The Not Ready for Prime Time Players were the cast of SNL during its first three seasons. The designation was dropped for season 4, though the cast remained unchanged at that time. The NRFPTPs consisted of:
- Dan Aykroyd (October 11, 1975-May 20, 1978)
- John Belushi (October 11, 1975-May 20, 1978)
- Chevy Chase (October 11, 1975-October 30, 1976)
- George Coe (October 11, 1975-May 29, 1976)
- Jane Curtin (October 11, 1975-May 24, 1980)
- Garrett Morris (October 11, 1975-May 24, 1980)
- Laraine Newman (October 11, 1975-May 24, 1980)
- Michael O'Donoghue (October 11, 1975-July 31, 1976)
- Gilda Radner (October 11, 1975-May 24, 1980)
- Bill Murray (January 15, 1977-May 24, 1980)
- See also: Saturday Night Live#Founding
The show started on October 11, 1975, with George Carlin as host, and Billy Preston and Janis Ian as musical guests. Early on, producer Lorne Michaels and NBC were uncertain of the format; this is evident with the second episode, which was entirely music, except for the inclusion of Weekend Update. The cast was initially thought of as background members, and were listed in a single pane in the opening credits. The name "Not Ready for Prime Time Players" was chosen to mock Howard Cosell's show, Saturday Night Live (whose name was purchased by NBC when the show was cancelled the following year); Cosell called his cast the "Prime Time Players".
As the season progressed, it became obvious that sketches were the show's future, and the crediting of the cast became more prominent. Initially, announcer Don Pardo read the names off as the list appeared on-screen; later in the season, individual headshots were displayed with the names of the cast members. With the uncertainty came some shuffling early on; George Coe and Michael O'Donoghue were dropped from the cast list, though they continued to appear and their associations with SNL lasted for decades.
Changes to the cast happened early, with Chevy Chase leaving the showing in its second season. Bill Murray, one of Howard Cosell's Prime Time Players, joined as a replacement for Chase. The cast remained stable until the end of season 4. In the early stages of successful movie careers, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi departed, and in their place the second replacement Player was added, Harry Shearer. That season also saw the creation of the two-tiered cast system still in use, with a lower group of actors known as the "Featured Players".
Shearer and the other Players were only together one year; after season five, Lorne Michaels left the show, and most of the cast left as well. New executive producer Jean Doumanian decided to continue the two-tiered cast system, but "Not Ready for Prime Time Players" would live on to only refer to the cast of the first five seasons; the main cast since has been referred to as the "Repertory Players".
Where Are They Now?
- John Belushi, George Coe, Michael O'Donoghue, and Gilda Radner have all passed away. Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982, Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989, O'Donoghue from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1994, and Coe from natural causes in 2015. Radner was scheduled to host in 1988, but a writer's strike cancelled that plan. SNL rescheduled for next year, but she died before the episode could take place.
- Chevy Chase and Bill Murray have come back to host SNL many times each. Chase was banned from hosting in 1997, though he has made a few appearances since. Both have appeared in many movies and televisions shows.
- Dan Aykroyd returned to guest many times, but only hosted once, for the season finale to the 2002-2003 season. He has lead a successful movie career.
- Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin, and Laraine Newman have never returned to host. All have worked in television and movies since their SNL days. Curtin returned to the Weekend Update desk alongside Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special.