howardcosellHoward Cosell was the first host of “Saturday Night Live.” If that seems like an odd pairing there’s a simple explanation. 

The show most of us know as “Saturday Night Live” begin life on the airways on Oct. 11, 1975 as “NBC Saturday Night.” Producer Lorne Michaels had planned to use the SNL moniker, but ABC launched a variety show about a month earlier called “Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell,” who at the time was one of the nation’s leading television sports reporters.

Cosell’s show was an attempt by ABC to replicate the success CBS had for 23 years with the Ed Sullivan Show. It failed. Cosell’s last show was Jan. 17, 1976, about four months after the show’s debut.

Michaels and NBC purchased the rights to the “Saturday Night Live” name. The first show to adopt the name aired on March 26, 1977. But that’s not the only thing NBC picked up from Cosell’s show.

A comedy troupe known as the “Prime Time Players” and composed of Bill Murray, his brother Brian Doyle-Murray and Christopher Guest performed on Cosell’s version of SNL. Michaels dubbed his cast the “Not-Ready-For-Primetime Players.” The Murray brothers and Guest eventually joined the NBC show after Cosell’s show was canned.

The NBC show continues to use its original opening catchphrase, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” which isn’t some sort of hipster word play, it’s simply an introduction of the generic name of the original show. (What is with NBC and generic show names – The Today Show, The Tonight Show?)

Did you know?

  • The cast member who has said the signature catchphrase “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night” the most times is Darrell Hammond.
  • Only one SNL has not been broadcast from New York. On Feb. 20, 1977, the show was broadcast from New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
  • Anthony Michael Hall became the youngest cast member ever when he joined the show in 1985. He was 17.
  • It was comedian Albert Brooks’ idea that there should be a different host every week when he turned down Lorne Michael’s offer to be the show’s permanent host.
  • John Belushi and Michael O’Donoghue appeared in the very first SNL sketch.