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October 13, 2015

The Not Ready for Prime-Time Players who made it to the big time: 1975-1985

by Richard Keller, posted Apr 17th 2008 1:42PM

An early opening of Saturday Night Live.As AOL Television continues their look at the 50 Best TV Comedies -- Ever with numbers 30-21, we here at TV Squad are also looking at television comedy, but with a slightly skewed difference. Last week, we took a look at the numerous stand-up comedians who became sitcom stars. In this installment we look at one particular TV comedy that made stars out of a number of actors and actresses.

I'm talking about NBC's Saturday Night Live. Since its premiere in 1975, the late-night sketch show has given us a slew of actors and actresses who have made the move onto both the big and small screen. Sometimes the move was towards more comedy, sometimes it was a switch to more serious roles, other times it was a little bit of both. And, while many of those who made it are still in the public eye these days, some of the greatest of those who came from Studio 8H had their careers snuffed out way too early.

The amount of those who rose to the top varied from cast to cast. Some casts, like the very first one, produced a whole slew of talent who went on to bigger and better things. Others, like the first casts from 1980-85 and the mid-1990s, produced very little in the way of big stars.

Being the anal website that we are, we have compiled a list of those Not Ready for Prime-Time Players who made it past 1:00 AM. This week we will look at those who went beyond the show from the 1975-1985 casts. There were a few caveats when preparing this list. First, the cast member could not have been successful prior to being on SNL. So, cast members like Billy Crystal, Martin Short, Chris Elliott and Michael McKean are all out. Second, they needed to hit it BIG somewhere during their post-SNL career -- not appear once in awhile in a cameo appearance in a B-movie or second-rate television show. Third, even though there were a ton of writers and behind-the-scenes people out there who went on to bigger things after SNL, I focused this list on those who appeared as full-time cast members or featured players.

So, not quite Live from New York...

1975-80 -- Save for Garrett Morris and Laraine Newman, the remainder of the first SNL cast all went on to bigger and better things, mostly in the movies.

Chevy Chase -- Chevy became the first to break from Saturday Night Live. After appearing in only the first season, Chase went on to star in a number of successful movies, including Foul Play, Seems Like Old Times (both starring with Goldie Hawn), Modern Problems, Caddyshack, Fletch and the National Lampoon Vacation series. In 1993 Chase returned to television to host the worst talk show flop in history -- The Chevy Chase Show -- which lasted only six weeks on FOX. Chevy has been in other movies over the past few years, but never regained the success he had during the 70s and 80s.

John Belushi -- John was the next to make it big. Thing is, he made it out while still on SNL. That's because he was able to film the classic Animal House between seasons of the show. He left SNL in 1979 and starred in 1941, Neighbors and another classic movie, The Blues Brothers, along with SNL cast member Dan Aykroyd. Unfortunately, as we all know, Belushi's life was snuffed out very quickly when he died in 1982 at the all too young age of 33.

Dan Aykroyd -- Aykroyd also left SNL in 1979 for other pursuits. In addition to co-starring with Belushi in movies like The Blues Brothers and Neighbors he made his biggest splash starring against another SNL cast member Eddie Murphy in the 1983 comedy Trading Places. A year later he co-starred with cast mate Bill Murray in the Ghostbusters. His acting career reached a peak when he received an Academy Award nomination for his role in the 1989 movie Driving Miss Daisy. Since then, Aykroyd has appeared in numerous movies, had a short-lived sitcom on ABC (Soul Man) and has had numerous cameo appearances in his old stomping grounds of SNL.

Gilda Radner -- Gilda was one of the rare SNL cast members to begin her breakout not in film or another television series, but in the theater. Her one woman show Gilda Radner - Live From New York premiered in 1979 to critical acclaim and was eventually released on film as Gilda Live!. She eventually moved into movies like The Woman in Red and Haunted Honeymoon, co-starring with husband Gene Wilder. Unfortunately, Radner's life was cut short by cancer. After a brave and fairly public battle, Radner passed away in 1989 at the age of 42.

Bill Murray -- Murray came to SNL after Chevy Chase left and quickly became one of their primary stars, especially when both Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi left at the beginning of 1979 season. He landed his first role big film role in the camp comedy Meatballs in 1979. That was followed by his portrayal of writer Hunter S. Thompson in Where the Buffalo Roam. After that he appeared in a string of successful comedy movies including Caddyshack, Tootsie, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Scrooged, What About Bob? and, one of my favorites, Groundhog Day. Murray is one of the few SNL alum who has tried his hand at dramatic acting, appearing in films such as Wild Things, Cradle Will Rock, Hamlet, Broken Flowers and Lost in Translation. The last film garnered him a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination.

Jane Curtin -- Unlike her other cast mates, Curtin decided to remain in television after her SNL run ended. It was a good choice as she appeared in two successful sitcoms. The first was CBS' Kate & Allie (1984-89) and the second was the slightly more insane 3rd Rock From the Sun (1996-2001). She did have her moments on film, though. In 1993 she reunited with cast member Dan Aykroyd in the movie Coneheads. Her most recent television appearances have been on The Librarian series of movies that have aired on TNT. The next one in the series will premiere later this year.

1980-1985 -- This was a very weird time for SNL. By late 1980 the original cast was gone, as was creator and producer Lorne Michaels. Replacing them was a producer no one seemed to like (Jean Doumanian) and a cast of nobodys that no one seemed to warm-up to (anyone remember Ann Risley). By 1981, things shifted again and a new producer (Dick Ebersol) and another whole new cast had to start from square one again. Despite all of this, there were a few stars that broke out and became something more.

Eddie Murphy -- Eddie Murphy broke out of SNL while still on the show. His big screen debut was with Nick Nolte in 1982's 48 Hrs. A year later he paired up with Dan Aykroyd in the comedy Trading Places. A year after that he starred in the action-comedy Beverly Hills Cop, which is still the third highest-grossing 'R' rated film ever made. After that, Murphy jumped around the business. He starred in the mystical comedy The Golden Child, paired with friend Arsenio Hall in the movie Coming To America, and made a hit record produced by the late Rick James. By the 1990s, after a slew of movie failures, he reinvented himself as more of a family man, and appeared in less weighty fair like the Shrek franchise, The Nutty Professor, Dr. Dolittle, and Daddy Day Care. He reinvented himself again in the 21st century and managed to garner a SAG Award, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award nomination for his role in Dreamgirls.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus -- We all know what famous NBC sitcom Julia starred in after she was let go from SNL back in 1985. I'm talking about Day by Day, of course. Who can forget the dream sequence where Ross thinks he's the long lost Brady, Chuck Brady. Lately, you can see Julia in her Emmy Award winning role on the CBS comedy The New Adventures of Old Christine. And, I know she was in another NBC sitcom during the 90s...I just can't think of the name of it.

Jim Belushi -- Yes, even though some of you want to burn your eyes out when you catch even a glimpse of According to Jim, John's younger brother did hit it fairly big when he was let go from SNL in 1985. He appeared in supporting roles on the movies About Last Night... and Salvador, and then took on the leading man role in such films as Red Heat, K-9, The Principal, Mr. Destiny, and Curly Sue. In 2002, after appearing in a dramatic role on ER the year before, he began his role on According to Jim, which will probably still be around even after we are wiped off the planet.

Next week -- we look at the breakout stars from the 1985-86 season to right about now.

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re: dan ackroyd - he also co-founded the house of blues entertainment empire...not a bad side gig...

and to leave out martin short and billy crystal is just plain nuts!

also, brad hall (julia louis dreyfus' hubby and snl writer/cast mate) has carved out an ok life as a producer/director/writer on tv. of course, his wife is both a mega-star and from an insanely wealthy family (dad is a french BILLIONAIRE), so that helps...

April 24 2008 at 6:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great post, looking forward to the next!

April 18 2008 at 3:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was thinking of Christopher Guest, but I guess Spinal Tap was around a little before Guest joined SNL.

April 17 2008 at 6:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Charlie Conner

It's weird that you don't mention the '84-'85 cast...the "all star" cast that Dick Ebersole put together...I mean come on...Billy Crystal? Martin Short? Christopher Guest? Even Christine Ebersole found a bit of stardom on Broadway post-SNL...not that they weren't already stars by the time they were on SNL, except Christine Ebersole...

Another good article would be the famous people who auditioned and were NOT cast in the Not Ready for Prime Time Players. I'm talking about Andy Kaufman, Jim Carrey, Paul Reubens, Lisa Kudrow, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert..the list would be a long one, I'm sure...
but I mean look at a possible '80-'81 cast that might have included Piscopo, Murphy, Reubens, and Carrey in the same cast? Interesting thing to consider...

...can you tell I'm big on SNL history?

April 17 2008 at 6:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Allen Mendelsohn

My god the mere mention of Jim Belushi in Salvador makes me want to watch it again. If you haven't seen it, he is FANTASTIC in that movie. A real tour de force, dramatic performance. Seriously.

Joe Piscopo had success as a er, ah, guy with big muscles.

April 17 2008 at 2:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Richard Keller

I considered Gilbert as an addition to the post, but he really didn't break out as a big star. He has had steady work since then, but nothing that would make him a superstar like the others.

April 17 2008 at 2:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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