The first season of Saturday Night Live, the weekly late-night 90-minute American sketch comedy/variety show on NBC, aired during the 1975–1976 television season. Saturday Night Live premiered on October 11, 1975 and consisted of a total of 24 episodes, the last of which aired on July 31, 1976.
In 1974, NBC Tonight Show host Johnny Carson requested that the weekend broadcasts of "Best of Carson" (officially known as The Weekend Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson) come to an end (back then, The Tonight Show was a 90-minute program), so that Carson could take two weeknights off and NBC would thus air those repeats on those nights rather than feed them to affiliates for broadcast on either Saturdays or Sundays. Given Carson's undisputed status as the king of late-night television, NBC heard his request as an ultimatum, fearing he might use the issue as grounds to defect to either ABC or CBS. To fill the gap, the network drew up some ideas and brought in Dick Ebersol – a protégé of legendary ABC Sports president Roone Arledge – to develop a 90-minute late-night variety show. Ebersol's first order of business was hiring a young Canadian producer named Lorne Michaels to be the show-runner.
Television production in New York was already in decline in the mid-1970s (The Tonight Show had departed for Los Angeles two years prior), so NBC decided to base the show at their studios in Rockefeller Center to offset the overhead of maintaining those facilities. Michaels was given Studio 8H, a converted radio studio that prior to that point was most famous for having hosted Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra from 1937 to 1951, but was being used largely for network election coverage by the mid-1970s.
When the first show aired on October 11, 1975 with George Carlin as its host, it was called NBC's Saturday Night because ABC featured a program at the same time titled Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell. After ABC cancelled the Cosell program in 1976, the NBC program changed its name to Saturday Night Live on March 26, 1977 (and subsequently picked up Bill Murray from Cosell's show in 1977, as well). Don Pardo introduced the cast on the first show as the "The not for ready, prime time players" instead of their actual name as "The Not Ready For Prime Time Players."
The show was intended to have just six episodes. The original concept was for a comedy-variety show featuring young comedians, live musical performances, short films by Albert Brooks, and segments by Jim Henson featuring atypically adult and abstract characters from the Muppets world. Rather than have one permanent host, Michaels elected to have a different guest host each week (Albert Brooks was originally booked to be a permanent host, and claims it was his idea to have a different host each week). The first episode featured two musical guests (Billy Preston and Janis Ian), and the second episode, hosted by Paul Simon on October 18, was almost entirely a musical variety show with various acts. The Not Ready For Prime Time Players did not appear in this episode at all, other than as the bees with Simon telling them they were cancelled and Chase in the opening and "Weekend Update". Over the course of Season 1, sketch comedy would begin to dominate the show and SNL would more closely resemble its current format.
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.
Andy Kaufman made several appearances that were popular with the audience over the season, while The Muppets' Land of Gorch bits were regarded as a poor fit with the rest of the show. The "Land Of Gorch" sketches were essentially cancelled after episode 10, although the associated Muppet characters still made sporadic appearances after that -- generally, in self-referential bits that had them pleading to be allowed back on to the show, while being told that their sketch was unpopular and had been cancelled. After one final appearance at the start of season two, the Muppet characters were permanently dropped from SNL.
This would be the only season for Coe and O'Donoghue as official cast members. While Coe was only billed in the premiere, he was seen in various small roles through the season before leaving the show all together. O'Donoghue would continue to work for the show as a writer, as well as an occasional featured performer (particularly as "Mr. Mike"), through season five.
Also during the season, Michaels appeared on-camera twice, on April 24 and May 22, to make his famous offer to The Beatles to reunite on the show and play three songs. In the first appearance, he offered a certified check of $3000. In the second appearance, he increased his offer to $3,200 and free hotel accommodations. John Lennon and Paul McCartney later both admitted that they were watching SNL from Lennon's apartment on May 8, the episode after Michaels' first offer, and briefly toyed with actually going down to the studio, but decided to stay in the apartment because they were too tired.
Don Pardo introduces the cast as "The Not For Ready Prime Time Players" as an obvious flub of the line.
George Carlin had no involvement in sketches (at his request), and this was the only episode where the host did so. He only appeared to do stand-up, introduce the musical guests, and the good night segment. Carlin wanted to wear a t-shirt, but the network wanted him to wear a suit. So, Carlin wore a jacket and vest over his t-shirt, and did the show while supposedly high on drugs.
Carlin performed three monologues, including "Baseball-Football," a bit less-than complimentary to the former; ironically, NBC President Herbert Schlosser watched the episode along with Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn (NBC was airing the World Series, which had begun that day) – and the fact that the "straitlaced, very proper" Kuhn had laughed at a few of the sketches was, to him, the first indication that, with this new show, the network might be on to something.
Billy Crystal was to appear, but his stand-up segment was cut when the dress rehearsal ran long.
ABBA makes two appearances, singing "S.O.S." on board the sinking "Titanic," and lip-synch their second number, "Waterloo." Captions informed the audience that "It's not their fault. The tapes didn't arrive from Sweden."
Loudon Wainwright III performed the songs "Bicentennial" and "Unrequited to the Nth Degree."
This was the second show to end without credits, as the show ran long with only the two bumpers appearing on the show before it ended. The ending was replaced with the closing credits from Cavett's second show in the following years.
Though he is not the first host to perform musically on the show, Arnaz is the first host to be simultaneously credited as musical guest. Arnaz and his son performed the songs "Cuban Pete" and "Babalu."
Ron Nessen, press secretary for President Gerald Ford, is the first political figure to host the show. Ford himself appears in a filmed segment during the cold opening where he opens the show with "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" after Chevy Chase's signature pratfall.
Future cast member Billy Crystal appears on the show for the first time, performing a monologue.
First appearance of Dan Aykroyd as talk show host Tom Snyder.
Patti Smith Group performed the song "Gloria" and "My Generation." The line "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine" occurred at the stroke of midnight, Sunday being Easter.
The Muppets are announced in the opening credits and were scheduled to appear, but did not feature in the actual broadcast. Ron Nessen apologizes at the end of the episode blaming the Muppets' absence on "technical complications."
Lorne Michaels appears on air, offering the Beatles $3,000 to perform three songs.
This episode was originally supposed to have a sketch called "Planet of the Enormous Hooters," where a woman (Raquel Welch) gets banned from a planet of women who all have enormous breasts, but the sketch was cut after dress rehearsal. A version of the sketch would finally be used on the season 14 episode hosted by Dolly Parton.
Scred and The Mighty Favog cut a deal with Chevy Chase to have Lorne Michaels renew their sketch in exchange that The Mighty Favog gets The Beatles to appear on the show.
Carly Simon performed the songs "Half a Chance / You're So Vain" in a pre-taped segment with Chevy Chase playing cowbell.
NOTE: Paul McCartney and John Lennon reportedly were watching the segment with Scred and The Mighty Favog on the day it aired and considered going to Rockefeller Center to surprise the audience, but decided to stay in their apartment.
Louise Lasser nearly backed out of hosting at the last minute, and agreed to remain only when producers threatened to have a cast member read all of her lines while wearing a wig; she did continue to insist on filming several segments in advance, and that she only appear by herself or with Chevy Chase. (The episode is perhaps most memorable for her opening monologue, where she pretends to have a bout of stage fright and lock herself in her dressing room.) There is an urban legend that Lasser was banned from the show because of this, which she flatly denies.