A Pre-Premiere Interview with the Original ‘Saturday Night Live’ Cast Shows How Scared Lorne Michaels Was of Crashing and Burning

Michaels and the original ‘Not Ready For Prime Time Players’ joined Tom Snyder for an antsy convo a week before showtime
A Pre-Premiere Interview with the Original ‘Saturday Night Live’ Cast Shows How Scared Lorne Michaels Was of Crashing and Burning

Nothing screams “48 seasons and counting” like a TV producer telling audiences that they should expect “anxiety” from his show a week before it premieres.

On October 4, 1975, The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder hosted a little-known producer and his cast of seven antsy improvisers to promote their upcoming variety show to be hosted by superstar comedian George Carlin. Himself an up-and-comer in the late-night time slot, Snyder sorted through the jitters and anxieties of the group of green comics — as well as the posturing of the ever-confident Chevy Chase

The rag-tag team of Second City improvisers and seasoned stage actors was, of course, the original cast of what would become Saturday Night Live, and the sweating, fretful ringleader who shot the shit with Snyder was none other than future comedy power broker Lorne Michaels. But on that October night, he was just a clammy Canuck joking about the anxiety of live TV and the temperamental heating at 30 Rockefeller Center, or “Rock Center” as they definitely didn’t call it in 1975.

The “Not Ready for Prime Time Players,” who were mostly nervous-laughing in this interview, would eventually establish SNL as a cultural institution and the pinnacle of TV comedy, but the inaugural run of NBC’s Saturday Night — later renamed Saturday Night Live when an ABC show with a similar moniker folded — was decidedly less polished, popular and praised than the seasons that would follow. Still, in a rocky first season, Michaels’ band of “enlightened amateurs,” as he loved to call his diamonds in the rough, would naturally (or forcefully) produce stars just as Michaels awkwardly foreshadowed, with Chase quickly establishing himself as the face of the program before high-tailing it to Hollywood at the end of the second season.

However, one week before showtime, Michaels and his cast were just a bunch of unknowns who couldn’t explain exactly what Jim Henson and his Muppets had planned for their first show. Michaels told Snyder that potential viewers should look for “anxiety” from Saturday Night’s maiden voyage, but between Chase’s not-so-subtle deflection of Snyder’s reference to a certain town in Maryland, Michaels fully forgetting Laraine Newman’s name and John Belushi remaining completely and uncharacteristically silent for the entire segment, clearly the cast’s nerves were ready to launch a week early.

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