SNL parties on for 40th birthday
US TV comedy institution Saturday Night Live has celebrated reaching its 40th year with a three-and-a-half-hour special filled with stars, laughs and memories.
The show aired live from New York's Studio 8H at NBC, which has been SNL's HQ since its premiere on a Saturday night in October 1975.
It was a black-tie event so jammed with SNL alumni and other celebrities they fuelled an hour-long red carpet event before the big show began. Some 80 names were listed in the opening credits.
The extravaganza started with a medley of catchphrases, music and characters performed by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake that concluded, inevitably, with their pronouncement: "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!"
Steve Martin was the first host, but was joined one by one by stars including Peyton Manning, Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Billy Crystal, Melissa McCarthy, Sir Paul McCartney and Paul Simon to dispute his selection as the rightful compere.
Among the night's many tributes, Jack Nicholson noted: "When SNL started, the last helicopter had just flown out of Vietnam, Watergate was still fresh in everyone's minds, and New York was broke."
The night's only hitch involved Eddie Murphy, who was greeted like returning royalty with an introductory tribute from Chris Rock that lasted much longer than Murphy's actual appearance. Murphy said little more than "thanks".
After all the build-up, Murphy's blink-and-you'll-miss-it participation was seen as the only low note in the retrospective of the US comedy staple.
Robert De Niro marvelled that, 40 years later, SNL is "still at it". "Forty years! That's like back when TV was still watched on TV," he quipped.
Jerry Seinfeld said: "There are so many things about Saturday Night Live that people don't know. For instance, I just found out that one of the original cast members in 1975 was Brian Williams."
Seinfeld then took goofy questions from the VIP audience, including Michael Douglas, James Franco, Dakota Johnson and Sarah Palin, the latter of whom asked, "How much do you think Lorne Michaels would pay me to run in 2016?"
"Run for president?" Seinfeld replied. "I don't think there's a number too big."
The first classic clip involved the late John Belushi and Michael O'Donoghue in the language-lesson sketch which opened the very first SNL episode.
A remarkable montage of audition tapes from prospective SNL cast members over the years included one notable washout: Jim Carrey.
New York was honoured with clips and comic sketches capturing the spirit of the Big Apple through the decades, as well as a pivotal moment from the first SNL episode to air after 9/11 when then-mayor Rudolf Giuliani told SNL creator Lorne Michaels "that 'Saturday Night Live' is one our great New York City institutions, and that's why it's important for you to do your show tonight".
"Can we be funny?" asked Michaels, to which Giuliani replied, with impeccable timing: "Why start now?"
Another sample reel traced the show's legacy of political humour.
Will Ferrell as 2000 presidential candidate George W Bush summed up the best argument for his election: "Strategery." Darrell Hammond, as his opponent, Al Gore, offered his own take on the issue: "Lockbox."
A classic commercial parody was encored live: Super Bass-o-Matic, with pitchman Dan Aykroyd and Laraine Newman repeating their performances from 1976.
An all-star soap-spoof The Californians was revived, including Taylor Swift, Bradley Cooper and Betty White. Dana Carvey and Mike Myers also re-united for a new Wayne's World sketch.
And a top-drawer anchor team was gathered for "Weekend Update": Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Jane Curtin. Their top story, of course, was the SNL anniversary.
"Viewers of 'Saturday Night Live' span several generations," Fey reported, "from the Baby Boomers to Generation X all the way to whatever you call the little dummies who are live-tweeting this right now instead of watching it."
Musical guests included Kanye West, Miley Cyrus, McCartney and Simon.
Before the show, former cast member Will Ferrell said he knew there was an epic night in prospect.
"I think I knew about it like a year ago and I was being told like, 'Make sure you keep this date clear no matter what, so, yeah, I wouldn't have missed this for anything.
"And so far it's even just the days leading up have been so special, just getting to hang out with old friends and catching up and reminiscing as well as tonight's show is gonna be, I think, another piece of television history. It's very cool."