(Reuters) - Top actors, pop stars, sports heroes and veteran comics turned out in force on Sunday for a special broadcast celebrating the 40th anniversary of the seminal late night comedy program, "Saturday Night Live" during a marathon live show.
The 3-1/2-hour show on NBC, which has aired the Saturday night staple since 1975 and launched the careers of comedy stars ranging from Eddie Murphy to Martin Short, featured a series of rapid-fire clips of classic SNL bits, with the show's veterans reprising or reinventing their most-loved sketches.
Ostensibly hosted by Steve Martin, the anniversary show included appearances by some of Hollywood's biggest stars, including Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro and Tom Hanks.
Dozens of cast members from the checkered history of "Saturday Night Live" were on hand, notably first-season regulars Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Laraine Newman and Garrett Morris.
Top figures from the music world such as Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Taylor Swift and Keith Richards joined sports heroes Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning, crowding into the studio at NBC's Rockefeller Center headquarters that comprised a veritable who's who of popular culture.
The show opened with former cast member Jimmy Fallon, now host of the "Tonight Show," one of television's most visible positions, being "upstaged" by Justin Timberlake before the pair launched into a rap duet celebrating the show's classic sketches and characters.
Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Chris Rock and Billy Crystal and others took to the stage to argue about who should have served as host, Will Farrell hosted a segment of "Celebrity Jeopardy" and nonagenarian Betty White and Bradley Cooper exchanged a lengthy, full-on the mouth kiss in a soap opera satire segment of "The Californians."
Aykroyd and Newman reprised an old "Bass-o-Matic" fake commercial, Curtin joined Tiny Fey and Amy Poehler to host "Weekend Update," and a series of old tapes showed auditions by cast members, as well as some famous names who didn't make the cut, including Stephen Colbert and Jim Carrey.
Among musical highlights were a duet by McCartney and Simon, and performances by Kanye West and Miley Cyrus.
Nicholson introduced a segment on the show's political humor, Short handled the duties on its musical history and Rock paid tribute to, and introduced, Murphy.
Working the black-tie audience, Jerry Seinfeld quizzed Michael Douglas, John Goodman and James Franco before calling out "Yes, Tina."
"Yeah, no, it's Sarah," intoned former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, a favorite target of the show and of Fey, who scored with a dead-on impression of the politician for many a week during the 2008 presidential campaign.
In a moving tribute, Murray honored cast members John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Jan Hooks, Phil Hartman, Chris Farley and others who worked on the show and have died. Alumni Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Adam Sandler, David Spade and Norm Macdonald also appeared.
Editing by Clarence Fernandez