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Saturday Night Live (SNL) is a late-night sketch comedy and variety show created by Lorne Michaels for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). It made its debut on October 11, 1975, under the title NBC's Saturday Night. Broadcast live out of Studio 8H at the GE Buildingmarker in New York's Rockefeller Centermarker, it is subsequently relayed with a time delay to both domestic and foreign markets.

The show regularly lampoons many aspects of contemporary American society, such as politics and popular culture, including both television and film. The show features a two-tiered cast, with repertory members known as the "Not Ready for Prime-Time Players", and new, unproven cast members are known as "Featured Players." These cast members are joined by a rotating list of guest hosts and musical acts.

Overseen by show creator, Lorne Michaels, who, excluding seasons 610, has been with the show throughout, first as producer and subsequently as a writer and executive producer. Show production is handled jointly by Broadway Video, SNL Studios, and NBC. As of 2009, Saturday Night Live is one of the longest-running network programs in American television history. In addition, several of the show's sketches have been developed into feature films.

Throughout its history, except for season 7 and other rare exceptions, the show has traditionally begun with a cold open, ending with someone breaking character and proclaiming "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!"

Much of the talent pool involved in the inaugural season was recruited from the National Lampoon Radio Hour, an inventive, nationally syndicated comedy series that often satirized current events. Actors and writers from Radio Hour received much more exposure and recognition on Saturday Night.


See also: history of SNL by season: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35

The show began as a replacement for The Best of Carson reruns of The Tonight Show that aired on either Saturday or Sunday night, at an affiliate's discretion, from January 1965 until September 1975 (originally known as The Saturday/Sunday Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson). Originally, the show was called NBC Saturday Night and NBC's Saturday Night, as the current title was in use by rival network ABC. NBC purchased the rights to the name in 1976 and officially adopted the new title on March 26, 1977. After five years, creator Lorne Michaels chose not to renew his contract, and was joined in departure by the cast members and writers. Jean Doumanian took over the show for the 1980 season, hiring a new cast and writers that included Eddie Murphy. Doumanian was replaced after one year by Dick Ebersol, who had hired Michaels to create the show. Murphy and Joe Piscopo continued as cast members under Ebersol, remaining with the show until 1984. For fall 1984, Ebersol added several cast members with television experience, including Billy Crystal, Martin Short, Harry Shearer, and Pamela Stephenson. After one season, Ebersol wanted a more significant revamp, which was rejected, and Lorne Michaels returned to the show.
Creator Lorne Michaels in April 2008.
Michaels' return for the 1985-86 season restored an association with NBC that has lasted nearly 30 years. The show has helped launch the careers of dozens of comedy stars during its run. As head of Broadway Video and SNL Films, Michaels has leveraged the talent he's helped introduce, producing shows and films such as All You Need Is Cash, Wayne's World, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Coneheads, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and 30 Rock.


Executive producers



Repertory players

Featured players


Don Pardo served as the announcer for the series since it began (except for season 7, when Mel Brandt and Bill Hanrahan filled that role). Pardo, who was 57 when the show debuted and who retired from NBC in 2004 at age 86, still flies in from his home in Tucson, Arizonamarker, to introduce the show.

The SNL Band

The Saturday Night Live Band (also known as "The Live Band") is the house band for SNL. Academy Award-winning composer Howard Shore served as the first musical director, from 1975 to 1980, appearing in many musical sketches, including Howard Shore and His All-Nurse Band and (backing a U. S. Coast Guard chorus) Howard Shore and the Shore Patrol. Over the years, the band has featured several New York studio musicians including Paul Shaffer (1975-1977, 1977-1980), Lou Marini (1975-1983), David Sanborn (1975), Michael Brecker, Ray Chew (1980-1983), Alan Rubin (1975-1983), Georg Wadenius (1979-1985), Steve Ferrone (1985), David Johansen (performing as Buster Poindexter), Tom Malone (who took over as musical director from 1981 to 1985), and G.E. Smith (musical director from 1985 to 1995). The band is currently under the leadership of Tower of Power alum Lenny Pickett and keyboardists Leon Pendarvis and Katreese Barnes. The number of musicians has varied over the years, but the basic instrumentation has been three saxophones, one trombone, one trumpet, and a rhythm section featuring two keyboards, a guitar, bass, drums, and an extra percussionist, not a permanent part of the band until Valerie Naranjo's arrival in 1995. The 1983-1984 and 1984-1985 seasons featured the smallest band, a six-piece combo. The band plays instrumentals leading in and out of station breaks; affiilates who run no advertising during these interludes hear the band play complete songs behind a "Saturday Night Live" graphic until the program resumes.

Hosts/musical guests

A typical episode of SNL will feature a single host, who delivers the opening monologue and performs in sketches with the cast, and a single musical guest, who will perform two or occasionally three musical numbers. In some cases, the musical guest will also be the host and fill both duties. George Carlin was first to host the show; Candice Bergen was the first female to host the show a few weeks later and again hosted only six weeks after that. Guests that have hosted five or more times are sometimes referred to as belonging to the Five-Timers Club, a term that originated on a sketch performed on Tom Hanks' fifth episode.

Production facilities


Since the show's inception, SNL has aired from Studio 8H, located on floors 8 and 9 of GE Buildingmarker (30 Rockefeller Plaza, or "30 Rock"). Due to the studio originally being a radio soundstage for Arturo Toscanini and his NBC Symphony Orchestra, the layout of the studio floor and the audience positioning causes some audience members to have an obstructed view of many of the sketches. According to NBC, the 8H studio has almost perfect acoustics. The offices of SNL writers, producers, and other staff can be found on the 17th floor of "30 Rock."

During the summer 2005 shooting hiatus, crews began renovations on Studio 8H. With its thirty-first season premiere in October 2005, the show began broadcasting in high definition, appearing letterboxed on conventional television screens. Though the show is still produced in widescreen, beginning in 2008, many viewers again began seeing the show in a 4:3 aspect ratio due to the DTV conversion.

Three of the first four shows of the 1976-77 season were shot at the former NBC Studiosmarker in Brooklyn, due to NBC News using Studio 8H for Presidential election coverage.

Filming and photography

Studio 8H production facilities are maintained by NBC Production Services. Video camera equipment includes four Sony BVP-700 CCD cameras, and two Sony BVP-750 CCD handheld cameras, both using Vinten pedestals. A GVG 4000-3 digital component production switcher, and GVG 7000 digital component routing switcher are used to route visual feeds to the control room, with multiple digital and analogue video recorders used to store footage. Audio facilities consist of a Calrec T Series digitally controlled analogue mixing console, and a Yamaha digital mixing console used for tape playback support and utility audio work.

As of the 35th season, the opening title sequence and opening montage of Saturday Night Live is shot using Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EOS 7D digital SLR cameras. Typical elements are recorded at 30 fps, with slow-motion sequences shot at 60 fps, both in full 1080p high definition.


With onsite facilities housed on floors 8 and 17 of Rockefeller Plaza, post-production duties on live broadcasts of Saturday Night Live include the mixing of audio and video elements by the Senior Audio Mixer, coupled with additional audio feeds consisting of music, sound effects, music scoring and pre-recorded voiceovers. All sources are stored digitally, with shows captured and segregated into individual elements for the purpose of reorganising for future repeats and syndication. The production tracking system was migrated from primarily analogue to digital in 1998, with live shows typically requiring 1.5 Terabytes of storage, consisting of audio elements and 5 cameras worth of visual elements.Elements of Saturday Night Live that are pre-recorded, such as certain commercial parodies, SNL Digital Shorts, and show graphics are processed off-site in the post-production facilities of Broadway Video.

Production process

The following is a summary of the process used to produce the show. It is based in part on interviews with former SNL head writer and performer Tina Fey in 2000 and 2004.

  • The day begins with a topical meeting, identifying the biggest story for the show's opening.
  • This is followed by a free-form pitch meeting with Lorne Michaels and the show's host(s) for the week. The official name is "The Host Meeting" but all the writers and cast members call it "The Pitch Meeting"
  • Throughout the week the host(s) has much influence on which sketches get aired.

  • Between 9:00 p.m. Tuesday night and 7:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, anywhere from 40 to 50 scripts are written, most of which will not be broadcast.
  • Once a writer's scripts are complete, he or she will often help other writers on their scripts.
  • Meanwhile, Lorne Michaels has another "Pitch Meeting" with the musical guest(s) and discusses which of their current songs, two to three, they should play in the show for their music act.

  • All scripts get a read-through from the cast, writers, producers, Lorne Michaels and the week's host(s). Read-through usually starts at 11:00 a.m. and lasts about two and a half to three hours.
  • After the read-through, the head writer(s) and the producers meet with the host(s) to decide which sketches to work on for the rest of the week, with Lorne Michaels and the host(s) having the final say.

  • The surviving sketches are reviewed, word-by-word, by the writing staff as a whole or in two groups in the case of co-head writers.
  • Some sketches which survived the cut because of their premise, but are in need of work, are rewritten completely. Others are changed in smaller ways.
  • The Weekend Update crew starts coming together, starting with the news items written by writers dedicated all week to the segment.
  • The crew comes in for rehearsal, and the music act is rehearsed as well as some of the larger, more important sketches.
  • The host(s) and musical guest(s) and usually some cast members shoot two to four promos to play for NBC.

  • The show is blocked.
  • The writer of each sketch acts as producer, working with the show's set designers and costumers.
  • Special music is recorded for the show.

  • The Saturday Night Live Band does a mid-morning rehearsal.
  • At 1 p.m., with the show still far from completed, the day begins with a run-through, with props, in front of Lorne Michaels.
  • This is followed by a dress rehearsal performed in front of the studio audience, which lasts from 8 p.m. - 10 p.m. (or sometimes later) and contains approximately twenty minutes of material which will be deleted from the final broadcast.
  • Lorne Michaels uses firsthand observation of the audience reaction during the dress rehearsal and input from the host(s) and head writer to determine the final round of changes, re-ordering sketches as necessary.
  • Following dress rehearsal, Lorne has meeting with the writers to discuss the final changes and gives notes about changes that could be made for the live show. The cast is updated about sketches cut after dress rehearsal and final rundown of sketches for live show on bullentin board outside of Lorne Michael's office.
  • The show then begins at 11:29:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

A 60 Minutes report taped in October 2004 depicted the intense writing frenzy that goes on during the week leading up to a show, with crowded meetings and long hours. The report particularly noted the involvement of the guest host(s) in developing and selecting the sketches in which they will appear. Similarly, there has been an A&E episode of Biography which covered the production process, as well as an episode of "TV Tales" in 2002 on E! Entertainment Television.




SNL reruns are aired out of its original broadcast sequence, usually determined by which episodes have not yet been repeated, but had high ratings or acclaim for its live broadcast. Shows usually air twice during a particular season, but often the highest-rated shows of the season have a second encore show toward the end of the off-season, or episodes will be repeated a second or third time to coincide with a new event connected with the person who hosted. For example, the Natalie Portman episode aired in March 2006 to promote V for Vendetta was repeated August 5, 2006, prior to the film's DVD release August 8. Similarly, Jeff Gordon's episode reran following NBC's coverage of the Pepsi 400.

The show is never live in the western half of the USA. There was a short experiment in which it did air live on the west coast in 2001 after liveXFL football games. NBC airs a recording of the live show for the Mountain and Pacific time zones, usually exactly as it aired in the Eastern and Central time zones—mistakes notwithstanding.

NBC and Broadway Video share the copyright to every episode of the show made thus far. From 1990 until 2004, Comedy Central and its predecessor Ha! re-aired reruns of the series, after which E! Entertainment Television signed a deal to reruns. Abbreviated thirty and sixty minute versions of the first five seasons aired as The Best of Saturday Night Live in syndication beginning in the 1980s and later on Nick at Nite in 1988, VH1, Comedy Central and E! Entertainment Television.


From time-to-time, SNL airs compilation shows. Such shows will feature selected sketches from the previous season; of a particular cast member or multiple-time host; or centered on a particular theme (e.g., Halloween, Christmas). Political sketches are typically culled for a special in presidential election years; the 2000 special was notable for having self-deprecating (though separate) appearances by candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore. During the 2008 presidential race, Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani, and Sarah Palin all made appearances on the show.


  • The show was forced by the network to run on a five-second delay on three separate occasions when Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison, and Andrew Dice Clay each hosted.
  • The episode scheduled for October 25, 1986, hosted by Rosanna Arquette, was not aired until November 8 due to NBC broadcasting Game 6 of the 1986 World Series; the game entered extra innings, causing that night's broadcast of SNL to be cancelled. The show was recorded for the studio audience starting at 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time, and broadcast two weeks later with an "apology" by New York Mets pitcher Ron Darling.
  • The episode scheduled for February 10, 2001, hosted by Jennifer Lopez, aired 45 minutes late due to an XFL game. Lopez and the cast were not told they were airing on a delay.
  • During Eddie Murphy's last season, he negotiated to record a number of extra sketches in September 1983 that featured him and were broadcast in episodes for which he was not available. His last live show was with host Edwin Newman on February 25, 1984.
  • When Sam Kinison delivered a comic monologue in 1986, NBC removed his plea for the legalization of marijuana from the West Coast broadcast and all subsequent airings.
  • A portion of Martin Lawrence's 1994 monologue concerning feminine hygiene has been removed from all repeats, replaced with a voice-over and intertitles stating that the excised portion "...was a frank and lively presentation, and nearly cost us all our jobs."

Replaced/altered sketches

Encore showings are not always identical to the original broadcast. Successful sketches aired later in the show during the original broadcast may be reedited to appear earlier. In the earlier years of the show's history, reruns occasionally replaced weaker sketches with segments from other episodes, usually from episodes that did not have an encore showing at all.

Occasionally, sketches originally performed in the dress rehearsal (which is recorded as a backup) have replaced the live version in reruns. This is usually due to errors (either technical or by the actors) in the live broadcast. Examples include
  • In 2009 during the season premiere, Jenny Slate was in a 'Biker Babe' sketch where she and co-star Kristen Wigg used to word 'frickin' repeatedly. Slate accidentally slipped and said 'fuckin' instead, which was later overdubbed with 'frickin' for subsequent repeats.
  • A Peter Sarsgaard sketch from his January 21, 2006 appearance, involving Rachel Dratch's fake newscast, met with technical difficulties during the live broadcast when the in-sketch TV stopped working and a stagehand was seen fixing it.
  • A sketch involving "butt pregnancy" during the first broadcast of the November 12, 2005, Jason Lee episode was replaced with a musical sketch about cafeteria food during the repeat.
  • A Debbie Downer sketch featuring Ben Affleck was pulled from later rebroadcasts and replaced with the dress rehearsal version. In this case, the replacement is actually referenced by a title card, explaining that the dress version "worked better." The main difference between the two is that in the dress version, the actors broke character and started laughing during the sketch (causing the audience to laugh more), while the live version was performed without laughter from the actors, and less laughter from the audience.
  • One of the most notable substitutions was the replacement of Sinéad O'Connor's October 3, 1992 live performance during which she destroyed a photograph of Pope John Paul II, with the dress rehearsal performance from earlier that evening where she holds up a picture of a starving African child.


Films based on SNL sketches are listed below with their release, budget, gross, and ratings from Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. The gross is from Box Office Mojo. A Rotten Tomatoes score of 60% or higher indicates the film is "fresh" (well-received); Metacritic scores from 81-100, 61-80, 40-60, 20-39, and 0-19 indicate universal/near-universal acclaim, generally favorable reviews, mixed reviews, poor reviews, and overwhelming dislike, respectively.

Film Release

Budget Gross Rotten Tomatoes


The Blues Brothers 1980 $27 million 76% (fresh) -
Wayne's World 1992 $20 million 83% (fresh) 53 (mixed reviews)
Wayne's World 2 1993 $40 million 59% -
Coneheads 1993 Unknown 27% -
It's Pat! 1994 Unknown 0% -
Stuart Saves His Family 1995 $15 million 29% -
A Night at the Roxbury 1998 $17 million 10% 26 (poor reviews)
Blues Brothers 2000 1998 $28 million 45%
Superstar 1999 $14 million 33% 42 (mixed reviews)
The Ladies Man 2000 $11 million 11% 22 (poor reviews)
MacGruber 2010 N/A N/A N/A N/A

The early days of SNL spawned several movies, including the successful The Blues Brothers. However, it was the success of Wayne's World that encouraged Lorne Michaels to produce more film spin-offs, based on several popular sketch characters. Michaels revived 1970s characters for Coneheads (1993), followed by It's Pat (1994); Stuart Saves His Family (1995, with the Stuart Smalley character); A Night at the Roxbury (1998, with the Butabi Brothers characters); Superstar (1999, with the Mary Katherine Gallagher character); and Ladies Man (2000). Some did moderately well, though others did not — notably It's Pat!, which did so badly at the box office the studio which made the film, Touchstone Pictures (owned by the Walt Disney Company, which also owns NBC's rival ABC), pulled it only one week after releasing it, and Stuart Saves His Family, with the latter losing US$15 million. Many of these films were produced by Paramount Pictures. The films based on The Blues Brothers were produced by Universal Studios, which merged with NBC in 2004 to form NBC Universal (Universal also has a joint venture with Paramount for international distribution of the two studios' films).

In addition, Office Space (1999) originated from a series of Mike Judge animated short films that aired on SNL after appearing on several other programs.

The character Bob Roberts from the Tim Robbins film of the same name, first appeared on SNL in a short film about the conservative folk singer.

The group The Folksmen first appeared on SNL, performing the song "Old Joe's Place" before later appearing in the film A Mighty Wind. The three members of the Folksmen were the same three comedians: Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and Christopher Guest, who also appeared on the same episode as the rock group Spinal Tap. At the time of the appearance, (the 1984-85 season) Shearer and Guest were cast members.


Saturday Night Live has won numerous awards since its debut, including 21 Primetime Emmy Awards, 1 Peabody Award, and 3 Writers Guild of America Awards. In 2002 it was ranked tenth on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, while in 2007 it was honored with inclusion on Time Magazine's 100 Best TV Shows of All-Time.




The first authorized book for the series was published by Avon Books in 1977. Saturday Night Live (ISBN 0380018012) was edited by Anne Beatts and John Head, with photography by Edie Baskin.; all three worked for Saturday Night Live at the time the book was published. The oversized illustrated paperback included the scripts for several sketches by the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, as the repertory cast was known at first.


Criticism and controversy


In some cases, a sketch was censored in repeat broadcasts.
  • In a November 21, 1992 Wayne's World sketch, the characters Wayne and Garth (respectively portrayed by Mike Myers and Dana Carvey) made fun of Chelsea Clinton (the then 12-year-old daughter of the then President-elect Bill Clinton), implying that Chelsea was incapable of causing males to "Schwing!". This joke was subsequently edited out of all repeats and syndication rebroadcasts of this sketch.

Rage Against the Machine incident

On April 10, 1996 the band Rage Against the Machine was scheduled to perform two songs on Saturday Night Live. The show was hosted that night by ex-Republican presidential candidate and billionaire Steve Forbes. According to RATM guitarist Tom Morello, "RATM wanted to stand in sharp juxtaposition to a billionaire telling jokes and promoting his flat tax by making our own statement."To this end, the band hung two upside-down American flags from their amplifiers. Seconds before they took the stage to perform "Bulls on Parade", SNL and NBC sent stagehands in to pull the flags down. The inverted flags, says Morello, represented:

The band's first attempt to hang the flags during a pre-telecast rehearsal on Thursday was stopped by SNL's producers, who "demanded that we take the flags down," according to Morello. "They said the sponsors would be upset, and that because Steve Forbes was on, they had to run a 'tighter' show." SNL also told the band it would mute objectionable lyrics in "Bullet in the Head" (which was supposed to be RATM's second song), and insisted that the song be bleeped in the studio because Forbes had friends and family there.

On the night of the show, following the removal of the flags during the first performance, the band was approached by SNL and NBC officials and ordered to immediately leave the building. Upon hearing this, RATM bassist Commerford reportedly stormed Forbes' dressing room, throwing shreds from one of the torn down flags.

Morello noted that members of the Saturday Night Live cast and crew, whom he declined to name, "[e]xpressed solidarity with our actions, and a sense of shame that their show had censored the performance."

See also

Further reading

  • Cader, Michael. (1994). Saturday Night Live: The First Twenty Years. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-70895-8.
  • Hill, Doug, and Jeff Weingrad. (1986). Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live. New York, NY: Beech Tree Books. ISBN 0-688-05099-9.
  • Mohr, Jay. (2004). Gasping for Airtime: Two Years in the Trenches of Saturday Night Live. New York, NY: Hyperion. ISBN 1-4013-0006-5.
  • Shales, Tom, and James Andrew Miller. (2002). Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. Boston, MA: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-78146-0.
  • Streeter, Michael. (2005). Nothing Lost Forever: The Films of Tom Schiller. New York, NY: BearManor Media. ISBN 1593930321.


  1. SNL Time Line from NBC
  6. The Onion AV Club article: " Inventory: Ten Memorable Saturday Night Live Musical Moments."
  7. Saturday Night Live franchise films from Box Office Mojo
  8. FAQ: What is the Tomatometer? from Rotten Tomatoes
  9. How We Calculate Our Scores: The Long FAQ from Metacritic
  10. [1]
  12. Saturday Night Live (1977) from the Library of Congress Online Catalog
  13. Eric Idle Books from
  14. Anon., Saturday Nigt Live Incident, Public release and distribution. Retrieved November 12, 2007.

External links

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