George Carlin w/ Billy Preston & Janis Ian: 10/11/75

The pilot episode for Saturday Night Live is a pretty fast paced affair, with sketches only two to three minutes in length, and other pieces running longer than four minutes.

SNL‘s very first cold open ever features John Belushi playing an immigrant learning English from Michael O’Donoghue. O’Donoghue drops dead, Belushi follows suit, and Chevy Chase, dressed as a stage hand, declares, “Live From New York, It’s Saturday Night!”

In the opening credits, the show is not called Saturday Night Live but NBC’S Saturday Night. Lorne Michaels had wanted to call the program Saturday Night Live, but Howard Cosell had already claimed the name for his own variety program. After that show went off the air, Michaels was able to claim the name as well as one of its cast members–Bill Murray.

George Carlin performs a stand-up routine for his opening monologue. Before the show ends, he will perform three more routines, which makes me wonder if they had always intended to have an opening monologue. Interestingly, Carlin does not appear in any sketches.

The inaugural commerical parody, “New Dad”, is about making sure that a child is insured with a new father figure if their father dies. It is followed by a musical performance by Billy Preston. Both Preston and the other musical guest, Janis Ian, perform two songs each, including their hit singles, “Nothing From Nothing” and “At Seventeen”.

There are five commercial parodies in all. In addition to “New Dad”, there’s “Jamitol Gay”, featuring Chevy Chase and Michael O’Donoghue as a gay married couple. Chase refers to O’Donoghue as “his wife” who “makes studded leather vests at our own boutique”. Triopenin, a pain reliever with a difficult to open bottle that’s sandwiched between two segments of Weekend Update. The Academy of Better Careers, in which George Coe entices Gilda Radner to train for “a better career” working for an answering service. Finally, Coe presents the Triple Track Razor, which concludes with “Because you’ll believe anything.”

Even one sketch has a tinge of crass commercialism. In one sketch in the later part of the show, Dan Ackroyd plays a salesman who simulates a burglary with Garrett Morris in order to get a young couple (Belushi and Radner) to buy their home security system.

There’s an appearance by Jim Henson and his Muppets. Not Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and the like but Muppets, who, according to Lorne Michaels are “adult Muppets who can stay up late”. These Muppets reside on a seemingly post-apoclyptic place called “The Land of Gorch”.

The format of this show bears similarities to the traditional variety format than the Saturday Night Live as we know it today; think a countercultural Ed Sullivan. As the show closes, George Carlin plugs his then-new comedy album, and the credits roll, with the name “Bud” (listed in quotation marks) as the nickname of SNL’s key creative players. Lorne “Bud” Michaels. Michael “Bud” O’Donoghue. Herb “Bud” Sargent. Anne “Bud” Beatts.

They’ll return next week with host Paul Simon.

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