Saturday Night Live Celebrates 40 Years, Draws Audience of Millions

February 17, 2015 Updated: February 17, 2015

Late night sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live” celebrated its 40th anniversary this past weekend with a 3.5-hour Sunday primetime special. The star-studded special event was a celebration of the show’s beloved history that pulled in millions of viewers.

The show started with a musical number from Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake who rapped a brief history of the show’s most iconic catchphrases. It was followed by a speech from Steve Martin who called the event “A high school reunion—a high school reunion that is almost all white,” remarking on the show’s early lack of racial diversity.

Midway through the first hour, Jack Nicholson came on stage to give a brief description of “SNL’s” beginnings.

“When ‘SNL’ first started, the last helicopter had just flown out of Vietnam, Watergate was still fresh in everyone’s minds, and New York was broke,” said Nicholson. “Respect for authority was at an all time low. That’s what the world was like in 1975. And out of that ‘SNL’s’ satirical voice was born.”

Nicholson’s intro led into a montage of the best political humor skits from the past 40 years.

The show contained updated versions of popular skits like Celebrity Jeopardy and Wayne’s World, the latter of which featured Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as their characters Wayne and Garth giving a Top Ten of what makes “SNL” great.

According to Nielsen, which measures TV audiences, the primetime event attracted 23.1 million viewers. That made it NBC’s most-watched primetime event since a “Friends” special episode during that series’ finale in 2004, which drew 36.9 million viewers.

The “SNL” episode was also a hit on social media. According to Nielsensocial.com, it generated over 1.3 million Tweets from 449,000 unique Twitter users.