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The Origin Of Saturday Night Live's Famous Opening Phrase

"Saturday Night Live" fans probably can't count the number of times they've heard the show's iconic opening lines. Throughout the show's history, it has always been tradition to kick things off with a cold open sketch. Often featuring a top-quality impersonation of a famous politician or public figure, cold opens are famous for touching on the hot-button topics of their present day. And, when the lampooning is over with, each cold open inevitably ends with a cast member saying the line "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" 

Longtime cast member Darrell Hammond is arguably the king of "SNL" cold opens, but many other not-ready-for-primetime players and hosts have gotten the chance to utter the famous welcome. At this point, the phrase is so familiar that it probably goes by unquestioned. However, there is much more to the line than you might think.

The origin of the famous "Saturday Night Live" opening phrase is tied deeply to the state of the series, and television in general at the time. It's also, quite surprisingly, loathed by "SNL" veteran Chevy Chase in most of its modern iterations.

SNL's opening lines were built to broadcast its strengths and avoid confusion

It probably shouldn't surprise anyone that "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels is the one who came up with the show's opening line. "I wrote it out as a line 'cause I wanted to get the title in," he told CBS' Gayle King in 2021, adding, "It's now just part of the culture." That "SNL" culture, of course, was initially built by the show's stars, including original cast member Chevy Chase, who was the first person to utter the opening phrase back in 1975 (above). 

In 2018, Chase explained the structure of the now classic line to fellow "SNL" alum, the late Norm Macdonald. "We couldn't say 'Saturday Night Live,'" Chase said during his episode of "Norm Macdonald Has a Show," adding, "There was a show called 'Saturday Night Live with Howard Cossell' and I think Lorne felt, and rightfully so, that it's important to say that it's live, because there's so many sketches and actors. It's not easy."

Back then, avoiding confusion with Cossell's show was a big priority for NBC. In its early days, the show was actually called "NBC's Saturday Night" (via History.com). Furthermore, Chase himself had a different vision of how the line was supposed to be delivered. In sharp contrast to the modern deliveries, which Chase adamantly dislikes, he always did his best to imitate longtime "SNL" announcer Don Pardo. However, Pardo hasn't served as announcer since his death in 2014, so perhaps it's understandable why newer cast members have broken from tradition.