I would like to be able to say that I was a fan of Saturday Night Live from the very beginning. In the fall of 1975, I was 13 years old. It was also the days of no cable and only 3 networks. I regularly studied the TV Guide for information about all shows, especially the new shows for the season. There were two shows beginning that fall that had “Saturday Night” in the title. The one that I was really interested in was called “Saturday Night Live”. Actually the full title of the show was “Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell”. I remember seeing the premiere, which was on September 20, 1975. I don’t remember the cast of regular comedy performers on the show, which included Bill Murray. The main thing that I remember about the show was that it included the highly touted first American performance by a Scottish Group called the Bay City Rollers. They were being promoted as the next Beatles and this performance was supposed to be the equivalent of the Beatles first appearance on Ed Sullivan. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I enjoyed their song “Saturday Night” enough to buy the 45. But Howard Cosell was no Ed Sullivan. And The Bay City Rollers was the high point in the run of the show. It was soon obvious that whatever CBS was showing before Mary Tyler Moore/Bob Newhart/Carol Burnett line-up was preferable to Howard Cosell.
“NBC’s Saturday Night” started broadcasting on October 11, 1975. I was not watching the show that night. The local ABC affiliate usually showed “Hee Haw” and professional wrestling and I was watching those programs. I was a professional wrestling junkie so it was a natural for me to watch this program. “Hee Haw” also aired on a different channel earlier in the day so I wouldn’t necessarily watch it regularly. “NBC’s Saturday Night” was quietly gaining a cult following and it was completely off my radar. One Saturday evening, I was flipping channels to see what else might be on. Maybe they weren’t showing wrestling that night. Maybe that episode of “Hee-Haw” was particularly bad. Anyway, I stopped at NBC where I thought I recognized Muppets on the screen. I had heard that they were developing a program called “The Muppet Show” and I thought they were going to have new characters other than the ones I had grown up seeing on “Sesame Street”. But these Muppets were very dark and I didn’t really get many of their jokes. I assumed that I was watching “The Muppet Show” not realizing that it would be a full year later before it became a real show. “NBC’s Saturday Night” was so far off my radar that I had no idea that the Muppets were regulars on the show. I had no idea that it had any kind of regulars. But I had liked the Muppets enough on “Sesame Street” to give them a chance. They went to commercial after this strange skit and I decided to stay on this channel. When they came back from the commercial the announcer said, “And now, Weekend Update. With Chevy Chase”. I quickly changed the channel. I had no interest in watching the news. I preferred crappy “Hee Haw” reruns.
It would be December before I would really pay attention to an episode of the show. The first episode I remember watching was one that Richard Pryor hosted. I don’t remember where I had seen Richard Pryor before this show, but I knew enough about him and liked him enough to want to see this show. That was when I discovered what I had been missing. I still didn’t understand the Muppets but I watched Weekend Update. I started watching every Saturday night. I bought the soundtrack album, released in 1976. Oddly, the name of the album is “NBC’s Saturday Night Live”. The show would not be called “Saturday Night Live” until 1977. I bought the script book. When I was old enough to go out with my friends on weekends, I was one of the guys that went home on Saturday night to watch SNL. I got mad at Chevy when he left and I was slow to warm to Bill Murray. I entered the contest to host the show. I would have submitted a home movie if I could have come up with an idea and talked my dad into letting me use our silent Super 8 camera. I bought Leon Redbone albums because I saw him on SNL. I had a Coneheads poster AND a Belushi Samurai poster. I consumed all things SNL. I helped make SNL a comedy phenomenon and SNL helped make me who I am. For better or worse.
By spring of 1980, I was graduating from high school and SNL was wrapping up its last season with the original cast. It was a shell of its former self with several of the original cast members gone for careers in film. I was less likely to get home early to see SNL. It had lost its original magic. It would never regain that magic for those of us who grew up during those first five seasons. In the time since then, there have been moments when it’s been funnier. There have been seasons with casts that rival that original group. But those first seasons were something special.
And I almost missed it because I thought it was the news…
Singer, Songwriter, Entertainer, Storyteller