Lorne Michaels sees the recent mass departure of Saturday Night Live cast members as a byproduct of the pandemic and promises the late Emmy-winning variety show’s Weekend Update segment will remain the same through the midterms with head writer Colin Jost and Michael Che at the helm.
Ahead of the premiere of season 48, eight cast members have departed the series including comedic heavyweights Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson and Aidy Bryant. Those departures raised questions about the upcoming season for the long-running sketch show close to celebrating its 50th season.
But the SNL boss recently told The New York Times that the larger “turnover” isn’t impacting talent numbers and that it is, in fact, a result of the pandemic roiling job opportunities for some of the more senior cast members who would have otherwise already departed.
“The pandemic had put us in this position where no one could really leave because there were no jobs,” Michaels said. “And at the same time, if I don’t add new people every year, then the show isn’t the show. There have to be new people, for both our sake and also for the audience.”
He went on to explain that the regular departure of cast members is part of keeping a healthy ecosystem of talent on the show and that there is something “much better” about the show when players are solely focused on it versus juggling SNL with other projects.
“We got to a point where we had a lot of people, and people weren’t getting enough playing time. The way the series has survived is by that level of renewal,” he explained. “The price of success is that people go off and do other things; their primary obligation is to their talent and to keep pushing that. And there’s something so much better about the show when all that matters is the show. There’s a time to say goodbye, and there’s a natural time for it, but the natural time just got interfered with by the pandemic.”
Michaels is looking positively on the change, noting that this upcoming season will be “a year of reinvention. And change is exhilarating.” Despite all those potential changes, Michaels promised that head writers Jost and Che aren’t going anywhere. Weekend Update, for now, is intact.
“Particularly, coming into a midterm election, I just need that part to be as solid as it is,” he told the Times.
Elsewhere in the interview, the SNL helmer dismissed ongoing rumors that he plans to retire but did note that when the show does reach its 50th anniversary season, he plans to go big.
“The 50th will be a big event. We’ll bring everyone back from all 50 years and hosts and all of that. It will be a very emotional and very strong thing,” he promised. “There won’t be as many plus-ones, I can tell you that much.”
It’s a different approach to and feeling about the milestone than he had for the show’s 40th season. “I’m not a big person for celebrating,” he said. “Even the 40th [anniversary show], in the end, the only way I got through it was because I knew I was doing a show, and at a certain point, the credits would roll, and we’d be off the air.”