Saturday Night Live:
The Complete First Season

Next to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, one of the best things to happen to rock and roll in the '70s was a late-night comedy show called Saturday Night. The program made its auspicious debut on October 11, 1975 and instantly became a watershed — a hip, irreverent marriage of comedy and music. Its amateurish clumsiness and free-for-all, throw-caution-to-the-wind approach simply added to its allure. Now available on DVD for the first time, Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season contains all 24 episodes in their original 90-minute format, adding up to more than 30 hours of hilarious characters and memorable sketches, along with original musical performances by a roster of chart-topping artists, and guest appearances by some of Hollywood’s most acclaimed actors and comedians.

Back in 1975, seven performers came together as the Not Ready for Prime Time Players to create a multiple the Emmy® Award-winning comedy showcase that would become one of the most enduring and celebrated franchises in the history of television. In that first season, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman and Garrett Morris put their unforgettable stamp on television comedy and shocked viewers with their smart and off-kilter humor. The eight DVDs contained within feature all the unforgettable characters and moments: the Killer Bees, the Land Shark, the Samurai, Bass-O-Matic, and plenty others. The first episode tested the waters by working in stand-up routines from George Carlin (the show’s very first host) and Andy Kaufman, along with musical performances from Billy Preston and Janis Ian. Subsequent episodes, while working the bugs out, usually began with Chevy Chase (when he was still funny) taking one for the team via a stammering pratfall and the famous opening line, ”Live from New York…it’s Saturday Night.” Throughout the season, we are introduced to Weekend Update, Don Pardo, films by Albert Brooks, Jim Henson’s Muppets, President Ford, human hair potholders, The Dead String Quartet, painful rectal itch jam, Jerry Rubin selling protest wallpaper, and numerous site gags and phony commercials. SNL hasn’t been the same since.

In between the laughs, there was lots of eclectic music. Appearances by Randy Newman, Esther Phillips, Phoebe Snow, Simon and Garfunkel, Abba, Loudon Wainwright, John Sebastian, Gil Scott-Heron, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, Patti Smith, Leon Redbone, Leon Russell, and Toni Basil (pre-Mickey) all raised the bar on television’s relationship with the music community. The rock and roll edge was well acknowledged by show’s cast, especially Belushi, who embodied the lifestyle to the hilt. His impression of Joe Cocker was startling in its accuracy. The wild comedian also played Beethoven with a penchant for Ray Charles, the Samurai humming “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” and a king bee singing, what else, “I’m A King Bee.” And who could forget when producer Lorne Michaels showed up in front of the camera for the first time with a modest proposal for the Beatles to reunite for $3,000. Legend has it that John Lennon and Paul McCartney were together in New York watching the episode and almost took a cab to NBC to accept the offer. Saturday Night Live, now in its fourth decade, obviously has had a cultural impact few other shows can claim. And watching the first season drives that point home.

~ Shawn Perry.

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