By Brian Williams, Anchor and managing editor
This has been a busy week for me, but come Saturday I get to do something special on my night off. As you may have heard, I'm going to host Saturday Night Live. It's quite an opportunity, and it got me thinking about exactly whose footsteps I'll be following in. I don't mean all the actors and comedians who normally host SNL; they're in the entertainment business, after all. And I'm not thinking about the dozen or so professional athletes who have hosted the show over its 32-year history, including Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky, Chris Evert, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Lance Armstrong and even O.J. Simpson, way back in 1978. Like entertainers, they know how to play to a crowd.
No, I was wondering about the category that I'm in, which is "none of the above." As it turns out, Saturday Night Live has a tradition of drawing from that category as well, starting with the very first season, when Ron Nessen hosted on April 17, 1976. Who was Ron Nessen? He was a former White House correspondent for NBC News, who had gone on to become press secretary to President Gerald Ford. Ford was the target of a lot of SNL humor in those early days, just like every president since. Ford had a sense of humor about it, and even made a cameo appearance on the show Nessen hosted.
Usually, politicians are what Saturday Night Live makes fun of. But they've also been invited to host the show occasionally. That list includes Rudolph Giuliani, Al Gore, John McCain, Steve Forbes, Julian Bond and Ed Koch. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader hosted the show in 1977, years before he ran for president. And presidential son Ron Reagan did the honors in 1986 (famously doing his underpants-only imitation of Tom Cruise in "Risky Business"). Some SNL hosts have been in a category all their own, such as Hugh Hefner (1977), George Steinbrenner (1990) and Donald Trump (2004).
Sportscaster John Madden hosted SNL on January 30, 1982 -- six days after doing color commentary during one of the most-watched broadcasts in American television history: Super Bowl XVI. An estimated 85 million people watched the 49ers beat the Bengals, 26 to 21; Madden's SNL audience may have been somewhat smaller.
In 1985, Saturday Night Live was hosted by another sportscasting legend: Howard Cosell. Ten years earlier, when SNL started, it was called "NBC's Saturday Night," because its current name was then taken by an ABC variety show called "Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell." The Cosell version didn't last long, however, and in 1976, SNL got the rights to the name it is known by to this day.
Finally, there is Edwin Newman, who hosted SNL in 1984, and anchored "Weekend Update" on several other occasions. Ed was a best-selling author and an expert on the English language, but he was -- and is -- best known for his many years as a correspondent and anchor for NBC News. Now how on earth did a guy like that get to host Saturday Night Live?
More on all this later, but for now it's time to get back to Job One. We hope you can join us tonight for Nightly News.