Continuing the enormous success of the previous two years, the third season of SNL (1977-78) showcased a fearless cast that created some of the most memorable sketches to ever appear on the show. With hilarious breakthrough characters like The Nerds (Bill Murray and Gilda Radner), Coneheads (Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin), lounge singer Nick Winters (Bill Murray), Samurai Warrior (John Belushi), a singing King Tut (legendary SNL host Steve Martin) and featuring Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello) as well as "The Franken and Davis Show" (Al Franken and Tom Davis), SNL continued to define itself as the pinnacle of irreverent humor and political satire. The complete third season of SNL contains unforgettable appearances by hosts Steve Martin, Michael Palin, Hugh Hefner, Buck Henry, Robert Klein, Chevy Chase, Madeline Kahn, Richard Dreyfuss, O.J. Simpson and the winner of the "Anyone Can Host" contest, Miskel Spillman, and classic musical performances by Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, Ray Charles, Leon Redbone, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Ashford & Simpson, Meat Loaf and The Blues Brothers.
Television history continued to be written in the third year of Saturday Night Live
. After a wobbly debut in SNL
's second season, Bill Murray got some traction as a performer and America began to see just how brilliant a comedian he truly could be. Dan Aykroyd owned Jimmy Carter with his extraordinary impression of the late-1970s president, and he partnered with Steve Martin three times in Festrunk Brothers sketches featuring the "wild and crazy" Czech siblings looking for a "swinging" time with American "foxes." John Belushi mined familiar territory with his image as a brash reprobate, Jane Curtin (with Aykroyd) made "Weekend Update" her own, and Garrett Morris remained a rock-steady second banana. Laraine Newman proved, as always, to be the cast's chameleon-like wild card, capable of anything. As for Gilda Radner, her luminous charm and gifts in the classic television comedienne tradition balanced the show's steep irony with pure mirth. There is so much to talk about when listing highlights of Saturday Night Live: The Complete Third Season
. The attention-grabbing "Anyone Can Host" contest was a cute stunt that resulted in SNL
's Christmas episode being officially hosted by 80-year-old Miskell Spillman, a non-celebrity. Spillman proved game enough to pull off an opening monologue (with Buck Henry) and participate in several sketches. But the truly notable event in that December 17, 1977 program was the first appearance of Elvis Costello (replacing the previously-announced Sex Pistols), who underscored the dangers of live television by interrupting his own performance of "Less Than Zero" and instructing his band, the Attractions, to play "Radio Radio" instead. (For a moment, no one watching could have predicted what was about to happen--whether benign or bizarre.) Also of significance to longtime viewers of SNL
was the return of Chevy Chase (on 2/18/78), the show's first breakout star who left the series early in season two, as host. By now, the story of Chase's backstage brawl with Murray just before showtime that night is legend, and it's easy to see how flustered Chase looked in a clunky opening monologue. (He recovers sufficiently for some fine sketchwork and a cameo appearance harassing Curtin on "Update.") Andy Kaufman did one of his best bits portraying a non-English-speaking comic who plays drums and drags a woman out of the audience for a nonsensical sight gag. The Coneheads (Aykroyd, Curtin, Newman) return in a very funny "Family Feud" piece, while Al Franken and Tom Davis continue to have an impact with a sketch that finds Franken attacking his own parents. Belushi mixes pop culture influences in a big way in "Samurai Night Fever." Hosting three times, Steve Martin makes as huge an impression on season three as anyone, introducing his musical novelty number "King Tut" and playing a lonely lover in a wistful-slapstick sketch in which he dances with Radner.
The overall slate of musical guests is good though not great, and except for Costello, Randy Newman, Keith Jarrett, and Paul Simon, the artists tend toward middle-of-the-road. Besides Martin, there are a few other strong hosts, including Buck Henry and a magnificent Michael Palin, who opens his show by dumping a plate of seafood and two cats down his pants. Faring less well as hosts are O.J. Simpson, Hugh Hefner, and Michael Sarrazin. As always, there are hits and misses over the course of another sprawling season of Saturday Night Live. --Tom Keogh
Beyond Saturday Night Live The Complete Third Season on DVD
Stills from Saturday Night Live The Complete Third Season (click for larger image)