It’s hard to believe that Saturday Night Live has been on the air for 858 shows and 44 seasons.
But in Season One, which premiered on October 11, 1975, there was no Saturday Night Live—it was called simply Saturday Night. On that first night, the host was comedian George Carlin.
A gap had opened up in NBC’s scheduling when Johnny Carson asked that his Best Of shows be broadcast on weeknights. And so NBC tasked producer Lorne Michaels with creating a replacement. Michaels put together a variety show of sketches, music and satire.
Key to the show’s success was the muti-talented ensemble cast, many of whom would become major stars in their own right. Season one’s cast—or “The Not Ready For Prime-Time Players,” as they were known—were Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris, and Chevy Chase.
But while the show was broadcast live at night on a Saturday, the SNL name was taken. NBC rival ABC’s Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell had begun broadcasting just one month before NBC.
Luckily for NBC, the Cosell show was an unmitigated flop—even described by its director as “one of the greatest disasters in the history of television.” ABC salvaged what they could by selling the rights to the SNL name to NBC in 1976.
The show was not an immediate smash, and some NBC executives wanted to cancel it. But it gathered a cult following with baby boomers, an audience stations were keen to attract.
Forty-four years later, it seems the decision to retain SNL was on the money.