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'Saturday Night Live' Begins Season 40 This Weekend


Tomorrow night, one of television's best-known shows marks a milestone.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Live from New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Live from New York.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Live from New York.


"Saturday Night Live" has been just that - live on Saturdays for 40 years. Some of the biggest names in comedy have been a part of the cast. And in a book, Jim Miller documented their lives.

JIM MILLER: The first 30 years of SNL had their fair share of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll and that was fun as a cultural anthropologist to document.

INSKEEP: The fourth decade has been different. When Miller wrote a new edition of the book he found the newer cast members behaving differently as the show approached middle age.

MILLER: People were talking about - I couldn't have survived back then, I can't drink that much, I don't know how they did the show back then.

CORNISH: SNL has also had to adjust the program to changing times. Miller says that after 9/11 the show struggled with just how to laugh.

MILLER: How do you start to be funny again? They had a great show with Mayor Giuliani and Paul Simon to break the initial ice, but I think the cast really was trying to figure out its place after that.

INSKEEP: And then some of the shows headliners left for solo careers, among them will Ferrell.


WILL FERRELL: (As Gene Frenkle) And if Bruce Dickinson wants more cowbell, we should probably give him more cowbell.

CORNISH: Now, the show that built its name on being live on TV got a boost from finding a new format online.

MILLER: At the very time that YouTube is starting to take off, Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, they get together and they start pushing out these digital shorts.

INSKEEP: Digital shorts were prerecorded videos. The first to really go viral was a hip-hop ode to cupcakes and relaxation, called "Lazy Sunday."


ANDY SAMBERG: (Singing) Lazy Sunday, wake up in the late afternoon.

CORNISH: The sketch features two nerdy guys rapping and sneaking munchies into a matinee showing of the fantasy movie, "The Chronicles of Narnia."


SAMBERG: (Singing) Yo, stop at that deli. The theater's overpriced.

CHRIS PARNELL: (Singing) You've got the backpack.

SAMBERG: (Singing) Going to pack it up nice.

PARNELL: (Singing) Don't want security to get suspicious.

SAMBERG: (Singing) Mr. Pibb and red vines equals crazy delicious

MILLER: This was a perfect marriage of creativity and technology.

CORNISH: Digital shorts helped NBC warm to the idea of sharing it's content online for free. The way many of us first saw this...


TINA FEY: (As Sarah Palin) Good evening my fellow Americans.

INSKEEP: Tina Fey had departed her role as a full-time cast member by 2008, but she returned to impersonate Sarah Palin alongside Amy Poehler as a Hillary Clinton.


AMY POEHLER: (As Hillary Clinton) I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign-policy.

FEY: (As Sarah Palin) And I can see Russia from my house.

CORNISH: Miller says the prominence of Fey, Poehler and Kristen Wiig underlined a major change in the SNL culture, too.

MILLER: During work on the first book, a lot of people talked about SNL being, you know, a boys club, boy club, club, boys club. Nobody talked about that for this book.

INSKEEP: The season's "Saturday Night Live" changes again.

CORNISH: The show has a replacement for its long time announcer Don Pardo. It's an SNL veteran, Darrell Hammond.


DON PARDO: It's Saturday Night Live. With Vanessa Bayer. Katie Bryant.

INSKEEP: All right, let's try this - in honor of Don Pardo. Live from Washington, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

CORNISH: And I'm Audie Cornish. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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