Saturday Night Live: 4 Reasons Season 50 Won't Be The End (Despite What You've Heard)
Blame the doomsaying on Kenan Thompson.
Speculation has been rampant -- fueled by the legendary producer himself -- that Lorne Michaels will be stepping down after Saturday Night Live celebrates its 50th birthday. And then what?
“If somebody tries to come into his shoes, it’s a good opportunity for NBC to save money as well, you know what I’m saying?” Thompson recently told Charlamagne the God on his Hell of a Week podcast. “(NBC) might slash the budget and then at that point, you can’t really do the same kind of show. So that’s unfair to watch. It just really could go down in flames for real because of those restrictions. Capping it at 50 might not be a bad idea.”
Cue the aggregators! Every entertainment website and its brother have been blaring the news that “Kenan says it’s over!” But don’t believe Thompson’s idle podcast speculation. In fact, if there is a franchise that a network would do anything to keep, argues Puck’s Matt Belloni, it’s Saturday Night Live. There are at least four reasons NBC will be sticking with SNL well into the future.
Live is where it’s at.
Broadcast television is in trouble. Nobody’s watching -- except for live programming like disaster coverage, the National Football League, and Saturday Night Live.
“People do watch it live,” says late-night historian Bill Carter. “They make it so important that it’s live. (That’s why) it will exist.” What other show can react to buzzy topics like the Johnny Depp trial in real time?
But it’s not just that people are watching. When a show is live, viewers can’t zap through the commercials, making this kind of programming very profitable. Sure, SNL is expensive -- but not as costly as letting it die. American Ninja Warrior reruns on Saturday nights just won’t cut it. Bottom line: It would be fiscally irresponsible to cancel the show.
SNL is a star maker for NBC.
SNL has been a feeder system for NBC comedy for decades. Tina Fey graduated from 30 Rock to 30 Rock. Amy Poehler moved straight to Pawnee and Parks and Rec. Seth Meyers simply moved his news desk to another part of the building, where he shares late night with fellow SNL alum Jimmy Fallon. Plus, the show gets shine when SNL grads like Will Ferrell, Kristin Wiig, and Bill Hader hit big on premium cable and in theaters.
And it’s not just about the stars who are already shining. NBC knows that one reason people tune in is to discover the next great comedy megastar. When Bowen Yang and Sarah Squirm hit big, everyone knows where they got their start. Even if the show has lost some of its power, argues Belloni, no place makes stars like SNL.
It’s one of the only broadcast shows people actually talk about.
“It still gets tremendous buzz,” says Carter, “way beyond its ratings.” That’s largely due to its ability to push America’s political buttons. People tune in on Saturday nights to see how the show will react to a given week’s Presidential monkeyshines.
That buzz is why celebrities like Alec Baldwin, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon stop by at a moment’s notice -- they know the country will be talking about them for days. When was the last time Scarlett Johannsen stopped by your favorite show to do a cameo?
One might argue that with Trump (temporarily?) out of the political picture, the show no longer has that cachet. But from Barack Obama to Sarah Palin to George Bush, SNL has never run out of satirical targets.
Lorne doesn’t want it to die.
To some degree, we’re speculating here but most indications are Lorne Michaels cares deeply about his creation and would like to see it continue to succeed. After all, argues Carter, “this is his baby.”
“Lorne loves SNL,” says James Andrew Miller, one of the authors of SNL oral history Live From New York. “He wants what’s best for the show.” And what’s best will likely mean Michaels anointing a successor from among his show children, whether that’s Kenan, Tina Fey, Seth Meyers, or another disciple.
So don’t take it too seriously when Kenan speculates that the show is about to die. Might Thompson move on as well? Sure. But all signs indicate that Saturday Night will continue to live past season 50 and beyond.
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Top image: Broadway Video