A lot has changed since Saturday Night Live’s first episode aired on Oct. 11, 1975. For one thing, the show was then called NBC’s Saturday Night since sports broadcaster Howard Cosell, of all people, had snapped up producer Lorne Michaels’ first choice of name for his mercifully short-lived comedy-variety show on ABC, Howard Cosell’s Saturday Night Live. And, looking over the overstuffed rosters of cast members and featured players in recent seasons, it’s startling to think that this groundbreaking, culturally defining 90-minute sketch show was initially performed by only seven people.
Christened the Not Ready for Prime Time Players as a dig at Cosell (whose little-used repertory company was called the Prime Time Players), Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner (with late addition Bill Murray) anchored the shows first, increasingly celebrated and popular seasons with a stunning versatility. Each — to a greater or lesser degree — turned out sketches and characters that remain cultural touchstones to the present day. And each — again, to variable success — turned Saturday Night Live stardom into a launching pad for greater success and fame in all corners of the entertainment industry.
Saturday Night Live remains one of the most stressful, competitive and potentially star-making gigs in the world, with cast members either catching fire on their way to movie and television superstardom or slipping away into relative obscurity, their golden ticket to the big time canceled by circumstance, personal demons or just plain bad luck. Meanwhile, some extremely talented performers who never clicked on SNL went on to shine elsewhere, affirming that being a cast member there is one of the most uniquely challenging jobs show business has to offer.
The first Not Ready for Prime Time Players set the template, each of the seven’s career trajectories a lesson in the vicissitudes of Hollywood after your stint in New York’s now-famed Studio 8H is over.
‘Saturday Night Live”s Original Cast: Where Are They Now?
What’s happened since that first episode in October 1975?