BREAKING NEWS
L.A. Now

'Saturday Night Live': What critics said about the show 40 years ago

What did the critics make of 'Saturday Night Live' when it premiered in 1975?

On Saturday, NBC will rebroadcast in full the first episode of "Saturday Night Live" as part of a weekend-long celebration of the show's 40th anniversary that culminates with a 3½-hour show Sunday night. 

When the show premiered in October 1975, it was known simply as "Saturday Night" -- the name "Saturday Night Live" had already been claimed by a variety series hosted by Howard Cosell on ABC -- and starred a cast of young, unknown performers. 

The first episode was hosted by comedian George Carlin, included musical perfomances by Billy Preston and Janis Ian and featured both a Muppets sketch and a short film by Albert Brooks. Other early episodes were hosted by Candice Bergen and Paul Simon.

Here's a look back at how the fledgling show was viewed by critics long before it became a pop culture institution. 

Los Angeles Times: 

"If NBC is looking for something unusual and attractive to bolster its sagging prime-time lineup, it could do a lot worse than shift its new Saturday Night Series down a couple of hours. Minus half its commercials, this bright and bouncy 90-minute outing (which debuted last Saturday at 11:30 pm) could become the freshest and most imaginative comedy-variety hour on the air." 

New York Times: 

"The future of 'Saturday Night' is uncertain -- intentionally so. [Lorne] Michaels and company are especially anxious about avoiding the pitfalls of being slick, coy or predictably routine. [Chevy] Chase is already wondering if the 'Weekend Update' has run its course. The modus operandi seems to be that if it works, drop it, try to develop something else. For however long it lasts, 'Saturday Night' is the most creative and encouraging thing to happen in American TV comedy since 'Your Show of Shows.'"

Time magazine: 

"Sometimes [Saturday Night] is awful. Comedian Albert Brooks' taped films were at first a regular feature, but offered only ten minutes of boredom. The Muppets are cloying grotesques. ... SN's most endearing and human quality is its unevenness."

New York magazine: 

"Based on a first look, it is an uneven show, with all of the pitfalls and possibilities of something never tried before. But in intention, outlook, and personnel, NBC’s 'Saturday Night' is surely the sharpest departure from the TV-comedy norm since the debut of 'Laugh-In.'... 

"TV comedy today is very different from 1949, when 28-year-old Sid Caesar began 'Your Show of Shows' and turned Saturday into a stay-at-home night. The best talent today is in situation comedy — from Norman Lear to the Mary Tyler Moore studio to 'M*A*S*H,' while sketch comedy is preserved from total witlessness only by the Burnett show. In such a setting, 'Saturday Night' is a show worth rooting for."

The New Yorker:

"The truth is that it's a funny show and has enough comic spirit behind it so that even an actress of no notable comic expertise, such as Candice Bergen, can work easily along with the program. Still, it's not really the gross tonnage of the jokes in the skits which makes 'Saturday Night Live' worth looking at. What is attractive and unusual about the program is that it is an attempt, finally, to provide entertainment on the television in a recognizable, human, non-celebrity voice -- and in a voice, too, that tries to deal with the morass of media-induced show-business culture that increasingly pervades American life."  

Newsweek: 

"Sometimes the material is tastelessly juvenile. A chat with Squeaky Fromme, titled 'Dangerous But Inept,' consisted of Fromme unsuccessfully trying to shoot her interviewer with a defective pistol. At its best, however, the show evokes the inspired lunacy of TV's Sid Caesar-Imogene Coca era. ... NBC has granted 'Saturday Night' a six-month commitment, but all signs point to a much longer run."

Follow @MeredithBlake on Twitter.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
61°