Special thanks to ThisDayinMusic.com.

From the time The Beatles broke up in 1970, promoters from all corners tried to entice them into reuniting. The most famous of these was New York impresario Sid Bernstein, who tried to convince the former Fab Four to reunite for one benefit concert to end world hunger. Ironically, for all the legitimate promoters (admittedly, an oxymoron), the man who came the closest to reuniting The Beatles—or at least, John and Paul—wasn’t a concert promoter at all, but instead the producer of a late-night, counter-culture phenomenon.

The Canadian-born Lorne Michaels broke into TV as a comedy writer for Laugh-In and The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show in the late ’60s. In 1975, Michaels developed a sketch show to run on NBC-TV in the barren television wasteland of late Saturday night. Michaels’ Saturday Night Live was a surprise hit when it aired in October of that year (originally titled, NBC’s Saturday Night). The show’s early cast, featuring Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd and Gilda Radner, among others, were counter-culture heroes, thumbing their noses at authority and good taste. Within months, they were the coolest thing on TV.

On April 24, 1976, Michaels appeared on the program with an offer that drew plenty of laughs in the Rockefeller Center studio audience:

“The National Broadcasting Company has authorized me to offer [The Beatles] this check to be on our show: a certified check for $3,000. Here it is, right here. A check made out to you, The Beatles, for $3,000. All you have to do is sing three Beatles songs. “She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.”  That's $1,000 right there. You know the words—it'll be easy. Like I said, this is made out to The Beatles— you divide it up any way you want. If you want to give less to Ringo, that's up to you. I'd rather not get involved. I'm sincere about this. If this helps you to reach a decision to reunite, it's well worth the investment. You have agents—you know where I can be reached. Just think about it, okay? Thank you.”

Fans laughed at the camera zooms on the $3000 check and the Ringo barb, but on the far side of Central Park, two very famous men took notice.

By 1976, John Lennon and Paul McCartney weren’t the hostile antagonists the public generally believed. Years had passed since the “How Do You Sleep?” days. In the meantime, the two had hung out, particularly while Lennon was on his “Lost Weekend” in Los Angeles. By this time, John was back in New York, living with Yoko in The Dakota on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. On the night of April 24, Paul McCartney had popped in to hang out with his old friend—and they decided to kick back and watch a certain Saturday night comedy show.

Lennon recounted to Playboy, “Paul and I were together watching that show. He was visiting us at our place in The Dakota. We were watching it and almost went down to the studio, just as a gag. We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired… He and I were just sitting there, watching the show, and we went, 'Ha-ha, wouldn't it be funny if we went down?' But we didn't.”

McCartney corroborated the account, several years later, with VH1, “He said, ‘We should go down there. We should go down now and just do it. It was one of those moments where we said, ‘Let’s not and say we did.’”

For his part, Michaels kept the joke—and the offer—alive, reappearing on May 22 with a sweeter pot, offering The Beatles an additional $200 to appear: “Off the record, this increase comes to an extra fifty dollars for each of you. That's if you split it equally—I'm still not sure what your situation with Ringo is.” He also offered the group a free Checker cab ride and separate rooms at the Cross Town Motor Inn, “a hotel tradition, hosting New York’s visitors since 1971.”

The bit ran its course—or more accurately, reached its punchline—on November 20, when George Harrison co-hosted the show with Paul Simon. The show opened with Harrison arguing with Michaels about the fee:

Lorne Michaels: ...I mean, how do you think I feel? I feel terrible about it!

George Harrison: You're saying that now. I've come all this way. It's $3,000—that was the deal!

Lorne Michaels: I understand. But it was just one of those mix-ups. I mean, it's…

George Harrison: Fine. I'll tell you one thing, you ought to get it straight in the future, you know?

Lorne Michaels: If you don't go on tonight, it'll break [Paul Simon’s] heart. You see, I thought that you would understand, you know, that it was $3,000 for four people—that it would just be $750 for each of you. I mean, as far as I'm concerned, I mean, you could have the full $3,000. But the network…

George Harrison: It's pretty chintzy.

Lorne Michaels: Well, I'll tell you what. I know there's $250 available for the opening, for the person who says, “Live from New York, it's Saturday Night.”

George Harrison [smiling excitedly, and turning to the camera ]: "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!”