'Saturday Night Live' celebrates legacy of laughs on 40th anniversary
“Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
When soon-to-be superstar Chevy Chase uttered those words for the first time on October 11, 1975, few people knew it was the beginning of a comedy revolution. For the first time, the ’60s generation’s style of irreverent humor and unabashedly anti-authoritarian perspective had found a weekly home on American television.
That fall, audiences discovered a hip and hilarious cast of “Not Ready for Prime-Time Players” which included Chase, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin, Dan Aykroyd and eventually the iconic Bill Murray. The show was helmed by a then-unknown 30-year-old producer named Lorne Michaels and it was actually called “NBC’s Saturday Night” because a rival show (hosted by sports broadcasting icon Howard Cosell) had its iconic name at the time.
Although the show’s audience was small at first, a series of breakout performances and memorable characters (like Belushi’s “Samurai” and Chase’s impression of a bumbling President Gerald Ford) helped the show quickly become an award-winning television phenomenon.
Forty years later an illustrious group of comedy stars owe their big breaks to Michaels and what has become a late night comedy institution – “Saturday Night Live.” Hollywood superstars like Kristen Wiig, Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Maya Rudolph, Mike Myers, Jimmy Fallon, Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler are just a few of the performers who first gained national attention on the SNL stage. And there are countless other A-listers – like Robert Downey, Jr. and Julia Louis-Dreyfus – who had a minor impact as cast-members on the show, only to blossom in later years.
But the show has not just become a launching pad for new talent, it’s also become a real force in politics and society. Major politicians seeking to show they have a sense of humor routinely make cameo appearances on the show, as do musical acts and celebrities looking to capitalize on the SNL’s enduring legacy.
“Saturday Night Live” has had its up and downs, and was actually more than once on the brink of cancellation, and yet it has remained a quotable and quintessential mainstay in American life, arguably the most influential and beloved comedy series in American history.
“We don’t go on because we’re ready. We go on because it’s 11:30,” Michaels has famously said. Millions of Americans remain grateful that they still do. The 40th anniversary special airs Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.