SNL's opening credits feature shots from New York City's nightlife.

Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live is a late-night variety and sketch comedy show that first aired on NBC on October 11, 1975 and continues to air on Saturday nights at 11:30 to this day. Saturday Night Live, or SNL as it’s commonly referred to, consists of live sketches, an opening monologue by the week’s celebrity host, two musical numbers by the week’s musical guest, a mock news segment called “Weekend Update”, and a goodnight message led by the host featuring the entire cast. Of course, each episode is also filled with silly parodies and topical commentary on politics, pop culture, and other current events. Countless famous comedians, characters, and catchphrases have gotten their start at SNL, and the show’s ability to influence American comedy, politics, and culture at large only contribute to its already legendary status. Saturday Night Live is one of the longest running programs in television history, all the while, the show has remarkably been able to maintain its distinct New York identity and keep its city roots close to its heart. SNL famously opens each episode with the words, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

Saturday Night Live’s original cast, “Not Ready for Primetime Players” From left to right Chase, Newman, Belushi, Radner, Morris, Curtain, and Aykroyd. 1975

The idea for SNL came when NBC staple, Johnny Carson, wanted to tape one less episode of his show, The Tonight Show each week and instead air a rerun; leaving NBC to come up with new original programming for the Saturday 11:30 slot that had previously been filled with Tonight Show reruns. Saturday Night Live creators, Dick Ebersol and Lorne Michaels, pitched what would become SNL to NBC and it was picked up under its original name, Saturday Night, which it held for the show’s first season. The original cast, dubbed “The Not Ready for Primetime Players” consisted of Laraine Newman, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtain, and Garrett Morris, many of whom are still fan favorites to this day.1 Standout sketches and characters include Samurai Futaba, Emily Litella, Roseanne Roseannadanna, The Coneheads, Baba Wawa, Two Wild and Crazy Guys, and The Blues Brothers all of which are wacky, wild, and fun. The show was off to a great start until season 6, when creator and executive producer, Lorne Michaels left SNL after disputes with the network. The following seasons were not very successful, and without the saving grace of breakout star, Eddie Murphy, the show would likely have been canceled. It was not until season 11 that Lorne Michaels returned, and he has remained executive producer ever since.

Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey as Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar as part of the recurring “Wayne’s World” sketches. 1989

SNL’s next era was one of redeeming stability. New cast members like Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon, Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Adam Sandler are most associated with this era, and for that reason contribute to some characterizing it a “boys club”.2 Returning sketches and characters like Matt Foley, Opera Man, Wayne’s World, Church Lady, and Pumping Up with Hans and Franz came out of this cast. These characters often misspeak, mispronounce or overenunciate their words and have silly accents that will make you laugh. Unfortunately, this period of success had to come to an end, and seasons 19 and 20 (1993-94, and 1994-95) are the culmination of that reality. Often hailed as SNL’s worst seasons, it was obvious that once again, a new era had to begin. This new era, lasting form the mid-90s to the mid-2000s was the energized revival the show was desperately looking for. New cast members included Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Darrell Hammond, Sherri Oteri, Molly Shannon, Ana Gasteyer, Tracy Morgan, Horatio Sanz, Chris Parnell, Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers, Fred Armisen, and Will Forte.3 This group is remembered for characters and sketches like Mary Katherine Gallagher, The Spartan Cheerleaders, “Schweddy Balls”, Celebrity Jeopardy, Boston Teens, and “The Lovers”.

Tragically, the 9/11 attacks that occurred largely in New York City took place as season 27 was set to begin. As shows like SNL and The Late Show with David Letterman were such constants in American culture and respected New York institutions, many people looked to them for a response, a signal that normal life can and should go on. SNL’s September 29th, 2001 episode famously opened with the Mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, standing shoulder to shoulder with members of the New York Police Department, New York Fire Department, Port Authority Police Department, Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, and Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. He recognized the heroes beside him and spoke about moving forward. After Paul Simon performed “The Boxer” a song representative of the city’s resilient spirt, Lorne Michaels took center stage with Mayor Giuliani where Giuliani explained, “Having our city’s institutions up and running sends a message that New York City is open for business. Saturday Night Live is one of our great New York City institutions, so that’s why it’s important for you to do your show tonight.” To which Michaels asked, “Can we be funny?”, and Giuliani quipped, “Why start now?”4 Finally, Giuliani uttered the famous words, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” with a little extra emphasis and meaning behind them.

As the city moved forward, so did Saturday Night Live, with its next era SNL entered the Digital Age. This shift in the show is largely associated with new cast member Andy Samberg and his group The Lonely Island who were behind SNL’s Digital Shorts, the most famous being, “Lazy Sunday”, “Dick in a Box”, “I’m on a Boat”, and “I Just had Sex”.5 This shift coincides with the rise of YouTube and digital content, as SNL’s “Lazy Sunday” was the first video to go viral on YouTube. Outside of Samberg, other new cast members during this era include Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Kenan Thompson, Bobby Moynihan, Vanessa Bayer, Taran Killam, and Jay Pharoah. There is a large overlap between the casts of this and the previous era, and it is largely associated with its tremendous female star power.6 Tina Fey was a cast member from seasons 26 to 31 (2000-2006) and was Head Writer from seasons 25 to 31 (1999-2006). She also anchored “Weekend Update” during her tenure, first with Jimmy Fallon and next with Amy Poehler, becoming the first female duo to do so. Fey in particular led the association of the era with its strong female leads like Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, and Maya Rudolph. Some characters and sketches of this era include The Target Lady, Dooneese, Gilly, The Californians, and Stefon. Many of these roles are completely ridiculous and outlandish, and many of them are portrayed by Kristen Wiig who is clearly very comfortable being silly. Seasons 37 and 38 (2011- 2012 and 2012-2013) were the last for many cast members, so once again, a new era was ushered in with a largely new cast.

New cast editions included Cecily Strong, Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Beck Bennet, Kyle Mooney, Leslie Jones, Pete Davidson, Colin Jost, Michael Che, and many other members of the current (2021-2022) cast. Although politics have always been a part of the show, they have played a particularly large role in this era as it has coincided with the Trump presidency. Alec Baldwin’s Trump impersonation was a staple, along with many Trump era political players, like Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer, Alex Moffat and Mikey Day’s Eric and Donald Trump Jr. respectively, and Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway and Jeff Sessions.

The relationship between Saturday Night Live and politics goes back to the show’s first season, with Chevy Chase’s clumsy President Ford impression. Every President since has had an SNL counterpart, most notably Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush, Will Ferrell as George W. Bush, and Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump. However, SNL’s most memorable and impactful political impression is that of Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin during the 2008 Presidential campaign where Governor Palin was running for Vice President on John McCain’s ticket. Fey and Palin shared an uncanny resemblance, leading SNL to air several sketches where Fey portrayed the Governor. It became widely understood that SNL’s coverage and Fey’s spot-on impersonation strongly influenced how the public viewed Palin. CNN host Lisa Bloom of Lisa Bloom: Open Court said, “I think Tina Fey had about as much impact on this election as the economy did. I mean, is it possible to think of Sarah Palin without thinking of Tina Fey? Try it. Try it for a second. It can`t be done…. Sarah Palin became the butt of a joke. She didn`t have a lot else to work with. I think it really had a significant impact.”7 That impact was also measured in the numbers. In the Journal of Visual Literacy Arhlene A. Flowers wrote,

In fact, the positive media attention of the first skit enticed millions of viewers to watch the video clip, attracting 14.3 million viewers to and The spoof became the most popular video on the network’s Web site—and the most watched viral video, eclipsing uploads to YouTube. If the number of people who copied the segment on DVDs, in other words “DVR’d it,” is included, the tally could add an estimated 17 more million viewers.8

SNL has been noted for its tremendous power to influence the American public before, and it will continue to do so for as long as it is on the air. In their book, “Saturday Night Live & American TV” Nick Marx, Matt Sienkiewicz, and Ron Becker argue, “There is no single media institution that embodies every element of the cultural, technological, political, and aesthetic evolutions embedded in the history of television. However, Saturday Night Live comes as close as any program does.”9

Saturday Night Live has much in common with the city it calls home. Over its nearly 50-year history, the show has constantly walked the line between tradition and evolution. Like New York, “SNL is often the first to push boundaries not yet seen elsewhere”.10 For this reason and many others, the show is the perfect representation of New York City.

Saturday Night Live airs on Saturday nights at 11:30 on NBC. Viewers can tune in then, or they can attend the show live at Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112. Fans can enter a ticket lottery in August or wait on the standby line beginning the Friday night before the show. Full details can be found here.


Works Cited
Primary Sources:
1. Bonar, Raymond. NUP_132223_0007. November 20, 1993. Photograph.

2. NBCUniversal Media, LLC. “Tickets and Studio Tour.” NBC, 2022.

3. Photograph. October 11, 2021.

4. Saturday Night Live. “Lazy Sunday – SNL Digital Short – Youtube.”, 2014.

5. Saturday Night Live. “Sarah Palin and Hillary Address the Nation – SNL – Youtube.”, 2014.

6. Saturday Night Live. “Watch Saturday Night Live Highlight: 9/11 Tribute with Mayor Giuliani.” NBC. Accessed April 3, 2022.

Secondary Sources:
1. de Moraes, L. (2008a, November 5). An Obama Bonanza and Fey’s Heyday. The Washington Post, p. C07.

2. Flowers, Arhlene A. “Parodying Palin: How Tina Fey’s Visual and Verbal Impersonations Revived a Comedy Show and Impacted the 2008 Election.” Journal of Visual Literacy 29, no. 1 (2010): 47–67.

3. Hammer, A. J., & Anderson, B. (Hosts). (2008c, September 15). Showbiz Tonight [Television broadcast]. New York: CNN.

4. “List of Saturday Night Live Cast Members.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, March 30, 2022.

5. Marx, Nick, Sienkiewicz, Matt, and Becker, Ron, eds. Saturday Night Live and American TV. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2013. Accessed February 13, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.

6. Stelter, B. (2008, October 29). Web Site’s Formula for Success: TV Content with Fewer Ads. The New York Times, p. B10.

7. Wallenstein, A. (2008, September 19). NBCU sites see traffic surge. Retrieved March 26, 2009, from

  1. “List of Saturday Night Live Cast Members,” Wikipedia (Wikimedia Foundation, March 30, 2022),
  2. “List of Saturday Night Live Cast Members,” Wikipedia
  3. “List of Saturday Night Live Cast Members,” Wikipedia
  4. Watch Saturday Night Live Highlight: 9/11 Tribute with Mayor Giuliani,” Saturday Night Live, New York, NY, September29th, 2001
  5. Marx, Sienkiewics, Becker, Saturday Night Live and American TV, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2013) 1
  6. Marx, Sienkiewics, Becker, Saturday Night Live and American TV, 1
  7. Hammer, A. J., & Anderson, B. (Hosts). (2008c, September 15). Showbiz Tonight [Television broadcast]. New York: CNN.
  8. Arhlene A. Flowers, “Parodying Palin: How Tina Fey’s Visual and Verbal Impersonations Revived a Comedy Show and Impacted the 2008 Election,” Journal of Visual Literacy 29, no. 1 (2010): pp. 47-67,
  9. Nick Marx, Matt Sienkiewicz, and Ron Becker, Saturday Night Live and American TV, 2.
  10. Nick Marx, Matt Sienkiewicz, and Ron Becker, Saturday Night Live and American TV, 14

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