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c. 1970s

Belushi, Aykroyd, Radner and the rest of the original cast of Saturday Night Live

As the 44th season of the show continues to draw big audiences, look back at images from decades past

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 22 -- Air Date 05/29/1976 -- Pictured: (l-r) Dan Aykroyd as DeForest Kelley, Dr. McCoy, John Belushi as William Shatner, Captain Kirk, Garrett Morris as Curtis, assistant, Elliott Gould as Herb Goodman during "The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise" skiton May 29, 1976 (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

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.

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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.

John Belushi, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner,Chevy Chase, Elliott Gould, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin , Garrett Morris during the “Happy Trails” skit.
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Jane Curtin, left, Dan Aykroyd, and Laraine Newman, in a still from their skit “The Coneheads.”
Warner Brothers/Getty Images
Garrett Morris, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, and Dyan Cannon as during the “Johnny Angel” skit.
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Garrett Morris, and Elliott Gould during “The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise” skit.
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Peter Boyle andJohn Belushi during the “Duelling Brandos” skit.
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Richard Pryor and the “Land Shark.”
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Jim Henson’s Muppets during the “Ploobis.”
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Guest performance by Andy Kaufman.
Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank
John Belushi and Robert Klein during the “Exterminators” skit.
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
George Coe, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, and Michael O’Donoghue during the “Bee Hospital” skit.
Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Gwen Phillips, and Chevy Chase “Supreme Court Spot Check” skit
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Chevy Chase and the writers of Saturday Night Live in the press room at the 28th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on May 17, 1976 at The Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles,. Yes, that’s a young Al Franken, pre-Senate days and #MeToo controversy, in the lower left corner.
ABC via Getty Images
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