Saturday Night Live (SNL) is the name of NBC's weekly late night one-and-a-half hour live comedy show, which has been on the air since 1975. Each week, the show features a different celebrity guest host, and features a guest musical act (sometimes the guest host is the musical guest). The show consists of comedy sketches, a comedic news segment, spoofs of television commercials, and performances by the guest musical artist. Many of the sketches feature recurring characters or running gags, as well as impressions of various celebrities.
When the first show aired on October 11, 1975 (George Carlin as guest host), it was called "NBC's Saturday Night", because ABC featured a program at the same time titled "Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell" (The cast of SNL were originally called the "Not Ready for Prime-Time Players." This was an inside joke: Cosell's show featured a group of comic actors called "The Primetime Players," which included future SNL cast member Bill Murray). When the ABC program went off the air, the NBC program changed its name to "Saturday Night Live". The original cast (1975 - 1980) included Second City alum Dan Aykroyd, as well as Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Garrett Morris. Bill Murray replaced Chase in 1977, after Chase left to pursue a movie career (this would become commonplace at SNL). Paul Shaffer, who also appeared in many sketches, was the musical director for the show from 1975 to 1980. Other regulars on the show included writer Al Franken, who later became famous as a political author and satirist, and Harry Shearer, who later acted in several films and television series, including The Simpsons. The show also featured frequent guest appearances by comedians Steve Martin and Andy Kaufman.
Aykroyd and Belushi departed after the 1978-1979 season. Lorne Michaels quit the show at the end of the fifth season and the rest of the original cast, along with the entire writing staff, followed. Jean Doumanian took over the production of the show and hired a completely new cast and new writers for the 1980 season. The new show was plagued by problems from the start, and was deemed disastrously unfunny by both critics and the viewing audience. Symbolic of the problems faced by the show, cast member Charles Rocket realized the network's greatest fear when he used the word "fuck" at the close of an episode in early 1981. NBC, which had had enough, fired Doumanian.
It looked as if NBC might cancel the show (indeed, many nights the NBC aired sketch comedy show SCTV in its place), but SNL was given one more chance when Dick Ebersol was hired to replace Doumanian. Ebersol had been involved with the creation of the show, and fired all of the Doumanian cast save Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo. Murphy had rarely been featured during Doumanian's tenure, but became a break-out star under Ebersol, and his popularity helped restore the show's ratings.
(based in part on an August 2000 Writer's Digest article)
Complete cast list
Note: This list includes both featured and repertory players. The dates given are the dates of the season which they first appeared as a player and the season which they left the show. For example, Bill Murray first appeared on the show in 1977. However, the season began in 1976. Therefore, the date given on the listing will specify 1976.
People who have hosted five or more times
People who have appeared as both host and musical guest
Recurring gags & characters included
Popular catch phrases originating from the show
Movies which have spun off from the series (or included characters that previously appeared on the series)