Photo: ‘Saturday Night Live’
‘Saturday Night Live’ is a show with a reputation that precedes itself. If you know anything about television, you know about this show and its zany approach to live comedy. It’s been chugging along, turning unknown comics into celebrities since before most of you readers (and even myself) were even born. This sketch comedy show has gone through a rollercoaster of highs and lows since its premiere on NBC back in 1975, and now it’s seen as one of TV’s most iconic shows and a staple of late-night programming. So, with that being said, let’s break down the different eras of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and re-live some of the show’s most famous (and infamous) moments.
‘Saturday Night Live’ Rise & Journey
1975-80: The Golden Years
The show premiered on NBC on October 11, 1975, to rave reviews and mainstream success. With creator Lorne Michaels as showrunner and cast members like Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, and Dan Aykroyd (among other famous names), the show skyrocketed to popularity with its unconventional approach to comedy and a live format that encouraged spontaneity. Much of the cast was propelled into stardom, mainly Chase, who was the first ever host of the popular satirical news segment, “Weekend Update”. There were hits and misses with skits, but the show found more popularity with its political humor. Making fun of then-president Gerald Ford, along with other current event jokes, made ‘SNL’ a talking point the next day.
The first season was well-recived, and from there, the show found its footing. Chevy Chase left after the first season and the void was filled by the one and only Bill Murray. The show was wildly popular with younger viewers instead of adults, which proved to be a large part of its success. Catchphrases and quips from sketches entered pop culture, and by 1979, the show seemed to be in a prosperous state. But inside, there were problems that would soon come to a head.
1980-81: ‘SNL’s Low Point, The Doumanian Era
Season 6 of ‘Saturday Night Live’ is considered the worst year in the show’s entire run by fans and critics alike. By 1979, Michaels was feeling burnt out from the last 5 seasons. He expressed his desire to take a break from the show and believed that the show would be put on hiatus until he was ready to return. This proved not to be the case, as Jean Doumanian, one of the show’s associate producers, informed him that the show would continue without him and she would become the new showrunner. Angered, the entire cast and crew quit in protest.
This was the rocky start that encapsulated a year of low ratings, bad reviews, and an all-around disaster of a season. Many fans and critics felt that was a shadow of its former self and were no longer the same ‘Saturday Night Live’ they knew from six years ago. Even with an all-new cast of writers and performers, there was still a lack of support for Doumanian from the network. It was almost as if she was doomed from the start. All of this heat and the negative press finally came to a head on February 12, 1981, where cast member Charles Rocket dropped an f-bomb on live television. This was the last straw, the moment that caused NBC to dismiss Doumanian and consider this season a failure. After this, NBC decided to hire a new showrunner, someone who they felt could rejuvenate the show and bring it back to its former glory: Dick Ebersol.
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1981-85: The Dick Ebersol Years
Dick Ebersol had a lot on his plate after the previous season’s shortcomings. In no time at all, he moved swiftly to fix the problems from before and make something new. First, he fired every cast member from Season 6 except for Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy (yes, THAT Eddie Murphy). He also rehired the show’s former head writer, Michael O’Donoghue, to bring back that original spark. All of these changes and more brought a more positive reception back to the show.
Ebersol would continue as showrunner for the next four years, with his show being more well-received than the Doumanian era, but still considered too “safe” in comparison to the original show. Due to his history with producing, he was well-versed in dealing with the corporate figures at NBC. By 1985, however, Ebersol was looking to completely change the show, getting rid of the “live” aspect along with other aspects. Just like Michaels a few years prior, he wanted to put the show on hiatus, which NBC refused. The show was canceled until Michaels stepped in to take back the reins of his show.
1985-Present: The Return of the King
Michaels was back, and he was ready to return the show to its original glory. He made strides to pick up where he left off back in 1980. He hired younger comics, like Joan Cusack and Robert Downey Jr., to change up the show, but this proved to be unsuccessful and the 1985 season was the lowest-rated season since 1980. The next year, Lorne learned from his mistakes and did another cast shake-up by finding relative unknowns this time instead of big-name actors. This gave him comics like Phil Hartman and Dana Carvey, and the show bounced back quickly to its former glory.
Now, the show has enjoyed some nice stability for the most part since its rocky first ten years. ‘Saturday Night Live’ has hit its stride and continues to change with the times. There are numerous actors and comics who have made their name since and brought life into the show: Mike Myers, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Kenan Thompson, Kate McKinnon and so many others that made this show the beautiful show it is today. Many fans may claim that the show is nothing like how it used to be, but I believe that it’s beneficial for the growth of ‘Saturday Night Live’. The sketch comedy series has evolved into something greater than just a funny television show. It’s an actor’s showcase; It’s a political comedy playground. And most of all, it’s still a great show that anyone of any age can sit down and watch for a good laugh.
By Ben Ross
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Ben Ross is a writer at Hollywood Insider. He loves watching films and finding the message behind the art. With a love for movies and television, his goal is to understand as much as he can about anything he watches, and engage with readers about different topics related to the industry. He aims to find work that sheds a light on issues not really talked about and showcase it, feeling that it is important to understand the truth. Together with his readers, he hopes to celebrate beautiful stories in film and explore topics that are worth discussing – a value that defines Hollywood Insider.