Hey there, The Beatles fans! Join us in our 10-day countdown to the premiere of The Beatles: Get Back on Disney+, sizing up the 10 greatest TV moments in the long and winding history of the lads from Liverpool.
This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s The Beatles on TV Special Collector’s Edition, available for order online now at BeatlesonTV.com and for purchase on newsstands nationwide.
8. The Beatles Almost Live (From New York)
April 24, May 22, Nov. 20, 1976
The Big Picture
Saturday Night Live tries to reunite the Fab Four for a song (well, three).
Behind the Scenes
From the start, SNL was a heady mix of comedy bits and musical acts, and it quickly became a reason young fans actually stayed in on Saturday nights. For music, the first season featured the likes of Randy Newman, Paul Simon, and, famously, the Patti Smith Group. So why not shoot for the stars…for a good laugh?
On the April 24, 1976, show, hosted by Raquel Welch, producer Lorne Michaels did a now memorable bit after “Weekend Update.” Alluding to rumors of a pricey Beatles reunion in the offing, he made his own offer: The band could have a certified check for $3,000 — to split however they wished (“If you want to give Ringo less, that’s up to you,” he said) — to appear and sing.
As it turned out, that night Paul McCartney was visiting John Lennon at his New York apartment in the Dakota, where they happened to be watching. “We said, ‘Come on, should we go? It’s just down the road,’” McCartney later recalled. “And for half a second, we nearly went. Well, that was like as near as it got, you know. Money wasn’t good enough.”
No doubt comically sensing that, a month later, Michaels reappeared, upping the ante to a whopping $3,200 — yes, an extra $50 each — and he agreed to throw in free hotel accommodations. Still no commitment from the lads.
The following season, on November 20, with the show a pop culture favorite, George Harrison and Michaels did the cold open, with Harrison (that episode’s musical guest) saying he was there to pick up the full check. Michaels explained that the entire band had to be there, and since Harrison was only one Fab in Four, all he could collect was $750. When Harrison called the offer “chintzy,” Michaels said he’d get $250 to say the opening line, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” Harrison obliged.
McCartney has appeared numerous times as a musical or surprise guest, and Ringo remains the only Beatle to host the show, on December 8, 1984. With Billy Crystal posing as Sammy Davis Jr., the two sang a medley that included “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “Yellow Submarine.”
And in the end, Lennon never appeared.
During McCartney’s 1993 SNL appearance, Michaels came out and told him the Beatles had been paid already. “I just assumed George would have given you the money,” he said.
Why It Ranks
For a moment, live TV almost had the power to bring about the reunion that mattered most to music fans.
See It Today
The Beatles: Get Back, Documentary Premiere, November 25–27, Disney+