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'Saturday Night Live' Begins Season 40 This Weekend

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Live from New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Live from New York.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Live from New York.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

"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.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

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."

(SOUNDBITE OF "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."

(SOUNDBITE OF "LAZY SUNDAY")

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...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

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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