Saturday Night Live doesn’t really turn 40 until next October, but the folks at NBC decided that now was the right time to celebrate four decades on the air. SNL is indisputably one of the biggest and most important comedy programs of all time, having weathered constant changes in style and quality and producing some of the most memorable sketches and performers in comedy. To paraphrase Hitfix‘s Alan Sepinwall, there’s really nothing left to say about SNL. Its alumni roster (including Tina Fey, Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, and Will Ferrell) speaks for itself.
Despite its heavyweight cast headlined by John Belushi, SNL still had to find its voice and tone in the beginning like any other show. The first few seasons are odd, with occasional appearances from the Muppets, heavy emphasis on stand-up comedy, overstuffed or entirely absent musical acts, and overall conceptual weirdness. Portions of these shows are available to stream online through Hulu, Yahoo Screen, and other services, but it’s hard to get the full picture of early SNL just by watching highlights reels.
For a more thorough trip into the origins of the reigning champion of televised sketch comedy, we recommend checking out the DVD versions of the first two seasons from our collection. And not just because we have them: SNL is really meant to be watched in full episodes, and this is the best way to do that. Undoubtedly some of these episodes will be featured in this weekend’s anniversary special, but if you’re a fan of the show, a deep dive might be worthwhile too.