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TV History: In 1976, Lorne Michaels Made an Offer to The Beatles to Reunite on “Saturday Night Live”

Joel Eisenberg

The year was 1976, nearly 10 years following the group’s final paid appearance, and seven years after their unannounced Apple Corps. rooftop concert.

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The Beatles Statue; Pier Head, LiverpoolIJ Portwine, Unsplash

The Beatles’ iconic final paid concert occurred August 29, 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. See well-attributed Wikipedia page on the historic evening here, and the BeatlesBible.com entry here.

Close to three-and-a-half years later, on the roof of their Apple Corps. headquarters in London, The Beatles played their legendary unannounced concert on January 30, 1969. For further information, RollingStone.com features an archived January, 2016 article on the matter, “Beatles’ Famous Rooftop Concert: 15 Things You Didn’t Know.” Further, IndieWire.com features a review of Disney Plus’ currently running documentary directed by Peter Jackson, “The Beatles: Get Back,” that includes rare footage of the concert and its prep.

Fast-forward to 1976.

Then known as “Saturday Night,” the nascent late-night NBC series made an immediate splash. By the latter part of the first season, creator-producer Lorne Michaels was emboldened.

He offered The Beatles an on-air gig, nearly a decade following their rooftop concert. The press had a field day following, as a targeted Google search will verify.

A transcript of that offer can be found here, on SNLTranscripts.JT.org. As excerpted from the transcript for the Season One, Episode 18 episode, which premiered on April 24, 1976 and featured Raquel Welch and musical guest John Sebastian: “Hi, I’m Lorne Michaels, the producer of “Saturday Night”. Right now, we’re being seen by approximately 22 million viewers, but please allow me, if I may, to address myself to just four very special people – John, Paul, George, and Ringo – the Beatles: Lately there have been a lot of rumors to the effect that the four of you might be getting back together. That would be great. In my book, the Beatles are the best thing that ever happened to music. It goes even deeper than that – you’re not just a musical group, you’re a part of us. We grew up with you.”

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Lorne Michaels, Making an On-Air Offer to The BeatlesNBC; image released to press

Lorne went on to make the following formal offer: “The National Broadcasting Company has authorized me to offer you this check to be on our show… [ holds up check ] …a certified check for $3,000. Here it is right here. A check made out to you, the Beatles, for $3,000. All you have to do is sing three Beatles songs. “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.” That’s $1,000 right there. You know the words – it’ll be easy. Like I said, this is made out to the Beatles – you divide it up any way you want. If you want to give less to Ringo, that’s up to you – I’d rather not get involved…”

Nothing happened, of course, but according to lonestar925.iheart.com and other media outlets the offer was received.

As excepted from the link: Unbeknownst to Michaels, among the millions watching that night in 1976 were John Lennon and Paul McCartney, just 22 blocks north in Lennon's New York City apartment. The next day, Sunday, April 25th, Paul stopped by again to see John, but this time he wasn't welcomed. In a 1980 interview, John recalled telling Paul, "It's not 1956, and turning up at the door isn't the same anymore." Sadly, they never saw each other again. Seven months later, on November 20th, 1976,George Harrison appeared on SNL, and during the show's open, he tried to collect the $3000 from Michaels. He said, “I’ve come all this way. It’s $3000. That was the deal!”

Throughout “Saturday Night Live’s“ storied history (long since referred to today mainly as “SNL” and as “Saturday Night” sans the “Live” in the series early days due to a concurrently-running though ultimately short-lived Howard Cosell series of the same name), John Lennon, who was fatally shot in New York on December 8, 1980, would be the only Beatle to never appear on the acclaimed series.

Back in the 1970’s, however, Lorne was nonplussed about his lack of an answer. In Season One, Episode 21 — originally airing on May 22, 1976 and featuring Buck Henry and Gordon Lightfoot — he tried again.

Per the SNLTranscripts.JT.org site, Lorne upped the ante: “Hi, I’m Lorne Michaels, producer of ‘Saturday Night.’ A short while ago I went on the air and addressed myself to John, Paul, George, and Ringo – the Beatles. At that time, I invited them to appear on ‘Saturday Night’ and told them I was authorized by NBC to pay them in the sum of three thousand dollars.That was three thousand dollars for just three songs.Well, a month has gone by. We’ve heard from The Monkees, Freddy and the Dreamers, Herman’s Hermits, Peter and Gordon, the Cowsills, and Lulu. But still no word from the Beatles. I’m not discouraged and neither is NBC. Because of the recent acclaim that “Saturday Night” has received, I was able to convince NBC to … sweeten the pot. John, Paul,George, and Ringo — we are now prepared to up the original offer to three thousand, two hundred dollars.”

Again, no dice.

Though both offers as delivered were tongue in cheek they were also — by all accounts — wholly authentic.

The idea was not publicly broached again. What we have left is TV lore.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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