Saturday Night Live: A Ridiculously Thorough Breakdown Of Season 47
Who knew numbers could make comedy so much fun?
Over at the SNL Network, a team of data-savvy comedy fans has developed ingenious ways to dive deep into Saturday Night Live. From weighted cast-member Power Rankings to detailed sketch statistics, the SNL Network crew has given us new tools to get nerdy about late-night comedy. ComedyNerd recently sat down with Jon Schneider, creator of the SNL Network, marketing director Nicole Rovine, and numbercruncher Mike Murray, to discuss their insights into Season 47.
You’ll never guess who topped the power rankings.
SNL Network’s Power Rankings are mostly based on screen time, says Murray, but not all appearances are weighted equally. For example, if you’re the lead in a cold open and get to yell, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” that counts for more than appearing as a nonspeaking background player in a sketch that airs in the show’s final 15 minutes.
With the final numbers crunched (frankly, a mind-boggling exercise), here are the five cast members that ranked atop this year’s rankings:
1 Spoiler alert: It was Kenan.
But what might surprise you is that it’s only the second time in his 19-year SNL career that Kenan has led the show in screen time. What’s not surprising, given the amount of time he was on your TV screen, Kenan also led the way by appearing in 81 different sketches.
Finishing second in this year’s Power Rankings is Colin Jost. You rarely see Jost in a sketch, but with his regular Weekend Update slot, you can count on Jost to consistently rack up points on a weekly basis.
With a larger cast, those points add up. The logistics of getting everyone on the 30 Rock stage in any given episode are daunting-- there were only two episodes in the entire season in which every cast member appeared. As Rovine notes, this year’s exceptionally large number of humans made it harder to rack up screen time on a consistent basis. Jost, who could count on his solid 5 minutes every week, had a leg up.
3 Cecily Strong came in at #3, which is especially impressive since she missed four shows during her Off-Broadway run in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. (Make that five if you count Strong only appearing in the cold open of the Billie Eilish show.)
It helps that Strong is, as Rovine points out, Queen of the Voiceovers. In pre-taped commercial parodies, for example, you’re likely to hear Cecily as the announcer, boosting her presence on the show.
If she had not missed those five episodes, says Schneider, she would have likely overtaken Kenan for most total sketches.
Aidy Bryant rode a big final episode to move up from #5 into the fourth spot. She’s the only cast member in the top five to announce her departure after this season.
Falling to #5 -- just barely -- was Mikey Day, but count this season as a win. As the season progressed, “Mikey had a huge hot streak,” says Schneider.
Screen time statistics show some cast members on the hot seat.
Online chatter suggests producer Lorne Michaels might not yet be done trimming the current cast. Who do the numbers suggest might be in trouble?
Rookie Aristotle Athari, with only 15 minutes and 38 seconds of screen time for the entire season, might be looking over his shoulder. That’s even less than departed feature player Lauren Holt managed last year. Aristotle recorded a modern-day low for screen time and number of sketches, says Schneider. (We’re still rooting for you, Angelo.)
Among the veterans, Melissa Villaseñor ranked third from the bottom, not an encouraging sign for someone who’s been with the show since 2016. (She’s grumbled about it too.)
What about young cast members angling for more time? Punkie Johnson did get slightly more screen time in her second season, but she still ranks second to last overall. Fellow second-year Andrew Dismukes, on the other hand, nearly doubled his screen time and found himself near the middle of the pack, a promising trend.
Chris Redd and Sarah Sherman surprised.
For Schneider, Redd was this year’s out-of-nowhere stunner. “I would compare it to a baseball player who comes into the season and nobody is expecting them to put up an MVP performance. He's consistently produced all season and he is becoming a veteran at this point. I see Chris Redd as such a huge part of the future of the show.”
What surprises SNL Network fans when they look at the screen time rankings? That's Sarah Sherman, who makes such a big impression that she seems like she’s onscreen more than she actually is. “She has dominated our weekly MVP poll,” says Rovine. “No one else has gotten first place half as many times as she has” despite being fourth to last in screen time.
Mikey Day is the flip-side of this phenomenon, a “utility-player type” who shows up more than you might think. He “doesn't get as much credit as he deserves because he just fits seamlessly into a lot of sketches,” says Rovine.
The top five in the Power Rankings were dominated by cast members with long tenures. Mikey Day is the least experienced SNLer in the top five -- and he started in 2013!
Even long-time cast members who missed a lot of shows dominated when given the chance. When Kate McKinnon returned in the Billie Eilish episode, she got 14 minutes 8 seconds, the most time for a single show of any cast member this season.
Even Pete Davidson, who famously was not “Live from New York!” for much of the season, showed up in first place in SNL Network’s pre-taped sketch category. “Sorry, Lorne, I can’t make it, but if I could just film a little something on Tuesday …”
The exception that proves the rule? Rookie James Austin Johnson, thanks to his dizzying array of political impressions, finished the season #1 in cold open minutes. High five, JAJ!
The cast might not be shrinking after all.
While some pundits (including ComedyNerd) believe the cast will get smaller next season, Rovine disagrees. “I think that the cast size will stay big because, in the current era, the only way the show can succeed is allowing more flexibility for people to spread their wings.” When veteran cast members take a break for other projects, she argues, younger comics have the opportunity to step up.
Every SNL cast move, says Schneider, is pointing towards season 50. “I believe they're working towards finding the next great cast. SNL scouts will be out there in Chicago, in Montreal, doing the improv circuit. They're going to be very selective because those (new cast members) will really matter” for the biggest season in the show's history.
It would be a shocker if the show doesn’t add anyone, adds Murray, since it’s basically been a generation since SNL went without a new player.
So heads up, up-and-coming comics -- Saturday Night Live is going to be out there looking.
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Top image: Broadway Video