45 Years Ago: Chevy Chase Leaves ‘SNL’ but Not for Good
After finding fame as an original member of Saturday Night Live, Chevy Chase left the show during its second season. His final episode as a cast member aired on Oct. 30, 1976.
Though brief, it was a star-making turn for Chase, who served as the series’ first “Weekend Update” anchor. But his time at 30 Rock was marred with behind-the-scenes controversy. Eventually, after various hosting stints, he was banned from returning to the legendary program (sort of).
Chase made his SNL debut in October 1975 as one of the "Not Ready For Prime-Time Players," the troupe of comedians who made up the original cast. During season one, that group also included Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, George Coe, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Michael O'Donoghue and Gilda Radner. Chase had collaborated with many of those comics previously on The National Lampoon Radio Hour. But on television, he became the show’s first breakout star.
Throughout Saturday Night Live's first season, it was Chase who delivered the iconic line "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" after most cold opens. He also unveiled some popular impressions, including a bumbling Gerald Ford — a characterization that would come to haunt the occasionally clumsy president. During bits like “The Fall of the Week,” Chase’s talent for buffoon-ish physical comedy shone. But another segment of the show would truly define the actor’s SNL tenure: “Weekend Update.”
Watch Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford on 'SNL'
Chase conceived the satiric news segment back in 1975 with fellow SNL writer Herb Sargent and served as its first anchor. Hosting “Weekend Update” solo, Chevy introduced himself with the classic catchphrase “I'm Chevy Chase...and you're not” — immediately setting the mood. In reading each week’s stories, Chase’s dry, haughty delivery went on to define the piece, marking a key innovation in the style of deadpan political satire that eventually dominated TV.
Watch Chevy Chase on 'Weekend Update'
That December, Chase graced the cover of New York Magazine as the “heir apparent to Johnny Carson" and, soon after, won two Emmys for his work on Saturday Night Live. Being the only cast member honored, tensions rose among the players. While Chase’s on-screen persona may have been likeable, his aggressive personality led to personal conflicts behind the scenes.
Having only been contracted through the first season, Chase missed the second and third episodes of the second season, supposedly due to an injury. He returned, then, for another three episodes before formally departing halfway through the second season. Chase’s final SNL episode — as a cast member — was on Oct. 30, 1976. That show was hosted by the frequent guest Buck Henry and featured musical guest the Band.
As Chase went to chase a career in Hollywood, his replacement, Bill Murray, would struggle to fill the imposing SNL alum’s shoes. (Murray infamously appeared in a serious plea for laughs in 1976.) Eventually, though, he settled well into the kooky cast of comics. And when Chase returned to host in February 1978, it was Murray who clashed hardest with the former star. After a tense week of rehearsals, Murray told Chase that everyone hated him, leading to a fiery shouting match and, finally, a dramatic dressing room fight. (According to Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live, it was poor Belushi who got hit the hardest trying to hold the two men apart.)
Despite drawing sharp criticism from cast members such as Will Ferrell for his abusive behavior while preparing to host an episode of the show in 1997, Chase was not banned from the show as is often reported - in a 2018 Washington Post profile on Chase, longtime SNL producer Lorne Michaels called those reports "idiotic" - and has popped up on the 30 Rock stage several times since.
He appeared in a Caddyshack sketch cameo, in a 1997 episode featuring Chris Farley, in two “Weekend Update” segments and in Justin Timberlake's 2013 monologue. He also participated in SNL’s 40th anniversary special in February 2015.