhaps the low points were 1978, when he got into a brawl with Bill Murray mere moments before broadcast, and 1985, when he horrified many of the cast by suggesting a sketch where openly gay performer Terry Sweeney develop AIDS and then show the audience how much weight he loses each week.

Bill Murray replaced Chase in 1977, after Chase left to pursue a movie career. Murray had a shaky start, forgetting his lines and seeming awkward on camera. Many fans of Chevy Chase saw him as a replacement for him, and had been sending hate mail as well. By the end of his first season, he began to develop a following with a sleazy, know-it-all persona. Many of his characterizations, such as Nick the Lounge Singer and Todd DiLamuca (originally Todd DiLabounta but the real DiLabounta threatened to sue), were instant classics.

By its second season, SNL developed into something of a television phenomenon. It was, in many ways, the first show of its kind to appeal to a younger audience, making it very attractive to advertisers. Recurring characters and catch-phrases (see below) soon entered the popular vernacular, and the cast was often described as “The Beatles of comedy.” It was also one of America's only mainstream national TV shows that consistently featured topical political satire. In 1976, Ron Nessen, a minor member of President Gerald Ford's administration, hosted the show. Ford himself appeared in a pretaped opening sequence. The show had been very critical of Ford and promised to give him a break that night. Instead, they humiliated Nessen as well as Ford with tasteless "gross-out" skits like "Super Bass-O-Matic '76", "Fluckers Jam" and "Autumn Fizz, the carbonated douche". In November 1976 Weekend Update played the 1974 broadcast of Ford pardoning President Richard Nixon -- many backstage felt that decision was instrumental in helping Jimmy Carter win the '76 election.

Two notable “featured players” on the show included writer Al Franken and (for the 1979-80 season) Harry Shearer, who later acted in several films and television series, including The Simpsons. The show also featured frequent guest appearances by comedians Steve Martin and Andy Kaufman.

Aykroyd and Belushi departed after the 1978-1979 season and subsequently found worldwide fame in the movie version of the Blues Brothers sketch. Belushi famously died of drug-related causes in 1982. Aykroyd had major roles in several hit comedies and even earned an Academy Award nomination.

The final season with the remnants of the "Not Ready" crew was underwhelming by most standards. By the 1979-1980 season, drugs had overtaken most of the cast, writers, and Michaels himself (of the original cast, only Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner never used cocaine). A burly bodyguard was stationed directly outside the studio gates to warn Michaels if the cops were on the way. Laraine Newman had developed serious eating disorders as well as a cocaine addiction -- she spent so much time in her dressing room playing Solitaire that for Christmas that year Gilda gave her a deck of playing cards with herself on the face of the card. Garrett Morris, degraded from years of small roles and racist sketches (at one point the writers were going to have him do a fake ad for "Tar Baby" toothpaste, which would make blacks' teeth stop glowing in the dark -- only when black crew members walked off the set in protest did Michaels drop the idea), began free-basing cocaine and literally lost his mind on many occasions. During rehearsals for the Kirk Douglas show, he ran screaming onto the set, saying that someone had put an "invisible robot" on his shoulder who watched him everywhere he went. He pleaded with them to get the robot off of him.

Radner, meanwhile, was resented by many because she and Michaels had spent much of the year working on a Broadway play, and album, Gilda Live. She had recently broken off a relationship with Bill Murray, and they could barely speak to one another. Murray resented that the other male cast members had left him stranded and essentially forced him to play every male lead on the show. Exhausted, Gilda had few starring roles in the 1979-80 season. Indeed, the most energetic and diverse performer in that last year was Jane Curtin, who was thrilled to see the "Bully Boys" as she called them (Aykroyd and Belushi) depart and who debuted a number of hilarious new characters and impressions while she had the chance. Other major contributors included Harry Shearer as well as writers Al Franken and Tom Davis (longtime writing partners who had given themselves meatier roles as the heavyweights departed) and Don Novello, a writer whose "Father Guido Sarducci" character was especially popular and appeared repeatedly during the 1979 season.

By May of 1980, the show was finishing up its fifth season, and Lorne Michaels was ready for a break. He tried to deal with the network to allow him six months off to recuperate after a stressful five year stint. Unfortunately NBC refused this attempt to let the show survive in reruns for half a year, and would not agree to such terms (a decision that would come back to haunt them the next season). Michaels subsequently took his name off the show and left at the end of the fifth season along with the rest of the original cast and the writing staff, most of whom followed suit due to loyalty towards Michaels. Harry Shearer, who had zero allegiance to Michaels, informed the incoming Executive Producer, Jean Doumanian, he would stay as long as she let him completely overhaul the program. Doumanian refused, so Shearer also bid farewell (he would return briefly in 1984-1985).

The remaining "Not Ready For Primetime Players" appeared together for the last time on May 24, 1980 for the final episode of the fifth season. The episode, hosted by long-time loyal host Buck Henry, gave a heartfelt goodbye from all the members of the cast, and Henry himself who--after hosting 10 times in five years--has yet to return to the show again, save for an appearance in the September 24, 1989 15th Anniversary special. At the end of the episode, the entire cast, writers, and Henry stood onstage for the goodnights. After a short farewell speech, Buck Henry signed off saying, "Goodnight...and goodbye..." The band began playing the traditional closing music as Henry led the cast and crew off the stage, and through the studio exit. The camera panned upward above the door to reveal the flashing "On-Air" light shut off for the final time that season, signaling what was indeed the end of an era.

Season-By-Season on SNL

1975-76 Season

Opening Montage:

SNL's first opening montage basically consists of different pictures from around New York, with plain white lettering for the titles. Note that at this point, the cast members do not have pictures, and are simply listed on the screen all at the same time. When the show first began, the "Not Ready For Primetime Players" were considered secondary to the host and musical guests. By mid-season, the players had made a name for themselves and became the focus of the show. Around this time, each cast member was individually announced with his/her picture.

Cast

Dan Aykroyd
John Belushi
Chevy Chase
George Coe (last episode as a regular player 10/25/75)
Jane Curtin
Garrett Morris
Laraine Newman
Michael O'Donoghue (last episode as a regular player 10/25/75)
Gilda Radner

1976-77 Season

Opening Montage:

This montage originated in the latter part of the 1975 season, and carried over into 1976. This version is from later in the season, and does not include Chevy Chase. Another version of this was used in the spring of 1977 and uses the SNL title that it finally was able to use beginning in early 1977.

Cast

Dan Aykroyd
John Belushi
Chevy Chase (final: 10/30/76)
Jane Curtin
Garrett Morris
Bill Murray (first: 01/15/77)
Laraine Newman
Gilda Radner

Featuring: Michael O'Donoghue

1977-78 Season

Opening Montage:

1977's opener had three different variations of a lighted marquee theme. The first consists of the cast members in Times Square standing in front of their names being displayed on the large screen as they are introduced. Another showed the cast members' names and animated portrait on a binary-light marquee with their face superimposed over the display (used only in two episodes). The third simply introduced each cast member as they walked out of the subway (with the exception of Aykroyd and Radner, who curiously, are introduced using their Times Square opening from earlier in the season).

Cast

Dan Aykroyd
John Belushi
Jane Curtin
Garrett Morris
Bill Murray
Laraine Newman
Gilda Radner

Featuring

Tom Davis
Al Franken
Michael O'Donoghue

Notes

  • Head writer, and featured player O'Donoghue leaves at the end of the season.

1978-79 Season

Opening Montage:

The montage for the 1978 season is somewhat of an "oil painting" theme. Various photos from around New York are again shown, but have an oil painting overlay. This montage would carry over into the first part of the 1979 season with a few minor changes.

Cast

Dan Aykroyd
John Belushi
Jane Curtin
Garrett Morris
Bill Murray
Laraine Newman
Gilda Radner

Featuring

Tom Davis
Al Franken
Don Novello

Notes

  • Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi leave the cast after this season.

1979-80 Season

Opening Montage:

1979 had two montages. The first was much like the 1978 opener, but with a few different pictures and paintings. The second was a semi-animated opener, which also had somewhat of an oil painting theme. It was used only during the latter part of the 1979 season (possibly because it took several weeks to complete). Fans consider the second opener the best in the entire 75-80 period.

Cast

Jane Curtin
Garrett Morris
Bill Murray
Laraine Newman
Gilda Radner
Harry Shearer

Featuring

Peter Aykroyd (debuts 11/17/79)
Tom Davis
Jim Downey
Brian Doyle-Murray (debuts 12/15/79)
Al Franken
Don Novello
Tom Schiller (debuts 12/15/79)
Paul Shaffer
Alan Zweibel (debuts 12/15/79)

Notes

  • Shearer joins the show as a featured player and is made contract in late 1979.
  • Shaffer is a major part of the show's band and had a role in several sketches (mainly a Don Kirshner impression) before 1979. Schiller is a longtime filmmaker for SNL (off and on from 1976-1994), as was Downey. Schiller's first airdate is 12/15/79. Zweibel, a writer for the series, debuts on the same day, as does fellow writer Brian Doyle-Murray (also Bill Murray's brother). Murray will return several years later for a brief period.
  • Almost every employee of the show, including Lorne Michaels and all of the cast members and writers, leaves the show at the end of the season

Awesome80s

Doumanian's season

For much of the decade SNL was in turmoil and many critics wrote the show off as a pale imitation of its former glory. Jean Doumanian took over the show for the 1980 season, hiring a completely new cast and new writers, but it was plagued by problems from the start, and was deemed disastrously unfunny by both critics and much of the viewing audience.

Lorne Michaels had originally wanted to make Al Franken his successor as executive producer after he left, and all was in place to do such until the May 10, 1980 broadcast. During a "Weekend Update" segment, Franken delivered a harsh criticism of then-NBC President Fred Silverman. The commentary angered Silverman so much, that any chance of Franken becoming an executive under Silverman's watch were all but gone.

Jean Doumanian was a talent scout for the show in the early days and was one of the few members of the staff who stayed behind after the 1979 season. In the summer of 1980, Doumanian accepted the job as the new executive producer, against the advice of most of her close friends. Many were convinced that the show could no longer succeed without the original cast and writers. They warned Doumanian to be prepared for harsh treatment from the network. It wasn't long before their cynical predictions became a reality. As a form of almost "retroactive retaliation" against Lorne's constant pressuring for better financing, NBC started by cutting Doumanian's budget from $1,000,000 per episode (Lorne's budget by his last season) to about $350,000 per episode. On top of this, Doumanian had only two months to discover and prepare a new cast and crew; she claims she received virtually no support that was promised to her by either the network or her staff.

Writers from that season recall that petitions were already being passed around by other writers and crew members to get Doumanian off the show. Doumanian herself would later discover that many members of the NBC staff, people she assumed devoted to her, were not on her side at all. Doumanian would not let writers work together if they had not been hired as a team, which resulted in the shoddy and unfinished sketches that permeated that year. From the start, the inner politics of the network were heated, and indeed the season was off to a rocky start before it had ever really begun. Doumanian focused on keeping the NBC brass out of the creative process instead of worrying about the writers and performers who were in it.

On an autumn morning in 1980, the phone of talent coordinator Neil Levy began ringing off the hook. A young man at the other end of the line begged the producer to give him a shot on the show, but was constantly rejected by the show having already booked a full cast. The man pleaded with Levy that he had several siblings banking on him getting a spot on the show. Levy finally conceded and allowed the man an audition. The caller was a 19-year-old named Eddie Murphy, and his audition performance had Neil Levy begging with Doumanian to let him on the show. Doumanian refused, citing that another actor named Robert Townsend had already been selected as the cast's "token black guy," and that the show's shrunken budget could not allow for any more actors. Doumanian changed her mind after watching Murphy's audition and also began pleading with the network to allow him on the show. NBC only agreed after it was determined that Townsend had not yet signed a contract, and Murphy was cast as a featured player.

A new cast for 1980

The first episode, renamed "Saturday Night Live 80" in the opening credits, appeared on November 15, 1980, featuring an all-new cast: Charles Rocket (who was groomed to be the new break-out star), Denny Dillon, Gilbert Gottfried, Gail Matthius, Joe Piscopo, and Ann Risley rounded out the new "Not Ready For Prime Time Players." Woody Allen (who reportedly hated SNL and even went as far as scripting himself as a writer who quits SNL because he hated it in the movie Manhattan) suggested to Jean Doumanian that she hire one of his friends, Ann Risley. Some observers believed that while Ann Risley was a fine serious actress, she was not inherently funny (perhaps as a demonstration of Woody Allen's hatred for the show). Elliott Gould had agreed to host the first episode, assuming he would be working with the old cast. He was astonished when he reported to the studio and discovered that it was a different group of performers.

The season seemed doomed from the beginning, as in the very first sketch of that first show, the cast was seen sharing a bed with Gould and introduced themselves in a "less-than-modest" approach. Charles Rocket was self-proclaimed as a cross between Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, while Gilbert Gottfried (pre-signature high pitched "squeaky" voice) referred to himself as a cross between John Belushi, "...and that guy from last year who did Rod Serling, and no one can remember his name..." (referring to Harry Shearer). Indeed this self-serving comparison to the original cast alienated much of the audience from the very start, foreshadowing much of what was to come later that night and throughout much of the season. The rest of the show remained very inconsistent in terms of acting and writing. At the end of the show, Gould stood onstage and quickly introduced himself to the cast one more time by first name and declared "We're gonna be around forever, so we might as well..." However, Elliott Gould would never host the show again.

The next episode, hosted by Malcolm McDowell, was notable in that Eddie Murphy made his network television debut as an extra in a skit called "In Search Of The Negro Republican". Murphy had his first speaking role two weeks later as Raheem Abdul Muhummad on "Weekend Update". He made such a positive impression that he would be called on for more in later episodes. Meanwhile, Jean Doumanian nearly lost her job before this episode aired. NBC executives were battling Doumanian's insistence to include a sketch portraying a nun who was not a virgin. Before Doumanian backed down, Network head Fred Silverman told the standards department to repeat one of Lorne Michaels' shows, if necessary. Skits during Doumanian's tenure seemed like someone had started a half-finished concept and allowed the actors to improvise, but without the editing and fine tuning that would have made the skit funny.

The high point of the 1980–1981 season probably came with the Karen Black episode of January 17. It displayed the most consistent writing and performing of the season. Murphy was soon raised to the status of full cast member, and Piscopo had established himself as a reliable commodity with such bits as the eccentric New Jersey-an "Paulie Herman," and his impeccable Frank Sinatra impression.

On February 21, 1981, the show featured a parody of the "Who Shot J.R. Ewing" craze from the hit TV show Dallas. In a cliffhanger titled "Who Shot C.R?" cast member Charles Rocket was "shot" in the last sketch of the episode, after a running gag in which other members of the cast shared their grievances over Rocket with one another. Onstage for the goodnights, Dallas star and that week's host, Charlene Tilton, asked Rocket (who was still in character and sitting in a wheelchair) his thoughts on being shot. "Oh man, it's the first time I've been shot in my life," he replied. "I'd like to know who the fuck did it." The cast, along with some of the audience, reacted with laughter and applause. This was not the first nor the last time the expletive would be uttered live on SNL for everyone to hear. However, given the circumstances of the season as a whole, and the direction it was headed, it was the straw that finally broke the camel's back. Rocket's minor "slip-of-the-tongue," unbeknownst to him, would cost him his job, and almost the entire cast and crew their jobs, on the show. At the time, Rocket reportedly justified his action, pointing out that musical guest Prince had performed "Partyup" (from his Dirty Mind album) earlier on that very same broadcast; the song featured the line "Fightin’ war is such a fuckin’ bore." Despite his release, Rocket appeared in the next week's episode anyway, his performance clearly affected by his termination. In result of the disastrous season thus far, and in a direct result of Rocket's behavior the week before, NBC—who have had enough—also fired Jean Doumanian after this episode, closing the book on what was then and is still regarded as the worst period in the show's history.

Ebersol steps in

It looked as if NBC might cancel the show—indeed, many nights NBC aired the sketch comedy show SCTV in its place—but SNL was given one more chance when Dick Ebersol was hired to replace Doumanian. Ebersol was the young apprentice the network had culled from ABC todevelop SNL in late 1974; he was responsible for hiring Lorne Michaels that year, and now was given the task of saving the once-acclaimed show from cancellation. His first show aired April 11, and he planned to fill out Doumanian's season, but the rest of the season's episodes were called off due to a writer's strike (Al Franken, who was originally intended to run the show that season, was scheduled as host, along with Tom Davis, for an episode that never aired due to the strikes).

In his first week, Ebersol fired Gottfried, Risley, and Rocket, replacing them with Robin Duke, Tim Kazurinsky, and Tony Rosato. He would eventually eliminate the rest of the 1980 cast (except for Murphy and Piscopo) at the end of the season (he had wanted to fire Dillon all along, but could not afford a replacement for her). Ebersol originally wanted to bring in John Candy and Catherine O'Hara from SCTV; Candy turned down the offer and Rosato joined instead. O'Hara initially accepted, but she changed her mind after Michael O'Donoghue—SNL's original Head Writer, who had been brought in to rejuvenate the show—screamed at the cast about the season's poor writing and performances. Robin Duke was added to the cast when O'Hara suggested her instead. Emily Prager and Laurie Metcalf joined as featured players, but they would not be retained after this single episode.

By the fall of 1981, Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy were the only remainders from Doumanian's cast to appear on SNL for the 1981 Season. Murphy had rarely been featured during Doumanian's tenure, but became a break-out star under Ebersol, and his soaring popularity helped restore the show's ratings. He created some of the period's best characters, including the empty-headed former child movie star Buckwheat and an irascible, life-size version of the Gumby toy character, complete with life-size star ego. Murphy could also pull off an uncanny impression of Stevie Wonder (who, sportingly, appeared in a fake ad for the "Kannon AE-1" camera, which is "so simple, even Stevie Wonder can use it"). Piscopo was also a popular face and became somewhat renowned for his Frank Sinatra impersonation. Other new cast members for the 1981 season included Christine Ebersole (no relation to Dick Ebersol), Mary Gross, and returning as a featured player, Brian Doyle-Murray (also featured in 1979) who ran the Weekend Update desk for one season. Also returning were Robin Duke, Tim Kazurinsky and Tony Rosato, who had all first appeared in the April 11 broadcast earlier that year. In 1982 Gary Kroeger, Brad Hall and his future wife, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, were added to the cast, with Jim Belushi arriving in 1983.

However, SNL was mostly a two-man show from 1981–1984, with Murphy and Piscopo playing a bulk of the lead characters. All other cast members played supporting roles and were treated with very little patience by the producers. Unlike Lorne Michaels, Dick Ebersol had no problem firing people. Among the first casualties after the 1981 Season were Rosato (who later said that the firing was the best thing to ever happen to him, because the SNL set helped encourage his drug addiction) and Ebersole, who got the axe because of her frequent complaints that the women on the show had little airtime and what they did receive cast them in sexist and humiliating lights. Michael O'Donoghue was fired in the middle of the season, due to complex personality issues.

Indeed, Ebersol ran a much different show than Michaels had in the Super70s. Many of the sketches were built less on "smart" and "revolutionary" comedy that was abundant in the early days and followed a much more "straightforward" approach. This shift alienated some fans and even some writers and cast members. Many writers felt that Ebersol was simplifying the humor of the show by demanding more appearances of recurring characters for cheap laughs, among other things, leading to somewhat inconsistent writing. However, despite these oppositions there was little argument that Ebersol possessed a keen sense of business politics, which eventually helped revive a show that would have otherwise died at the hands of an inexperienced producer. However, by the later terms of his tenure, Ebersol was generally handling much of the business aspects and day-to-day production affairs, leaving producer Bob Tischler in charge of most of the creative facets of the show.

Another new cast

In February 1984, Eddie Murphy left the show mid-season, agreeing to appear in a few filmed sketches for the remainder of that year. Duke, Hall, Kazurinsky, and Piscopo also departed at the end of the 1983–84 season.

Upon the departures of Murphy and Piscopo, Ebersol, having lost his key players, began rebuilding the cast for the 1984 season, enlisting what is in retrospect known as the "All-Star" cast. Along with veteran players Belushi, Gross, Kroeger, and Louis-Dreyfus, Ebersol added somewhat well-known names to the repertory. This new cast included Soap star Billy Crystal; Martin Short, who had made a name for himself as Ed Grimley (a character he would bring to SNL that year) on Canada's SCTV; Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer (who was also a cast member in 1979) from This Is Spinal Tap; Superman III's Pamela Stephenson; and Rich Hall from HBO's Not Necessarily The News.

The newcomers helped put together a very memorable year of hit sketches and widely accepted recurring characters for SNL. As Louis-Dreyfus noted in a November 2005 retrospective, the newcomers, particularly Crystal, Short, and Guest, all but took over the show, relegating her and most of the rest of the cast to supporting roles. Short has noted that his one year at SNL brought him more fame than his entire stint on SCTV, but it was Crystal who became the show's break-out star. Crystal had been scheduled to appear in the first SNL in 1975, but he was cut from the program during rehearsal. Already known to some for his stand-up comedy and his role as Jodie Dallas in Soap, Crystal became the show's latest sensation, bringing the catch-phrases "It is better to look good than to feel good" and "You look mahvelous!" (both uttered by his "Fernando" character) into popular culture.

Harry Shearer would depart after the January 12, 1985 broadcast, citing "creative differences," (Shearer would later remark, "I was creative...and they were different..."). Shearer would go on the greater fame as a cast member of The Simpsons in which he voiced several characters including Mr. Burns and Principal Skinner.

At the end of the season, Ebersol requested to completely revamp the show and include mostly filmed segments. The 10th season is often remembered for relying heavily on pre-taped content, including pre-recorded clips of Murphy performing without the rest of the cast, and Ebersol wanted to take this further. This ambition went against the network's wishes. After briefly canceling the show, NBC decided to continue production only if they could get Lorne Michaels to produce again. Ebersol and Tischler, along with their writing staff and most of the cast, left the show after this season (those who chose to stay—such as Billy Crystal—were eventually not re-hired for 1985), which closed the book on an inconsistent, yet memorable era in SNL history.

Season Breakdown

1980-81 Season

Opening Montage

Two opening montages were used for this season. During Jean Doumanian's tenure, it opened with a shot of the Statue of Liberty whose torch suddenly lights after a few seconds. Using "paint-over" type transitions, it then cuts to various images of New York with cheesy CGI neon lights embellishing each picture. Dick Ebersol, however, apparently wanted a more simple opening. For the one episode he produced this season (4/11/81), the original SNL theme music returns to accompany a different shot of the Statue of Liberty, followed by various still images taken from around New York displayed one after another. The cast is introduced using all new pictures, and plain-white block lettering reveals their name at the bottom of the picture. This opener was only used on this one episode. The original montage is from the March 7, 1981 Bill Murray/Delbert McClinton episode. The one-episode montage, from April 11, 1981, Chevy Chase hosted; the musical guest was Jr. Walker & the All Stars.

Doumanian Cast

Denny Dillon
Gilbert Gottfried
Gail Matthius
Eddie Murphy (first: 11.22.80)
Joe Piscopo
Ann Risley
Charles Rocket

Featuring

Yvonne Hudson
Matthew Laurance
Patrick Weathers

Ebersol Cast (04.11.81 episode only)

Denny Dillon
Robin Duke
Tim Kazurinsky
Gail Matthius
Eddie Murphy
Joe Piscopo
Tony Rosato

Featuring

Laurie Metcalf
Emily Prager

Notes
  • Murphy goes from recurring to contract in January 1981.
  • Weathers and Laurance officially debut on 12/20/80 (although they had previously appeared in an uncredited capacity). Rocket, Risley, Laurance, Hudson, Weathers and Gottfried last appear in the 3/7/81 episode. Rosato, Metcalf, Kazurinsky, Prager, and Duke first appear on the 4/11/81. Prager and Metcalf last for a sole episode, the shortest stint for any featured player (Nearly a decade later, Metcalf returned for a cameo in a short film piece). Dillon and Matthius are fired at the end of the season.
  • Weekend Update received a name and set change for a single episode (1981's show hosted by Bill Murray) in which it became SNL NewsLine. For this final episode, it was hosted by Rocket alone, without Matthius.
  • Jean Doumanian and her writing staff are dismissed after the 3/7/81 show. Dick Ebersol replaces her, and following one more episode, a writers' strike shuts down the season early for refurbishing purposes.

1981-82 Season

Opening Montage

Another "simple" opening from the Ebersol era, and the only montage with Mel Brand doing the voice-over. This opener was used more-or-less for three seasons; it began with shot of a lady lighting a cigarette, then consisted of various grainy, black-and-white video footage of New York City nightlife (dance clubs, police dogs, etc.). Despite being bland, it did, however, have what is considered one of the better opening music themes of the show, which would be used (albeit in various incarnations) for virtually every episode under Dick Ebersol's tenure. Because 'Live from New York' is not yelled, announcer Brand says, "And now, from New York, the most dangerous city in America, it's Saturday Night Live."

Cast

Robin Duke
Christine Ebersole
Mary Gross
Tim Kazurinsky
Eddie Murphy
Joe Piscopo
Tony Rosato

With

Brian Doyle-Murray

Notes

  • Brian Doyle-Murray leaves at the end of the season and Christine Ebersole and Tony Rosato are fired.
  • This is the only season which does not feature the traditional "Live from New York..." opening. Instead, the cast appears with the host in a group shot, then runs off to prepare for their various sketches while the host delivers the monologue. This is also the only season not to feature Don Pardo as announcer; the job is taken by Mel Brand. In addition, Weekend Update is renamed "SNL NewsBreak." The first two changes were made at the behest of Michael O'Donoghue, as part of his attempt to radically re-vamp the show (among other suggestions rejected by Ebersol was filming the show entirely with hand-held cameras). The effort didn't impress viewers and both the traditional opening and Pardo returned a year later. The "Weekend Update" name, however, would return with Lorne Michaels in 1985.

1982-83 Season

Opening Montage

Virtually the same montage from 1981, with a few minor changes: Don Pardo returned to do the voiceover; The opening shot changes from a woman lighting a cigarette, to a construction worker lighting a cigarette with an acetylene torch; also the cast photos are different from last year, with a chalkboard NYC skyline background.

Cast

Robin Duke
Mary Gross
Brad Hall
Tim Kazurinsky
Gary Kroeger
Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Eddie Murphy
Joe Piscopo

1983-84 Season

Opening Montage

Same credits as the 1982 season. The addition of Jim Belushi is the only notable change.

Cast

Jim Belushi (debuts 10/22/83)
Robin Duke
Mary Gross
Brad Hall
Tim Kazurinsky
Gary Kroeger
Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Eddie Murphy (final: 02/25/84)
Joe Piscopo

Notes

  • Murphy leaves after the 2/25/84 show. Piscopo, Duke, Hall and Kazurinsky depart at the end of the season.

1984-85 Season

Opening Montage

A highly unusual, but fan-favorite opening montage. In addition to flying hot dogs, we scroll right to reveal each "giant" cast member towering over the New York skyline, and interacting with various objects along the way in a complete one-camera shot. Note that from 1984-86, The Statue of Liberty was being renovated in preparation for its 100th anniversary. SNL acknowleged these renovations by showing the statue surrounded in scaffolding during the opening credits for this season and the next.

Cast

Jim Belushi
Billy Crystal
Mary Gross
Christopher Guest
Rich Hall
Gary Kroeger
Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Harry Shearer (final: 01.12.85)
Martin Short
Pamela Stephenson

Notes

  • This season has more pretaped segments than any other SNL era, past or future.
  • Shearer departs midseason. The rest of the cast and writing staff, along with Ebersol and Bob Tischler leave at the end of the season.

The Prodigal Son returns

The job Michaels returned to was more challenging than the one he took on in 1975. For starters, Michaels' "golden boy" reputation was somewhat tarnished. His latest effort, the previous season's The New Show was praised by critics but largely ignored by audiences. Also, the '84-'85 season had been a critical and ratings hit, generating memorable characters and stand-out performers. However, Michaels would not be the only member of the old guard to return: original writers Al Franken and Tom Davis would return as producers, and veteran Jim Downey would be head writer. Fans and critics welcomed Michaels and many of the original producers and writers back, calling it a return to the show's roots, as the past five seasons before this were very out-of-element compared to the 1975-1980 era.

Michaels opted to follow Ebersol's lead from the previous season, hiring established young actors for his ensemble. He hired comedy veteran Randy Quaid, best known for his work in The Last Picture Show and National Lampoon's Vacation, as well as Joan Cusack and Robert Downey Jr.. Milestones included the first black female regular, Danitra Vance (a young woman named Yvonne Hudson had been a featured player in 1980 and appeared in some bit parts in '79 and '80, but never had any strong role or speaking part), Terry Sweeney, the first openly gay cast member, and Anthony Michael Hall, yet another fresh face from Hollywood who at 17 was the youngest castmember ever. Rounding out the cast was future In Living Color star Damon Wayans, and previously unknown improv comedy veterans like Nora Dunn, Dennis Miller and Jon Lovitz. Miller, who performed in relatively few sketches (and even fewer as the years went by), became known for bringing his stand-up wit to "Weekend Update," becoming the first memorable anchor since Chevy Chase back in 1975.

With the exceptions of Miller, Lovitz and Dunn the new cast failed to connect with audiences. Michaels' gamble on a young, brat pack approach may have made the show seem more hip, but many of the regulars were better actors than comedians. The writing staff, composed of newcomers and veterans from the first five seasons failed to collaborate with the new talent as they had during Michaels' first tenure. At the end of the 1985-1986 season NBC briefly cancelled SNL, but eventually opted to give Michaels one more chance.

Return to Form

Of the entire cast, only Dunn, Lovitz, and Miller returned when the '86-'87 season rolled around. For his next crop of regulars Michaels returned to his original tactic of assembling a strong ensemble of relative unknowns, led by Dana Carvey, Nora Dunn, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Victoria Jackson, Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller and Kevin Nealon. Although the new lineup contained some of the best actresses since the show's early seasons, there were reportedly some dramatic behind-the-scenes ego battles, and tensions eventually forced some members out — notably Victoria Jackson, who has since been highly critical of Hooks and especially Dunn, who was romantically involved with Michaels at the time.

With the new cast, SNL began to revive and gain renewed popularity, mainly thanks to Michaels' inspired casting decisions, vastly improved writing and increasingly on-target political satire and TV parodies. Sadly, one of the best seasons, 1987-1988, was cut short by a writers' strike. Gilda Radner had been penciled in to host a show in the spring of 1988. They wanted to reschedule, but by 1989 her cancer had returned and she died within the year.

The urbane, smooth-voiced Hartman became one of the show's longest-serving cast members. Hartman had originally worked as a graphic designer; among his credits is the band logo for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Turning to theatre, he became a member of The Groundlings, where he met Paul Reubens, which led to a featured role in Reubens' cult 80s kids TV show Pee-Wee's Playhouse. When he left SNL in 1994, he and Kevin Nealon were the longest-serving cast members in the show's history (eight seasons). He went on to TV success in the popular media sitcom NewsRadio, as well as appearing in many movies and providing character voices for numerous film and TV animations. Hartman's life was tragically cut short on May 28, 1998 when he was gunned down in his home by his wife Brynn, who then committed suicide.

A turning point came with the 1988-89 season, and the recruitment of a young Canadian comic Mike Myers. A versatile and inventive comedian with a gift for accents and a lifelong love of Monty Python and British comedy, he introduced several classic characters including Streisand-loving cable talk show hostess “Linda Richman”, and ultra-pretentious German arts show host “Dieter”. He also formed a strong partnership with Carvey, which revisited the magic of the classic Aykroyd-Belushi pairing. Carvey and Myers created and performed one of SNL's most popular and successful recurring sketches, Wayne's World, which inspired two successful spin-off movies.

The shows in this period featured some of SNL's best loved recurring sketches and characters, including “Wayne's World”, the Schwarzenegger-like Austrian body-builders Hans and Franz (Carvey and Nealon). Carvey also gained renown for his scowling, ultra-conservative “Church Lady” character and his impersonations of then US President George Bush and presidential candidate Ross Perot.

Bolstered by strong scripts penned by the writing team, Carvey's Bush and Perot impressions were a notable advance on earlier ventures in this vein, and they set a new benchmark for this aspect of the show's political satire. The best-remembered political impersonation from the Super70s period was Chevy Chase's slapstick parody of President Gerald Ford, but Chase had made no attempt to create an accurate impression of Ford's character or essay any in-depth political satire — his sketches simply lampooned Ford's renowned clumsiness and consisted of Chase falling down a lot.

Carvey's Bush and Perot parodies were far more sophisticated and his Bush send-up was so well received that the former President himself made a cameo appearance in one show, lightheartedly taking Carvey to task.

Spring 1990 proved a rocky finale for one of the show's most underrated cast members. Nora Dunn boycotted a show hosted by the sexist and homophobic comedian Andrew Dice Clay. NBC fired her and a series of ugly charges and countercharges were lobbied between Lorne Michaels and Dunn. Many felt that Dunn cared more about garnering publicity than standing up for women's rights, but others took her side and viewed Clay's appearance as an all-time low. This episode marked the first turnover in nearly half a decade, and seemed to be a sad harbinger for the endless turmoil which would mark the 90's SNL.

Season Breakdown

1985-86 Season

Opening Montage

This season also had two opening montages. The first lasted only four episodes, and--like the 1984 season--opened with a picture of the Statue of Liberty covered in scaffolding (the statue was under renovation that year in preparation for its centennial celebration). It then showed various still images of New York bordered with several triangular lines and post-card like decorations. Starting with the Tom Hanks/Sade episode on 12/14/85, a new opening montage seemed to tell a story of sorts of a limo driving through New York, and eventually passing each cast member. At the end, the limo would approach 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and that particular weeks' host would then emerge from the backseat. Another version of the second montage exists that shows a plane landing just before the limo leaves the airport. The music during this opener would be used for almost a decade, with a slight change in 1994, and finally being replaced entirely for the 1995 season.

Cast

Joan Cusack
Nora Dunn
Robert Downey Jr.
Anthony Michael Hall
Jon Lovitz
Dennis Miller
Randy Quaid
Terry Sweeney
Danitra Vance

Featuring

A. Whitney Brown (debuts 2/22/86)
Al Franken (debuts 3/22/86)
Don Novello
Dan Vitale (final 2/08/86)
Damon Wayans (final 3/15/86)

Notes

  • Wayans is fired on 3/15/86 (he was sick of the way the show treated him and camped up a "straight" character so that Lorne Michaels would fire him). Vitale is also removed mid-season.
  • At season's end Cusack, Downey, Hall, Quaid, Vance, and Sweeney are all axed. Although each had his/her funny moments (Sweeney's Nancy Reagan impression was especially popular), the cast never seemed to come together as a cohesive unit.
  • This season included the only SNL episode (unless one counts the "Who Shot C.R.?" episode from years earlier) to actually feature a continuing narrative thread linking the sketches together. In the opening sketch of an episode hosted by George Wendt, the cast is informed that NBC is turning the show over to respected director Francis Ford Coppola, in a bid for greater artistic merit. A brilliant director of feature films, Coppola turns out to be an incompetent TV director, resulting in a running gag in which each sketch is ruined in various ways by Coppola's bumbling. The cast finally quits in the final sketch when Anthony Michael Hall is injured in a war-sketch after Coppola decides to use real bullets to increase the sketch's sense of realism. During the closing credits, Wendt realizes just how much damage Coppola has done to SNL's reputation: the former producers of the show (actually played by Franken & Davis) have chosen to tend bar rather than continue watching Coppola's travesty.

1986-87 Season

Opening Montage

This montage was used for two seasons, and is basically just video footage of each cast member racing the clock to get to what appears to be a casual night club.

Cast

Dana Carvey
Nora Dunn
Phil Hartman
Jan Hooks
Victoria Jackson
Jon Lovitz
Dennis Miller

Featuring

A. Whitney Brown
Kevin Nealon

Notes

  • This season provides a major cast overhaul which restores the show to critical acclaim and watercooler value. All players introduced in this season become long-running cast members and/or major stars. Even the middle ranked Kevin Nealon remains in the cast for 9 seasons, one of the longest-running stints for any cast member (he's bumped up to contract in the 87-88 season).

1987-88 Season

Opening Montage

Same montage as the 1986 season with only two noticeable changes. 1)Kevin Nealon is added to full fledged cast member status in the credits. 2) The host/musical guest photos shown during the montage and bumpers are now in black in white.

Cast

Dana Carvey
Nora Dunn
Phil Hartman
Jan Hooks
Victoria Jackson
Jon Lovitz
Dennis Miller
Kevin Nealon

Featuring

A. Whitney Brown
Al Franken

Notes

  • This season is trimmed to only 13 episodes due to a writers' strike.

1988-89 Season

Opening Montage

This montage was also used for two seasons, and is just video footage with a light greenish-blue tint, of the cast members "caught" engaging in different tasks around areas of New York, intermingled with various footage of the city. During this season, the now-familiar Saturday Night Live circular logo appears for the first time.

Cast

Dana Carvey
Nora Dunn
Phil Hartman
Jan Hooks
Victoria Jackson
Jon Lovitz
Dennis Miller
Kevin Nealon

Featuring

A. Whitney Brown
Al Franken
Mike Myers (debuts 1/21/89)
Ben Stiller (debuts 3/25/89)

Notes

  • Ben Stiller and Mike Myers go on to become major film stars, but by very different routes. Myers remains on SNL for 6 years, as an increasingly popular attraction, while Stiller is fired in spring '89, flounders for several years, and becomes a big draw by the late 90's.

1989-90 Season

Opening Montage

Same montage as the 1988 season with little notable changes, except that every episode in 1990 has a '15' in the center of the circle logo, commemorating the 15th anniversary of the show.

Cast

Dana Carvey
Nora Dunn
Phil Hartman
Jan Hooks
Victoria Jackson
Jon Lovitz
Dennis Miller
Mike Myers
Kevin Nealon

Featuring

A. Whitney Brown
Al Franken

Notes

  • Myers is bumped up to contract player.
  • This season has the first real cast turmoil in nearly five years, as Lovitz departs for other venues and Dunn is fired after boycotting the show hosted by Andrew Dice Clay.

 

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Over the past 29 years, seven small words have defined what comedy means to America: "Live, from New York, it's Saturday Night!" Never has one tv show produced such an immense number of comedic genuises. Names such as Chris Farley, Dana Carvey, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, are all alumni of this great comedic institution. Dozens upon dozens of memorable characters and quotes have also come from the show. Such characters as the samurai, the coneheads, church lady, the roxbury guys, the spartan cheerleaders, pat, wayne and garth, and many others. Such lines as "cheeseburger, cheeseburger", "well isnt that special", "youll be livin in a van, down by the river!", "were goin to pump. . . you up!" all bring back wonderful memories for people that were watching the live show when it happened. These lines are like one big inside joke for the people that watch the show, making them a part of a sort of, special club. This show is one of the greats, along with The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and all the other shows that will live on our minds forever.

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TV TIDBITS

Aired: October 11, 1975 -

Cast: Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, countless others

Network: NBC

Genre: Sitcom

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