This Was Television On January 17

1976: Saturday Night Live is dead

Not the venerable NBC sketch comedy show, but the ill-fated ABCvariety program Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell, which ended an ignominious 18-episode run on this date. Hosted by legendary sports broadcaster Cosell, and featuring a respectable roster of guests including Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, and Barry Manilow, the show was an immediate failure with both audiences and critics. It debuted in September 1975—three weeks before Lorne Michaels’s late night institution, which was originally titled Saturday Night. When Cosell’s show failed, Michaels’s adopted the “Live” for its own moniker.

The two Saturday Night Lives shared other factors as well. The cast of Cosell’s included future SNL talent Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Christopher Guest. The regular roster of Cosell’s program, which aired at 8 p.m., was dubbed “The Prime Time Players.” Tweaking this, NBC assigned its late-night performers a more resilient nickname, “The Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players.” -A.D.

Today’s Birthdays: Naveen Andrews, Islander (44); Jim Carrey, fire marshal (51); Zooey Deschanel, new girl (33); Geoffrey Deuel, character actor (70); Steve Harvey, emcee (56); Warren Hull, game show host (d. 1974); James Earl Jones, policeman (82); Andy Kaufman, mechanic (d. 1984); Shari Lewis, puppeteer (d. 1998); Joshua Malina, Sports Night producer (47); Newton Minow, FCC chair (87); Stuar Nisbet, character actor (79); Maury Povich, talk show host (74); Freddy Rodriguez, embalmer (38); Betty White, Golden (91).

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