This season still features the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players – John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris,Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman. Plus newcomer Bill Murray.
When SNL (at this time it was NBC’s Saturday Night Live) first came on it changed the variety format from skits and musical numbers to what is now called sketch comedy with music from popular and upcoming rock groups. Each episode was “hosted” by an actor who was usually promoting their new film.
Each show had an opening skit that end with “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night”, the credits followed, then the guest host would come out do some sort of monologue. This would fade into either an original SNL cast commercial (remember The Taste Bud’s for Budweiser) or a parody of a commercial. Skit, musical guest, skit, Weekend Update, skit, second musical number, skit and closing.
The show had a number of reoccuring skits, which were rotated to keep them fresh (unlike today when they get an idea they flog it to death!). The best were Two Wild and Crazy Guys (Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd), the coneheads (Aykroyd, Jane Curtin and Lorraine Newman), Samuari “Whatever” (John Belushi), the Killer Bees (cast).
If you have not seen the original episodes uncut then you will understand why this show was so revolutionary. And remember that at this time people had to stay up to watch the show “Live” as most people did not own VCR’s in 1977. So it became a fashionable for groups of young people to have parties and watch the show.
The following are this season’s hosts and musical guests:
Steve Martin / Jackson Browne (Running on Empty and The Pretender)
Madeline Kahn / Taj Mahal (Queen Bee) – guest performer Dame Edna Everedge
Hugh Heffner / Libby Titus (Fool That I Am)
Charles Grodin / Paul Simon and The Persuaders (Slip Sliding Away and You’re Kind) – Coneheads, Samuai Dry Cleaner, Killer Bees. Art Garfunkel appears in a skit with Grodin and Simon
Ray Charles and the Raylettes (I Can See Clearly Now, What I’d Say and Hit The Road Jack)- Ray does a parody of Andre Agassi’s Cannon commercial.
Buck Henry / Leon Redbone (Champagne Charlie and Please Don’t Talk About Me When I Am Gone) – Samurai Psychiatrist
Mary Kay Place / Willie Nelson (Whiskey River, Blue Eye’s Crying in the Rain and Something to Brag About) – with appearance by Andy Kaufman
Mrs. Miskel Spillman (Anyone Can Host winner) / Elvis Costello (Watching the Detectives)
Steve Martin / The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (On the Looose with the Blues) & Randy Newman (Short People and Rider on the Rain) – Two Wild and Crazy Guys, Coneheads
Robert Klien / Bonnie Raitt (Runaway and Give It All Up or Let Me Go) – Lobsters Attack the Show
Chevy Chase / Billy Joel (Only the Good Die Young and Just the Way You Are) – Chevy as Ford
O.J. Simpson / Ashford and Simpson (So, So Satisfied and Don’t Cost You Nothing) – Samurai Night Fever, Hertz
Art Garfunkel (All I Know, Scarsburough Fair and Crying in My Sleep)/ Stephen Bishop (On & On)
Jill Claburgh / Eddie Money (Two Tickets to Paradise and Baby Hold On) – Coneheads
Christopher Lee / Meatloaf (All Rewed Up & No Place to Go and Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad) – appearance by Richard Belzer
Michael Palin / Eugene Record (Have You Seen Her and Trying to Get to You) – Academy Awards, Mr. Bill
Michael Sarrizin / Keith Jarrett – La Dolce Gilda
Steve Martin (again!) / The Blues Brothers (Hey Bartender and I Don’t Know) – Two Wild and Crazy Guys, Dancing in the Dark (Steve and Gilda classic), King Tut
Richard Deryfuss / Jimmy Buffett (Son of a Sailor) & Gary Tigerman (White Oaxacan Moon)
Buck Henry / Sun Ra (Space is the Place and Space Loneliness) – Samurai TV Repairman, Mr. Mike
This is when the show was at its zenith and is still funny today.
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Many reviewers say these early Saturday Night Live seasons are products of their times, that they aren’t nearly as funny today as we all thought they were back then. To that I say dude, what have you been smokin’? Yes, I was one of those who watched these shows in college, usually at a party where everyone was, shall we say, already in a purple haze. But thinking that’s what made these shows great is simply revisionist history.
Sure there are some dated cultural jokes, a few lame musical guests and an occasional skit that falls flat. However, each episode is still, for the most part, solidly entertaining. As I sat down with these discs today partaking of nothing stronger than a few Diet Cokes, what I noticed is just how watchable these shows still are. Even when not at their best, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin and the others each did at least interesting work, and always in their own personal style. What resulted was a true comedy variety show, a witty take on middlebrow culture that though edgy at times, rarely takes a cheap shot or wallows in the gutter.
Originally 90 minutes long with commercial breaks, each commercial-free episode here runs between 66 and 68 minutes.
This third season may be the best in Saturday Night’s history. Most every show includes at least one of SNL’s most famous recurring skits as well as some hilarious forgotten moments. For example, the first show includes Lorne Michaels upping his offer to the Beatles from $3,000 to $3,200 and a commercial parody for the Kromega III, “a watch so complex it takes two people to make it work.” The second episode tosses in an ad for Swill (“the water that’s dredged from Lake Erie”), a great skit with Gilda and host Madeline Kahn as two drunken single girls who discuss everything from dates who endlessly drone on about “The Patty Duke Show” to how to lie on a bed “so the fat on your thighs isn’t spread out,” and an ad-libbed chat between Kahn and Dame Edna (English comedian Barry Humphries in drag) that suddenly catches Kahn so off-guard you can see the actress blush. After Dame Edna hints of “her” own lesbian tendencies, she offers Kahn some phallic-shaped “pineapple and sausage surprise,” saying “you look like a girl who could use something hot inside you.”
By the way, the Richard Dreyfuss episode does NOT have Belushi’s ad-libbed finale about Dreyfuss being Jewish.
GUEST STARS AND MUSICAL GUESTS
EP. 1: Steve Martin; Jackson Browne
EP. 2: Madeline Kahn; Taj Mahal. Special guest: Dame Edna
EP. 3: Hugh Hefner; Libby Titus
EP. 4: Charles Grodin; Paul Simon and the Persuasions
EP. 5: Ray Charles. Special guest: “The Jazz Comedian” Franklyn Ajaye
EP. 6: Buck Henry; Leon Redbone
EP. 7: Mary Kay Place; Willie Nelson
EP: 8: Mrs. Miskel Spillman (Anyone Can Host winner); Elvis Costello
EP. 9: Steve Martin; The Dirt Band, Randy Newman
EP. 10: Robert Klein; Bonnie Raitt
EP. 11: Chevy Chase; Billy Joel
EP. 12: O.J. Simpson; Ashford & Simpson
EP. 13: Art Garfunkel; Stephen Bishop (Garfunkel sings, too)
EP. 14: Jill Clayburgh; Eddie Money
EP: 15: Christopher Lee; Meatloaf. Special guest: Richard Belzer
EP. 16: Michael Palin; Eugene Record
EP. 17: Michael Sarrizin; Keith Jarrett & Gravity
EP. 18: Steve Martin; The Blues Brothers (Martin does “King Tut”)
EP. 19: Richard Dreyfuss; Jimmy Buffett and Gary Tigerman
EP. 20: Buck Henry; Sun Ra
Disc 7 has two interesting bonus features. “Things We Did Last Summer” is a 50-minute mockumentary that once aired in place of the regular show. The camera follows Radner as she charges tourists for a guided tour of her apartment and Murray as he plays minor-league baseball. Morris looks for work as a human lawn jockey, Newman takes a strange vacation to Tahiti and Belushi and Aykroyd perform “Hey Bartender” and “Rubber Biscuit” as Jake and Elwood Blues at the Universal Amphitheater. Also on the disc: an actual two-minute wardrobe test for Belushi and band director Howard Shore.
‘LIMITED EDITION’ EXTRAS
Like the initial pressings of the earlier SNL seasons, this Limited Edition third season set comes in a book-style box (dark blue). The inner lid reproduces a hand-painted photo of the cast. Inside sits a black folding slipcase with the seven DVDs. Also in the box are four postcard-sized duo-tone prints. Suitable for framing, they feature photos of the Nerds, Blues Brothers, Gilda, and finally Steve Martin performing “King Tut.”
This third season, along with the fourth, represent the height of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players. For the first time, we are introduced to The Blues Brothers, The Festrunk Brothers, Roseanne Roseannadanna, Point Counterpoint, The Olympia Restaurant and many others. Favorites such as the Coneheads and the Samurai return in force as well.
I taped most of this season in its entirety over the years, and am quite familiar with the strength of these episodes. I especially like the Steve Martin/Blues Brothers appearance, as well as the season-ender with Buck Henry/Sun Ra.
I’ve shared my thoughts on the value of the original SNL before, so instead, I’d like to point out a few highlights to look forward to:
1. Chevy Chase returns for first time hosting duties on 02/18/78. There was quite a bit of backstage animosity/tension towards him, and one particular spat ensued over the Weekend Update anchoring duties. Bill Murray, still the “new kid,” was out to hold his ground against Chase, and became defensive of Jane Curtin. Apparently, Belushi – who was the clearest Chase rival – delighted in stirring up the situation to the point that Murray punched Chase right before air time. The fight was broken up, with Murray walking away calling Chase a “medium talent.” If Chase seems nervous, this was why. Still, Chase does a superb job performing under these circumstances. More trivia: this is the only time Belushi, Aykroyd, Murray and Chase ever share screen time together (for a military-themed skit). Even more trivia: Billy Joel, as Chase tells us, missed his 10th high school reunion to appear.
2. Steve Martin/The Dirt Band (aka Nitty Gritty…) – Martin explains that he went to high school with the Dirt Band members and that they were the most “talented musicians” he knew. Martin himself shows off some considerable musical chops (on banjo, natch) when he accompanies the group on an instrumental called “White Russia.” Randy Newman also addresses the flak he had taken for “Short People,” to which he responds with a giant raspberry.
3. While many of us are familiar with the clip of Elvis Costello stopping his song mid-intro to play “Radio Radio” instead, some may not know that this show was hosted by an old woman named Miskel Spillman who was the winner of the “Anyone Can Host” contest held throughout the first half of the season.
4. Attack of the Atomic Lobsters – the Robert Klein episode has an unusual “wrap around” or through-story that ends with everyone in the studio getting killed by giant lobsters. Still strange today, it shows how experimental the show was willing to be. This show also featured the demented brilliance of “X Police.”
5. The experimentation is also prevalent in the integrity of musical choices, which was always a real treat. Instead of teen pop junk, we may be unexpectedly greeted with a rousing tuba ensemble (yes, that was Gravity, one of the house band member’s pet projects), raw country (Willie Nelson), old school R&B (Chi-Lites founder Eugene Record), a personal friend of the cast or guest host (Gary Tigerman), or the guest host themselves (Madeline Kahn, Richard Dreyfuss, Mary Kay Place). Your personal tastes weren’t always met, so much as your perspective expanded. The cast were obvious music aficionados themselves, as clearly evidenced by their spirited enthusiasm (Belushi, especially) towards Ray Charles, in a largely music-oriented episode.
6. Curious to see if a little bit cut from syndication will appear here: I remember there being a little tag to the Dreyfuss episode (this resulted from the show being under time). Belushi tells the audience that he loves Dreyfuss despite him being “a Jew.” Now, Belushi is clearly improvising here and not being antisemitic, but of course this reads much different in our PC-sensitive times. Anyway, I haven’t seen that since the original airing.
Many more to note, but I hope that gives you a taste of what’s to come!