Evolution of 'Saturday Night Live': See how the 'SNL' opening monologue has transformed over 40+ years

"SNL" fans know what to expect at 11:37 on NBC each Saturday night: There's a cold open, jazzy title credits and then an opening monologue delivered by the week's celebrity guest host.

But really longtime viewers remember the days when the show wasn't quite so cleanly structured. Forty-four years ago, when the show first debuted in 1975, host George Carlin was tasked with the monologue, and it wasn't just an opener: The comic performed five separate short routines throughout the live taping.

At the time, the weekly host wasn't intended to perform in any sketches; he or she was just meant to appear throughout the broadcast. Other early hosts, like Richard Pryor and Hugh Hefner, also stuck to the guy-with-a-mic role.

Unsurprisingly, the set design has also dramatically transformed, but today's version is still reminiscent of its early incarnation. Gone is the winding stairway and they've added a full live onstage band, but the general Grand Central-esque aesthetic remains.

PHOTOS: See the transformation of the "Saturday Night Live" opening monologue

38 PHOTOS
Evolution of Saturday Night Live monologue set
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Evolution of Saturday Night Live monologue set
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1 -- Pictured: Steve Martin during the monologue on October 13, 1979 -- (Photo by: Fred Hermansky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 3 -- Pictured: Hugh Hefner during the monologue on October 15, 1977 -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 11 -- Pictured: (l-r) Garrett Morris and Cicely Tyson during the monologue on February 10, 1979 -- (Photo by: Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 2 -- Pictured: Malcolm McDowell during the 'Opening Monologue' on November 22, 1980 -- Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 13 -- Pictured: Host Ray Sharkey during the monologue on April 11, 1981 -- Photo by: Fred Hermansky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 11 -- Pictured: Charlene Tilton during the monologue on February 21, 1981 -- Photo by: Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 13-- Pictured: Host Alec Baldwin during the monologue on February 13, 1983 (Photo by Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 6 -- Pictured: Jerry Lewis during the Monologue on November 19, 1983 -- (Photo by: Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 15 -- Pictured: Host Billy Crystal during the monologue on March 17, 1984 (Photo by Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 2 -- Pictured: Malcolm-Jamal Warner during the monologue on October 10, 1986 -- Photo by: Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 18 -- Pictured: Geena Davis during the monologue on April 22, 1989 (Photo by Raymond Bonar/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 17 -- Pictured: Dolly Parton during the monologue on April 15, 1989 -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 15 -- Pictured: Mary Tyler Moore during the monologue on March 25, 1989 (Photo by Raymond Bonar/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 14 -- Pictured: Oprah Winfrey during the monologue on April 14, 1986 (Photo by Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 20 -- Pictured: Candice Bergen during the monologue on May 19, 1990 -- Photo by: Raymond Bonar/NBCU Photo Bank
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 19 -- Pictured: Tom Hanks during the monologue on May 9, 2010 -- Photo by: Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 18 -- Pictured: Jerry Seinfeld during the monologue on April 18, 1992 (Photo by Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 17 -- Pictured: (l-r) Sharon Stone during the monologue on April 11, 1992 -- Photo by: Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 15 -- Pictured: Nancy Kerrigan onstage during the monologue March 12, 1994 -- (Photo by: Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 17 -- Pictured: Steve Forbes during the monologue on April 13, 1996 -- (Photo by: Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 9 -- Aired 01/23/1988 -- Pictured: (l-r) Host Robin Williams during the Opening Monologue on January 23, 1998. (Photo by Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 25 -- Pictured: (l-r) Will Ferrell as Steven Seagal, Jackie Chan during the monologue on May 20, 2000 -- (Photo by: Mary Ellen Mathews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 19 -- Air Date 05/11/2002 -- Pictured: Host Kirsten Dunst during monologue on May 11, 2002 -- Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBCU Photo Bank
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 13 -- Air Date 03/02/2002 -- Pictured: Host Jonny Moseley during the monologue on March 2, 2002 (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 4 -- Aired 10/30/2004 -- Pictured: Kate Winslet onstage during the Monologue (Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 17 -- Air Date 04/10/2004 -- Pictured: Host Janet Jackson during the monologue on April 10, 2004 (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 8 -- Aired 12/10/2005 -- Pictured: Alec Baldwin during the monologue on December 10, 2005 (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 2 -- Aired 10/06/2007 -- Pictured: Actor Seth Rogen during the monologue on October 6, 2007 (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 15 -- Aired 03/17/2007 -- Pictured: Julia Louis-Dreyfus during the monologue on March 17, 2007 (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 22 -- Pictured: Will Ferrell during the Monologue on May 16, 2009 (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 22 -- Pictured: Justin Timberlake during the Monologue on May 9, 2009 (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Zooey Deschanel" Episode 1612 -- Pictured: Zooey Deschanel during the monologue on February 11, 2011-- (Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Jimmy Fallon/Justin Timberlake Episode 1651 -- Pictured: Jimmy Fallon -- (Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Lady Gaga" Episode 1647 -- Pictured: Lady Gaga -- (Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Chris Hemsworth" Episode 1691 -- Pictured: Chris Hemsworth during the monologue on December 12, 2015 -- (Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Tina Fey" Episode 1746 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan during the "Opening Monologue" in Studio 8H on Saturday, May 19, 2018 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Amy Schumer" Episode 1745 -- Pictured: Host Amy Schumer during the Opening Monologue in Studio 8H on Saturday, May 12, 2018 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Adam Sandler" Episode 1765 -- Pictured: Host Adam Sandler during the "I Was Fired" Monologue on Saturday, May 4, 2019 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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Before the redesign, hosts would walk down the long staircase before taking their place onstage. Today, the hosts emerge from a center-stage door and head down just a few stairs. (Which is much easier for anyone wearing heels!) The doors were replaced with bigger, brighter ones around 2003.

In the eighties and nineties, chandeliers, candelabras and oil paintings created an art gallery look. Those features have all since been ditched.

Recurring hosts like Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin have been privy to all stages of the set's transformation over the decades. We haven't seen a redesign in quite some time now -- the set has stayed largely the same for the past 15 years -- but who's to say what season 45 will bring?

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Most successful SNL cast members, Saturday Night Live
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Most successful SNL cast members, Saturday Night Live
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 2 -- Aired 02/08/2001 -- Pictured: Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek during 'Jeopardy' skit (Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- 'Anne Hathaway' Episode 1535 -- Pictured: Tina Fey as Governor Sarah Palin during the 'Vice Presidential Debate' skit on October 4, 2008 (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 8 -- Aired 12/16/2000 -- Pictured: Jimmy Fallon during 'Weekend Update' on December 16, 2000 (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 8 -- Pictured: Eddie Murphy as Solomon during the 'Pudge & Solomon' skit on December 10, 1983 -- (Photo by: RM Lewis Jr./NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 17 -- Aired 04/14/2007 -- Pictured: Amy Poehler as Dakota Fanning during 'The Dakota Fanning Show' skit on April 14, 2007 (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 9 -- Aired 12/16/2006 -- Pictured: Andy Samberg as guy during 'Dick in a Box' skit on December 16, 2006 (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 9 -- Pictured: Host Steve Martin on January 21, 1978 -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 14 -- Pictured: Bill Murray during 'Weekend Update' on March 10, 1979 -- (Photo by: Fred Bronson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 7 -- Air Date 11/20/1993 -- Pictured: Adam Sandler as Brian during 'The Denise Show' skit on November 20, 1993 (Photo by Raymond Bonar/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 6 -- Pictured: Julia Louis-Dreyfus during the 'Saturday Night News' skit on November 19, 1983 -- (Photo by: Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Pictured: Chevy Chase during 'Weekend Update' -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- 'Josh Brolin' Episode 1536 -- Pictured: Kristen Wiig as Suze Orman during the 'The Suze Orman Show' skit on October 18, 2008 (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 10 -- Air Date 02/15/1986 -- Pictured: Robert Downey Jr. as Julian Lynch during the 'Models Against the Wilderness' skit on February 15, 1986 -- Photo by: Al Levine/NBCU Photo Bank
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 7 -- Air Date 12/03/1994 -- Pictured: Mike Myers as Rajneesh Singh during the 'Civil War Memories' skit on December 3, 1994 (Photo by Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 8 -- Pictured: Chris Rock during the 'Weekend Update' skit on December 7, 1991 (Photo by Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- 'Mick Jagger' Episode 1620 -- Pictured: (l-r) Bill Hader, Seth Meyers -- (Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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