After 27 years and more than 500 shows, Saturday Night Live is more than just the longest running comedy on television — it's a force that changed the face of television forever, and gave us a stream of stars that rule the airwaves and silver screen.
For their best-selling book, Live From New York: An Oral History of Saturday Night Live, authors Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller talked to the many of the original "Not Ready for Prime Time Players." Read an excerpt below.
Chapter One: Exordium: 1975-1976
Like all show business successes, Saturday Night Live had many fathers. Several mothers too. There is still, so many years after the birth, disagreement over who the real father is. The show had a gestation period of more than a year, during which the concept took various forms, none identical to that of the show we know today. Adjustments and refinements continued after the premiere.
Whatever the evolutionary variations in structure and format, however, Saturday Night Live was from the beginning a lone pioneer staking out virgin territory and finding its way in the night, its creative team determined to make it television's antidote to television, to all the bad things — corrupt, artificial, plastic, facile — that TV entertainment had become.
CBS still ruled the ratings in the mid-1970s, but executives at RCA, which owned NBC, had high hopes for the network's aggressive and competitive new president, Herbert Schlosser, a onetime Wall Street lawyer who took over in 1974. He was anxious to make his mark on television history. And he would.
ROSIE SHUSTER, Writer: Lorne Michaels arrived in my life before puberty, let's put it that way. I swear to God. There was not a pubic hair in sight when he arrived on my doorstep. We were living in Toronto in the same neighborhood. I was with my girlfriend. We were jumping on boards, just letting go - we were just wild prepubescent kids, and Lorne observed me from the sidelines. And I guess he was struck by my mojo, or whatever, and he basically started following me around. We were inseparable after that.
HOWARD SHORE, Music Director: As kids, Lorne and I went to a coed summer camp in Canada. And that was really the beginning of our friendship. I was thirteen and Lorne must have been about fifteen. Rosie Shuster was there, too. We did shows you do at summer camp, like Guys and Dolls, The Fantasticks, things like that. And on Saturday nights, we did "The Fast Show," a show Lorne and I put together quickly - hence the title. We did comedy, we did sketches, we had kind of a repertory company and some musicians. If you think about it, it was truly the beginning of Saturday Night Live, because it was a show we put on every Saturday night, and it was a live show, and it was somewhat improvisational, with comedy and music. We always had a bunch of people around us who were writers and actors even at that age. And that kind of progressed from summer camp to other things that Lorne and I wrote together.