NEW YORK (AP) – Lorne Michaels just referred to it as “The Show,” even before it was a show.

“Saturday Night Live” was Michaels’ baby from its birth in 1975. And now, with his child marking its 30th birthday, NBC is airing a two-hour documentary about the show’s first five classic years, the era when its cast was “the Beatles of comedy,” as Dana Carvey says near the documentary’s start.

“Live from New York: The First 5 Years of Saturday Night Live,” which airs 9 p.m. EST Sunday, is no cut-and-paste collection of clips.

Instead, writer-director-producer Kenneth Bowser delivers a documentary that mixes classic bits with extensive interviews, peering into the madness behind those 90 minutes of magic that started Saturdays at 11:30 p.m.

It’s not altogether new territory. “SNL” was already the subject of several books, including the acclaimed oral history done in 2002 by The Washington Post’s Tom Shales and co-author James Andrew Miller.

But there’s still plenty worthwhile, from long-unseen musical clips to stories from guest hosts such as Steve Martin to tales of Dan Aykroyd entering a pitch meeting with a chain saw – and then cranking it up. There are new interviews, offering brutal honesty.

Michaels recalls his first meeting with John Belushi: “He told me he didn’t do television. We didn’t hit it off.”

Eric Idle remembers the comedy team of Al Franken and Tom Davis: “They were always whacked out of their skulls.” Garrett Morris, the lone black cast member, poignantly recounts his outsider status: “Fifty percent was my fault.”

The documentary places the show in the context of the times: Vietnam, Nixon, drugs. And it illustrates the groundbreaking attitude brought by its original cast, “The Not Ready for Prime Time Players.”

“We had a chance,” explains Chevy Chase, “to parody and take down television.”


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