Saturday Night Live on NBC
SNL Hosts, Musical Guests, Current Events, Comedy Styles, and Controversies
With over 30 years on the air, Saturday Night Live is another jewel in the NBC crown. The hour and a half long comedy show, which broadcasts live from Studio 8H in 30 Rockefeller Center on Saturday nights at 11:30PM, has become such a staple of American TV that even casual viewers use the nick name "SNL" and the show's skits are often water cooler conversation come Monday morning. Each episode features a celebrity guest host and a musical act (occasionally these have been one in the same, as was the case with Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, and Justin Timberlake), and the opening sketch always ends with the phrase "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!"
Saturday Night Live, or NBC's Saturday Night, as it was originally called, debuted on October 11, 1975 with the now famous original line-up of "Not Ready For Primetime Players" John Belushi, Jane Curtain, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Larraine Newman, and Garrett Morris. Bill Murray joined soon after, and repeat hosts like Steve Martin, Buck Henry, and Candice Bergen also became a regular part of the irreverent comic mayhem.
The first show of its kind, SNL has inspired many similar sketch comedy shows, some of them directly challenging it in its time slot, such as Fox's MAD TV. Though Saturday Night Live occasionally goes through slumps, it has stood the test of time and will likely be around for many years to come.
Ironically, it was during the show's most troublesome and low-rated years, in the early to mid-1980s, that the cast was filled with soon-to-be movie and TV stars. Among them were Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Randy Quaid, Joan Cusack, Martin Short, Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Michael Hall, and Christopher Guest. Even Damon Wayans, Laurie Metcalf, and Ben Stiller had brief stints on the show.
Lorne Michaels came back to Saturday Night Live in 1985 to return the show to its former glory, and eventually helped SNL find its footing with a strong cast of improv artists and comedians like Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, Jan Hooks, and Dennis Miller. After this cast had become well-established, a crop of young featured players dubbed the "bad boys of SNL" also came to prominence (with many going on to successful film careers): Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Farley, Rob Schneider, Chris Rock, and Mike Myers. With this stellar cast of old pros and fresh talent, Saturday Night Live hit a peak in popularity, and the cast was even named the #1 Entertainer of the Year by Entertainment Weekly magazine in 1992.
After hitting another slow spot in which the show's troubles were signaled by a changing line-up of established comedians (Janeane Garafalo, Michael McKean, and Kids in the Hall's Mark McKinney among them), Lorne Michaels renewed SNL's life again by overhauling the cast. Among the newcomers were Darrell Hammond, Cheri Oteri, and Will Ferrell. Soon after, Ana Gasteyer, Chris Kattan, Tracy Morgan, Rachel Dratch, and Jimmy Fallon also joined up and made their mark, and head writer Tina Fey became co-host of the Weekend Update feature with Fallon.
The cast of NBC's Saturday Night Live has been too numerous to mention, but a few others of particular note include Al Franken, Joe Piscopo, Harry Shearer, Nora Dunn, Victoria Jackson, Ellen Cleghorne, Julia Sweeney, Tim Meadows, Norm MacDonald, Colin Quinn, Molly Shannon, Sarah Silverman, Horatio Sanz, Amy Poehler, and Seth Meyers.
HOSTS AND MUSICAL GUESTS
The cast members are the real stars of Saturday Night Live, but it doesn't hurt to have a big-shot celebrity hosting the show. Over the years, a remarkable line-up of guest hosts have come to 30 Rock, for example Gwyneth Paltrow, Colin Farrell, Robert DeNiro, Robin Williams, Madonna, Mel Gibson, Jerry Seinfeld, Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, George Clooney, Jim Carrey, Rosie O'Donnell, Pamela Anderson, Vince Vaughn, Hugh Jackman, Matt Damon, and Lindsay Lohan, as well as "repeat offenders" Tom Hanks, John Goodman, Christopher Walken, Alec Baldwin and Steve Carell. Former SNL cast members sometimes return to host, among them Will Ferrell, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, and David Spade. Even politicians like Al Gore, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Al Sharpton, and Ralph Nader have gotten in on the action, not to mention sports stars like Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter.
From the beginning, SNL has prided itself on featuring the coolest bands and musicians, and it has continued this tradition unabated, featuring both established and cutting edge music acts like U2, Coldplay, Alanis Morissette, Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, Tom Petty, Eminem, Billy Joel, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Cher, Dolly Parton, Aerosmith, Whitney Houston, R.E.M., Nirvana, Garth Brooks, Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, Snoop Dogg, Tina Turner, Metallica, Jennifer Lopez, Jay-Z, and Prince.
It's not at all uncommon for celebrities who happen to be in New York to swing by 30 Rock to make an appearance on SNL, particularly when the show is at its hottest. During the 1998-99 season alone, there were cameos by Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, the World Champion New York Yankees, Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd reprising their classic "Wild & Crazy" Festrunk Brother characters, NBA All-Star Shaquille O'Neal, and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
CURRENT EVENTS AND RECURRING CHARACTERS
Written and then performed live on a weekly basis, Saturday Night Live is able to remain uniquely fresh, covering political news and pop cultural events as they unfold. However, the success behind the show's political humor often results from the ability certain cast members have to not just mimic a politician, but create his image anew. Chevy Chase made his career playing a bumbling president Gerald Ford, yet made absolutely no attempt to even look like him! Dana Carvey's George Bush Sr. and Darrell Hammond's Bill Clinton transcended their real-life counterparts to become characters themselves. Hammond also took this approach with some of his famous impersonations, such as his mischievous version of Sean Connery, who delights in torturing Will Ferrell's Alex Trebek on the "Celebrity Jeopardy" skit.
A major source of SNL's popularity (and occasionally its creative downfall) is a tendency to bring back well-liked characters and skits. Over the years, this has included the Coneheads, Blues Brothers, Gumby, Hans and Franz, the Church Lady, Sprockets, Wayne's World, Pat, Mango, The Ladies' Man, and the Spartan Cheerleaders, to name a few. Some of the funniest recurring sketches have been parodies of real TV shows and personalities like Hardball, Judge Judy, The View, Oprah Winfrey, and Donald Trump.
COMEDY AND CONTROVERSY
Because it airs live, Saturday Night Live is an open invitation for troublemakers. A few cast members (and more than a few musicians) have let curse words slip, and reportedly Lorne Michaels was very perturbed when Elvis Costello decided to perform a different song at the last minute. But by far the show's biggest controversy was in 1992, when Sinead O'Connor followed her performance by declaring "Fight the real enemy!" and proceeding to rip a picture of Pope John Paul II in two. More recently another musical act, Ashlee Simpson, made headlines when a malfunctioning pre-recorded track revealed on-air that she had been lip-synching (no doubt she was not the first to do it, but she made the mistake of getting caught).
Though talk of a "Saturday Night Live curse" is overly dramatic considering that some untimely deaths are inevitable with a show that has had a cast of over 100, some of SNL's most loved former cast members did die tragically young: John Belushi died of a drug overdose, Gilda Radner succumbed to cancer, Phil Hartman was murdered by his wife, and Chris Farley also died from drug overdose. In light of these events, two of the most poignant old SNL clips are one in which an elderly Belushi dances on the graves of his fellow cast members, and Hartman's final show where he cradles Farley as he sings "So Long, Farewell".
Over the last three decades, NBC's Saturday Night Live has launched the careers of many of our most revered comedians and actors. Thus far, the program, which has been called "a weekly miracle" by Tom Shales, has been nominated for over 80 Emmy Awards. SNL has been honored with the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award, inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and the show continues to earn the highest ratings of any late-night TV show, making millions of people laugh every Saturday night at 11:30PM
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