AL FRANKEN, Writer: Tom Davis and I had known each other since high school in Minnesota. In 1974 we were a comedy team out in L.A. We were the only writers hired by Lorne who he didn't meet. We always thought that if he had met us, we wouldn't have gotten the job. We weren't making money at the time, and the only variety shows around were Johnny Carson's- and we're not joke writers, so we couldn't do that - and Carol Burnett's, which was a good show but not our territory. Oh, and I think Sonny and Cher was on, which was a piece of s---. Actually, we wrote a perfect submission for Saturday Night Live, a package of things we'd like to see on TV - a news parody, commercial parody and a couple sketches. Basically from that, we were hired. We heard that Dick Ebersol wanted to hire a team from New York instead of us so he could save on the airfare, but Lorne insisted on us. Michaels was aghast at the condition of NBC's historic Studio 8H, which despite its noble traditions was technically primitive and had been allowed to deteriorate. He didn't think it had hosted a weekly live TV show since Your Hit Parade succumbed to rock and roll and left NBC in 1958.
Meanwhile, NBC brass were consumed with nervousness about the content of the show - about giving ninety minutes of network time a week to Lorne Michaels and his left-wing loonies. On the first show, with sometimes-racy comic George Carlin hosting, the network planned to use a six-second delay so that anything unexpected and obscene could be edited out by an observer from the Department of Standards and Practices (the censor), who would theoretically flip a switch in the control room and bleep the offending material before it went out naked onto the American airwaves. Over the coming months and years, various hosts or musical acts would make NBC executives more nervous than usual, and the notion of making the show not quite precisely literally live kept coming up.
JANE CURTIN: NBC sent me out on a limited publicity tour weeks before we went on the air. I didn't really know what the show was going to be like, but I was the only one in the cast that they weren't afraid of. They knew I wouldn't throw my food.
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Excerpted from Live From New York by Thomas W. Shales and James Andrew Miller Copyright © 2002 Little, Brown & Company.