Despite having highly notable celebrities both as cast members and guests, Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell has never been made available on home video.
Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell is consistently confused with the sketch comedy program Saturday Night Live. In October 1975, rival network NBC began airing the late night comedy show NBC's Saturday Night, the creation of producer Lorne Michaels. The shows did not compete for the same time slot. Cosell's Saturday Night Live aired at 8 p.m. ET/PT, whereas NBC's Saturday Night aired at 11:30 p.m. After Cosell's show was cancelled, the NBC show was renamed Saturday Night Live.
The premiere episode featured celebrity guests Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Paul Anka, Siegfried and Roy, the cast of the Broadway version of The Wiz, tennis pro Jimmy Connors (who sang, while profusely sweating, Anka's "Girl, You Turn Me On" as a dedication to his girlfriend Chris Evert. Anka played the piano to accompany Connors), and John Denver. The episode's musical guest was the Bay City Rollers, from Scotland, whom Cosell dubbed "the next" British phenomenon.
The show featured Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Christopher Guest as regular comedy performers, dubbed "The Prime Time Players". In response, NBC's show Saturday Night called its regular performers "The Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players" (especially since the show didn't air in prime time, but late-night). Eventually, Murray, Doyle-Murray, and Guest would all work on the NBC program. Billy Crystal, who appeared on the premiere episode of Cosell's program, was also scheduled to appear on the premiere episode of the NBC show, but was bumped when the show ran long; he later joined the NBC program's cast, along with Guest, during Season 10 a decade later. Also that season, Cosell himself guest-hosted the NBC program in its season finale on April 13, 1985.
Mischer described the show as chronically hectic and unprepared. He recalled one particular episode wherein executive producer Roone Arledge discovered that jazz icon Lionel Hampton was in New York City, and invited the musician to appear on the show an hour before airtime.
The show fared poorly among critics and audiences alike, with TV Guide calling it "dead on arrival, with a cringingly awkward host". Alan King—the show's "executive in charge of comedy"—later admitted that it was difficult trying to turn Cosell into a variety show host, saying that he "made Ed Sullivan look like Buster Keaton".
Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell was canceled on January 17, 1976, after only 18 episodes. A year later, in 1977, NBC's Saturday Night appropriated the name of its former (indirect) competition.