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Secrets of New York

The ultimate insider's guide to the best-kept secrets of NYC's must-see places and buzzed-about people.

'Saturday Night Live,' NYC's iconic and decades-old comedy

'Saturday Night Live,' NYC's iconic and decades-old comedy show, has long been the toast of the counterculture. Pictured: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers, just three of the many, many 'SNL' stars who have become household names. (Credit: NBC Universal / Dana Edelson)


SNL, 'Lorne Michaels' iconic show: Secrets behind the 'Live from New York' opening line and more

30 Rockefeller Center, New York, NY 10112

It has been the toast of the counterculture, and it has been called “Saturday Night Dead” by more half-clever headline writers than one can count. It has featured cameos from U.S. presidents, and it is our incoming commander-in-chief’s favorite hate-watch. It has hosted blistering, brilliant musical performances and it has seen Ashlee Simpson do an awkward jig before leaving the stage in embarrassment due to a backing-track snafu.

"Saturday Night Live" has had a spot in America’s cultural consciousness since Chevy Chase said “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” at the end of the first sketch. spoke to experts, raided news archives and watched a lot of episodes to get the secrets that have kept the show on the air through good times and bad.

There's a reason that the famous opening line

Credit: NBC

The other 'SNL'

There's a reason that the famous opening line isn't "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night Live!" -- and it's not just the awkward repetition of "live" in the sentence. When the series launched in 1975, it was titled "NBC's Saturday Night," as ABC had its own comedy and variety show, "Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell." The cast for the sports journalist's show was called the "Prime Time Players," which "SNL" would mock with its own "Not Ready for Primetime Players." ABC mercifully canceled the Cosell version in early 1976; NBC would rechristen its program "Saturday Night Live" in 1977.

Arturo Toscanini would likely have a difficult time

Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Timothy A. Clary

A historic home

Arturo Toscanini would likely have a difficult time getting booked as a musical guest on "SNL" today (very few Twitter followers, even allowing for the fact that he died in 1957). But the show's home space, Studio 8H, was originally created to host the famous Italian conductor and the NBC Orchestra in 1933. At three stories and 320,000 cubic feet of space, it was the largest radio studio in the world at its time of construction. In the '50s, it would be converted into a television studio for "Kraft Television Theatre," which broadcast live on Wednesday evenings.

The Cronut lines have died, and new iPhones

Credit: iStock

Patience, please

The Cronut lines have died, and new iPhones only come out sporadically. The longest non-"Hamilton" lines in New York may still be outside of 30 Rockefeller Center, where people camp out to try and get stand-by tickets for either the dress rehearsal or live broadcast of "SNL." There are two ways to get into Studio 8H on Saturday evenings: Write to request tickets ahead of time during a limited August window (and be randomly assigned a date, if you're lucky enough to get in), or break out the sleeping bag and plan on sleeping overnight on the sidewalk, hoping for enough no-shows that you scoop up a stand-by spot.

Getting tickets to the dress rehearsal sounds like

Credit: NBC / Dana Edelson

Want more comedy? Go early

Getting tickets to the dress rehearsal sounds like the second-place prize, the backup plan for those who can't get into the live taping. But if the thrill of being in the room at the same time as millions watch the show at home is less of a draw than the actual comedy, the dress rehearsal may be the better deal. At 8 p.m. each Saturday, the entire show gets a full-speed run-through, musical performances and all, to make sure that everything is in place for the live broadcast. Best of all: The dress quite often runs long, which means that rehearsal audiences get to see sketches that never make it to air.

Today, it's hard to imagine NBC ever canceling

Credit: Getty Images

Not a sure thing

Today, it's hard to imagine NBC ever canceling its Saturday night stalwart. But the show has been close to death multiple times, maybe most gravely in 1981. With Lorne Michaels departing the show after a lackluster and star-starved fifth season (and almost the entire cast and writing staff leaving with him), the show's 1980-1981 season is one of the show's worst. Only one potential new star likely kept the show on the air. "It's one of the reasons why I believe Eddie Murphy deserves to be on the 'SNL' Mount Rushmore," said James Andrew Miller, author of the indispensable "Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live." "His talent and stardom helped save the show."

Credit: Getty Images / Ronald Martinez

Live from … New Orleans?

"Live from Mardi Gras, it's Saturday Night!" Dan Aykroyd (as Jimmy Carter) yelled from the top of the Andrew Jackson horseback statue (pictured) in New Orleans' Jackson Square. "Saturday Night Live" has left the friendly confines of the five boroughs once in its history, heading to Louisiana in 1977 for an episode broadcast live from the annual Mardi Gras celebration, and it was the alcohol-soaked misfire one might expect. Technical glitches, a drunk and rowdy crowd (at one point pelting Jane Curtin and Buck Henry with beads and other objects) and uncomfortable-at-best performances by some of the guest stars guaranteed that the show wouldn't leave NYC for the near future.

On social media, the

Credit: NBC / Edie Baskin

After the show, it's the after-party

On social media, the "Saturday Night Live" after-parties look like a blast as celebrities mingle with cast members until all hours of the morning. But like your friends' Instagram feeds, sometimes the snapshots are more fun and carefree than the reality; a 2014 New York Times story painted a picture of soirees that combine work pressures with an inconsistent vibe, based heavily on the show's guests that week. The worst sin? Cash bar.

Credit: Getty Images / Bryan Bedder

Four decades in, it's still Lorne's show

"Saturday Night Live" is a product of hundreds of performers, writers, producers and craftspeople. But the roads to getting cast on the show, to getting a sketch on the air, to hosting the show, to everything else that appears on the screen still goes through the office of its 72-year-old patriarch. "Every season, there are questions about whether a sketch goes too far or is too tough on a political figure; ultimately it's Lorne Michaels who makes those judgments, and it's been that way for all the years he's run the show," Miller said.


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