This weekend marks the 45th anniversary since the inaugural episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975, an institution which is still going as strong as ever today. Little did NBC know back then what a phenomenon it would become and the careers that it would help forge ranging from the likes of Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler to current cast members Kate McKinnon and Pete Davidson.
The American late-night live television sketch comedy variety show represents more than just a programme, it’s the child of Lorne Michaels who has turned his pipedream into a reality. The show’s sketches have been parodying contemporary culture and politics for 45 years and, somehow, continually managed to stay fresh thanks to the constant revolving door of cast members.
The conception of SNL started a year before it came to air, a time when NBC president Herbert Schlosser approached his vice president of late-night programming, Dick Ebersol, and asked him to create a show to fill the Saturday night time slot. After a recommendation, Schlosser and Ebersol then approached Lorne Michaels who was invested in the project from the get-go. Ebersol and Michaels then developed the latter’s idea for a variety show featuring high-concept comedy sketches, political satire, and music performances that would attract 18 to 34-year-old viewers which was a pioneering concept which would change late-night entertainment forever.
Michaels then made his priority to assemble a list of soon-to-be iconic comedy avengers including the likes of Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Michael O’Donoghue, Gilda Radner, and George Coe. The show was originally called NBC’s Saturday Night because Saturday Night Live was in use by on the rival network ABC. However, following the cancellation of the Howard Cosell hosted SNL show, NBC purchased the rights to the name in 1976 and officially adopted the new title on March 26th, 1977.
For the first three years of the programme, it was firmly operating on the periphery of culture and it wasn’t until 1978 when the mainstream would start to take attention of Saturday Night Live. The original format for the programme was starkly different to the set-up that it would soon become famous for with a celebrity guest host and it started off by having three rotating permanent hosts who were Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin however when Pryor dropped out because his brand of comedy, the concept was shelved.
The 1975–76 season began on October 11th, 1975, with host George Carlin at the help, it’s safe to say that the programme was in the finding its feet stage and was still unsure what exactly it was because this concept was so fresh. SNL was originally much more of a typical variety show than the comedy programme it would later become, the first episode featured two musical guests Janis Ian and Billy Presto) and the second almost entirely featuring music, however, as the series went on sketch comedy would begin to dominate the show.
The first-ever sketch on the programme is called ‘The Wolverines’, which is definitely from the Monty Python school of comedy and is an absurd sketch which is somehow funny despite the lack of substance to it. To see the faces of people tuned in across Middle America and see their reaction to the wild comedy that these upstarts from New York had cooked up would be an incredible sight.
Check out the bizarre sketch for yourself, below.