Every now and then I wonder if names like Rob Schneider, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, David Spade and Phil Hartman would have been known if it wasn’t for Saturday Night Live. Since the shows inception in 1975, the show has vaunted previously-unknown comics to the forefront (actors like Eddie Murphy, Joan Cusack and Robert Downey Jr.).
In ’75 when Johnny Carson wanted to move his ‘Best of Carson’ episodes from its previous Saturday night time slot, and move them to the weekdays to get better prime-time viewership. Once that slot opened, the executives at NBC asked Lorne Michaels to come up with a comedy variety show that would push the envelope. For the first season, Michaels hired John Belushi, Michael O’Donoghue, Dan Aykroyd, George Coe, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Jane Curtin, Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner.
In its first year, the show was called NBC’s Saturday Night (because the rights to the name Saturday Night Live was being used by ABC). However, NBC bought the rights to the name in ’76 and was first used on March 26, 1977.
In season five, Lorne Michaels decided to leave the show. Even though he thought that the show would be canceled upon his departure, NBC had already made plans if Michaels ever left (they hired Jean Doumanian, who was an associate producer for the show for the first five seasons). In the hands of Doumanian, the show got terrible reviews and there were reports of problems backstage. Therefore to save the show, NBC fired Doumanian and replaced her with Dick Ebersol.
Under Ebersol’s management, talent like Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo, Billy Crystal, Martin Short and Harry Shearer. Ebersol’s last contribution to the show was turning the show into a live format. After Ebersol left, Michaels came back. Although the season Michaels returned for (the 85-86 season) was deemed as awful, Michaels was given one last chance to make the show good again. Michaels fired almost the whole cast and brought in Dana Carvey, Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz, Jan Hooks, Dennis Miller, Phil Hartman, Victoria Jackson and Kevin Nealon.
Since that time, Saturday Night Live has done very well in it’s time slot. Michaels has introduced a lot of talent into the main stage of America (Conan O’ Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Mike Meyes and Will Ferrell…just to name a few). Saturday Night Live is now its 36th season, and will continue for several more years at least.