When Saturday Night Live debuted in 1975, it held out the glittering promise of a Saturday night with the Manhattan cool kids for anyone with a television set. SNL quickly became more than just a television show; it was a happening, a pop-culture phenomenon that separated the hipsters from the squares. So the release of SNL's first season presents the question: Can any show live up the hype surrounding SNL's original incarnation? The answer, shockingly, is yes, though it'd be hard to tell from the show's unsteady first two episodes.
SNL's first episode betrays the show's roots in '60s variety shows with a grab bag of comic and musical performers. There's the postmodern vaudeville of Andy Kaufman, a brilliant short film from Albert Brooks, the observational stand-up of George Carlin, and the music of Billy Preston and Janis Ian. The second, comedy-light episode deviates even further from the SNL template: It's essentially Paul Simon And Friends, though audiences treated to a Simon & Garfunkel reunion weren't likely to complain. SNL initially seemed uncertain about the viability of a 90-minute sketch show, but before long, it was firing on all cylinders. The cast's electric chemistry made it more than the sum of its considerable parts. Pratfall artiste Chevy Chase emerged as the show's first breakout star, and the first in a series of good-looking goofballs who captured the audience's affection and prime real estate in Lorne Michaels' heart. But there isn't a weak link in the cast.
The exhilarating sense that anything could happen ripples through the show's first season. Simon and Garfunkel might reunite. Gerald Ford's press secretary might introduce The Patti Smith Group. Jerry Rubin might pop by to plug wallpaper bearing anti-authoritarian graffiti. SNL's sketches-and-musical-guests formula solidified early, but the show was flexible enough to include wild cards like short films sent in by viewers, quirky documentaries, a performance by a proto-breakdancing outfit, and a queasily intimate "rap session" about beauty between Gilda Radner and Candice Bergen, which falls somewhere between a scripted bit and a spontaneous conversation. SNL's first season created a legacy so strong, it could withstand the endless years of mediocrity and sub-mediocrity that's plagued the show since the original cast's departure.
Key features: A commemorative booklet, ancient screen tests, and archival interviews.