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EntertainmentColumnistsVerne Gay

'Saturday Night Live' draws big names at 40th anniversary celebration

Eddie Murphy and former Gov. of Alaska, Sarah

Eddie Murphy and former Gov. of Alaska, Sarah Palin, greet each other on the red carpet at the "SNL" 40th Anniversary Special at Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan on Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015. Credit: AP / Evan Agostini

"Saturday Night Live" celebrated its 40th anniversary Sunday by condensing four decades of a classic into a 31/2-hour sprawl with clips, skits, audition tapes, reprises, songs, interviews, cameos, performances, golden oldies and ... what are we forgetting here? ... (Ah, commercials. Right, those, too.)

Plus: Paul Simon closed it all with "Still Crazy After All These Years."

As expected, the whole spectacle was a bit exhausting, often padded, sporadically dull, frequently pleasurable, sometimes not, and an endless parade of big names and famous faces.

The opening credits alone needed about five minutes to list all the stars scheduled to appear. For people who like to people-watch, this was a paradise, with appearances from Keith Richards to Dave Chappelle to Sarah Palin to Paul McCartney and pretty much anyone else you could name or think of.

Like Jack Nicholson, or Miley Cyrus, or Bill Murray, or Kanye West, or Jerry Seinfeld, or Emma Stone who did Gilda Radner's character Roseanne Roseannadanna.

Impressive, no? Show maestro Lorne Michaels didn't only pull out all stops, but apparently called in a few favors, too.

Most of all, "SNL 40" was a celebration of a great franchise, and by association, a great city too. "Anyone got a problem with that?" Robert DeNiro said.

Not me. I loved it.

Was anyone surprised that Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake opened with a medley of some "SNL" greatest hits? Or that Steve Martin cold-opened, or Tom Hanks cold-opened right along with him? Or Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Jane Curtin handled "Weekend Update?" (Fey: "Also joining us tonight, one of the original producers, cocaine.")

Eddie Murphy was in one very obvious sense the most intriguing guest at this party. He hadn't been here in decades, hadn't contributed to the other tributes, stayed away from books about the show, and otherwise left -- by his absence -- an impression that there was a problem with the impresario who put him on this show in 1980.

He turned up just after 10, spoke for a few seconds -- literally -- then disappeared. The intrigue continues.

Meanwhile, the "red carpet" event that preceded offered its own perverse rewards.

"Where are you guys hiding Brian Williams," Jim Carrey demanded of "Today" co-anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani wanted to clarify -- insistently -- that Michaels had long ago written a famous line for him which he had not written himself: "I just want [you] to be sure, with Brian Williams and all that stuff ..."

Perhaps one other way to think of tonight -- beyond an opportunity for NBC to make more of the you-know-what -- is this way: Lorne Michaels is 70 years old, and while we can all hope he'll be around for the 50th anniversary in 10 years, it's probably best to celebrate him right now, on the 40th anniversary.

Time goes fast, after all, and who knows what tomorrow brings.

That spirit infused this overly long and loving tribute. Sure, it could have been shorter (and we didn't really need a "red carpet," did we?) but "SNL 40" was mostly about Lorne Michaels and what he has achieved over all these years.

This show did feel like his greatest hits, and they were often great indeed. So take a bow, Lorne. You deserve it.

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