Saturday Night Live will be honoring the late Fred Willard by re-airing the episode he hosted in 1978. The throwback episode will air Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET before a re-airing of the third at-home episode of the current season.
“I saw the first show and it knocked me out. I said, ‘God, this is wonderful comedy,’” Willard—who died May 15 of natural causes at the age of 86—said in a 2012 interview with the Television Academy Foundation. “And one night, shortly after I was sitting in The Improv, and John Belushi walked in and I walked up. I said, ‘John, I love your new show.’ He said, ‘Oh, thanks.’...I took him around the improv. ‘Everyone, this is John Belushi. You got to watch his show, Saturday Night Live.’ And he was—I could tell he was so impressed by that.”
In the fall of 1978, Willard ran into the SNL crew at an Emmys event in Los Angeles and was convinced by his wife to go up and introduce himself to Lorne Michaels. “So I went over and I said, ‘Hi, I’m Fred Willard. I love your show.’ ‘Oh, Fred.’ I think they all loved Fernwood 2 Night,” Willard said in the interview. “And a couple of weeks later I got a call. I think Muhammad Ali was supposed to host the show and dropped out and they said, ‘We’d love you to host it.’ I said, ‘Oh my God, that would be wonderful.’ And I have a feeling John Belushi was a behind it.”
Willard’s episode aired that October 13, with Devo as the musical guest. “So I went in, I must have written 20 sketches, 20 ideas to do. I took it very seriously,” said Willard, who detailed his evolving relationship with improv to The A.V. Club in 2009. “It was a big thrill, and to think that so many millions of people are watching you. I think you get nervous to a point, and then finally say, ‘You can’t get nervous anymore.’ And I just went out and did it. It was a wonderful, memorable night.”