Lorne Michaels On What Would Happen To 'Saturday Night Live' If He Leaves

05/14/2015 10:35 am ET | Updated May 14, 2015

Over the past four decades, the ever-changing cast of "Saturday Night Live" has read like a who's who of comedy. From Eddie Murphy to Tina Fey, Robert Downey Jr. to Kristen Wiig, the show has been a launching pad for some of the biggest names in TV and film. In the ever-changing cast, one man has been the glue that held it all together: Lorne Michaels. When he created "SNL" in 1975, he wasn't sure if the show would last a year. Today, it's one of the longest-running shows on network television. As the 40th season wraps up this Saturday, we look back at this clip from Michaels' "Oprah's Master Class" interview, where he opens up about those uncertain early years.

"The show means more to me now than it did at the beginning," Michaels says. "I think at the very beginning, it was just all-consuming. I began to think by the third or fourth year, 'Is this all I'm going to do with my life? And what about my other ambitions and dreams? And didn't I want to direct a movie?'"

In hindsight, he knows it's been a career well spent. "I've gotten to do an amazing number of things so there's no complaint here," Michaels says.

But it hasn't been without struggle. Over years, "SNL" has been tested many times by critics and angry network executives. During the worst of it, Michaels says he thought about what it would be like to end the show. "Somewhere around, I guess when it was threatened, around '95. And I lived through that and lived through just really rough criticism. [It was] one of those periods where the critics and the network were aligned," he says. "I realized how I would feel if it stopped."

That thought was enough to keep Michaels going. "I also know, on a realistic level, that it's a show that doesn't exist anymore," he says. "It's way too expensive. It's too unwieldy. It's too wasteful. Nobody has a full band anymore or builds that many sets or goes out and shoots at four in the morning or reads 40 pieces. It's only because it's still there that it's kind of left alone. So I know that when I leave, someone with sense will say, 'Do we really have to do it this way?'"

Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated that Michaels has "remained constant" through the show's history. In fact, Michaels left the show in 1980 and returned in 1985.

"SNL" Auditions
Suggest a correction