'Saturday Night Live' reunites comedians for 25th anniversary
September 24, 1999
NEW YORK (CNN) -- "Saturday Night Live" was a show that took unknown comics and made them superstars. Now many of those who got their start on the program are reuniting for a 25th anniversary special.
The show, which will see its special air Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC, was the brainchild of Canadian TV producer and former "Laugh-In" writer Lorne Michaels. When it began in 1975, the 90-minute comedy-variety show's original cast included names that have since become legendary in comedy circles: Laraine Newman, Albert Brooks, Andy Kaufman, Jane Curtin, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase.
Chase, the original anchor of the show's staple newsparody segment "Update," left after just one season to pursue a film career. He came out with hits like "Caddyshack" (1980) and "Vacation" (1983).
He was just the first of the show's many regulars to try their hand at movies, including Belushi, one of the show's most outrageous performers. "He was a kamikaze," says fellow actor-comedian Robin Williams. "He was fearless. He'd try anything."
Belushi scored a hit in 1978 playing John "Bluto" Blutarsky in "Animal House" (1978). Another hit followed just two years later in the 1980 musical comedy "The Blues Brothers," which he did with fellow "SNL" alum Dan Aykroyd, who has some 60 movie and television roles to his name.
Eventually, all of the original cast would go their own ways. But their mark had been made by doing things on network television that hadn't been done before, leaving network censors shaking. After all it was: "Live from New York!"
The loss of his first cast never worried Michaels. "There's a new group of people coming in every three or four years and reinvents it," he says. "That for me is the most exciting part."
There was one time, though, that network executives almost gave up on the show -- that was until a very funny guy showed up and saved the day. His name? Eddie Murphy.
"The greatest joy for me," said "SNL" alum Joe Piscopo, "was when Eddie broke out of the box at 19 years old, because it took all the pressure off us."
Murphy, like so many others, used "Saturday Night Live" as a catapult to movie stardom. Mike Myers and Dana Carvey also traded their TV fame for film roles, with the early-'90s "Wayne's World" series, as did David Spade and Chris Farley with "Tommy Boy" (1995).
And there's no telling where some cast members might have gone given the chance. Two died of drug overdoses: Belushi in 1982 and Farley in 1997. Phil Hartman, who played sardonic news anchor Bill McNeal on the NBC sitcom "NewsRadio," was shot and killed by his wife last year.
Still, after 25 years, for an up-and-coming comedian "Saturday Night Live" is the place to be. "It's a great opportunity for comedic performers," says current cast member Molly Shannon, who will see her own "Saturday Night Live" film vehicle launch soon. "It's the best. Nothing beats it."
Shannon's upcoming movie, "Superstar," is based on her freakish Catholic school character, Mary Catherine Gallagher. Myers, meanwhile, is producing a spinoff of his "Sprockets" character Dieter.
But a movie contract and popular character don't necessarily guarantee a "Wayne's World"-size smash at the box office. "Stuart Saves His Family," a 1995 film based on the Stuart Smalley character, never got affirmation. "It's Pat" (1994) went poof. "Coneheads" (1993) never translated to the big screen. And the latest "SNL" movie spinoff, last year's "A Night at the Roxbury," danced into oblivion.
But "Saturday Night" fans don't have to go to the movies to see their favorite TV characters. They can simply go to the video store, where "The Best of Saturday Night Live" videos are big sellers. There's also a new 25th anniversary double-CD set, featuring the best of the show's musical guests.
"Once a musical performer comes on our show, it's like being part of the 'SNL' family, and you know these CDs are historical documents," says the show's talent coordinator, Ryan Shakira.
Add to that a "silver anniversary" clothing line and book. "I think kids in college will dig this," says Jimmy Fallon, one of the new regulars. "I know it's already getting a good buzz."
"Saturday Night Live"'s two-and-a-half hour special on Sunday night features the return of former cast members, hosts and musical guests. Current cast members are just as excited as the fans. "It's gonna be off the hook," Tracey Morgan says. "It's gonna be bigger than the Grammys and all that put together."
Cheri Oteri says, "I feel like my family is having a party, and they're inviting all these cool people, and I hope I get to stay up and go downstairs and hang out with them. It's amazing who's coming. It's crazy."
CNN Entertainment News Correspondents Bill Tush and Mark Scheerer contributed to this report.
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