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1970s / Saturday Night Live With Howard Cosell
Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell was a dreadful variety program that ran on ABC from September 1975 to January 1976. It, of course, was hosted by sports announcer Howard Cosell and produced by Roone Arledge of Monday Night Football fame. It was later remembered by its director Don Mischer as 'one of the greatest disasters in the history of television,' largely due to Cosell and Arledge being unfamiliar with comedy and variety programming. Coincidentally, that same year NBC began airing a late-night comedy show titled Saturday Night. The shows did not directly compete. (Cosell's program aired at 8 p.m. whereas NBC's show aired at 11:30 p.m.) Cosell's show featured Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Christopher Guest as regular comedy performers dubbed 'The Prime Time Players.' In response, the NBC show called its regular performers 'the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players.' Ironically, all three of the original Prime Time Players eventually joined the NBC show. The premiere episode featured celebrity guests Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Paul Anka, Siegfried and Roy, the cast of the Broadway version of The Wiz, Jimmy Connors, John Denver and the Bay City Rollers (whom Cosell dubbed 'the next British phenomenon'). The show was often hectic and unprepared. In one instance, Arledge learned that Lionel Hampton was in New York City and invited the musician to appear just an hour before airtime. The show fared poorly among critics and audiences alike, with TV Guide calling it 'dead on arrival, with a cringingly awkward host.' Alan King, the show's 'executive in charge of comedy,' admitted it was difficult to turn Cosell into a variety show host, saying Cosell 'made Ed Sullivan look like Buster Keaton.' Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell was canceled on January 17, 1976, after only 18 episodes. A year later, in 1977, NBC's Saturday Night was renamed Saturday Night Live.