A Radical Fix for ‘Saturday Night Live’ in 2024
Cracked has been suggesting for a while that the cast of Saturday Night Live is too big. This year’s roster has actually downsized from its post-COVID peak, but there are still 17 cast members on this season’s show, 20 if you count the boys in Please Don’t Destry (and why wouldn’t we since they’re on nearly every week). Compare that number with the seven Not Ready for Prime Time Players in the show’s original group. SNL is still a 90-minute show, but now there are nearly three times as many funny people vying for air time. Plus, my pleas to Lorne Michaels to fire half the cast have fallen on deaf ears.
Fine. Don’t want to reduce the cast to a manageable size? Then here’s a radical fix that makes too much sense to ignore it: Split the cast in two, then rotate the comics on alternating shows. That’s right, two casts that take turns shouting “Live From New York!” Just spitballing here, but imagine a show that bounced back and forth between these line-ups:
- Team Red: Colin Jost and Michael Che on Weekend Update, Kenan Thompson, Heidi Gardner, Marcello Hernandez, Punkie Johnson, James Austin Johnson, Sarah Sherman and Devon Walker
- Team Blue: Ego Nwodim and Michael Longfellow on Update duties, Bowen Yang, Chloe Fineman, Andrew Dismukes, Chloe Troast, Mikey Day, Molly Kearney and Please Don’t Destroy.
Before you start arguing about how ludicrous this is, stop a second and think about it. There are at least four reasons that a double cast makes sense.
We Get to Know the Comics Better
During SNL’s first season, “Lorne did a thing that was really, really, really brilliant,” remembers writer Alan Zweibel in SNL oral history Live From New York. “He wanted the public to know the cast as people beyond the roles that they played, so he would have a cast member say, ‘Hi, I’m Dan Aykroyd, dah dah dah dah dah,’ just a little personality thing. With Gilda, she would sit on the edge of the stage, and it was called ‘What Gilda Ate,’ and she would tell what she ate that week.”
It was the same strategy Michaels used when Bill Murray asked America for patience as a new cast member. In the early days, Michaels understood that the more viewers got to know the players, the more they would root for them. Laughter naturally ensues.
These days? Check out this breakdown of the recent Kate McKinnon episode by @thesnlnetwork. Seven cast members (a whole dang lineup back in 1977) each got less than three minutes of screen time. That’s not unusual, and it’s just math — 90 minutes divided by 20 cast members means at least a couple of comics are getting a “Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision.”
Is Molly Kearney funny? Who knows? Does Devon Walker have a few tricks up his sleeve? We don’t see him enough to judge. But split the cast in half and we’d find out pretty quick. At least give us SNL viewers the courtesy of judging for ourselves which comics have the goods.
There’s Time to Get It Right
“I used to watch SNL in all its last-minute, hurry-up, out-of-breath production effort and think, If only we could perfect these scenes a little bit,” gripes Bob Odenkirk in his memoir, Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama. “As Lorne famously says, ‘The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.’ But what if you could put it on because it’s ready? Wouldn’t that be something cool?!”
It would be very cool indeed if SNL ditched the insane schedule it has kept for nearly 50 years: Pitching ideas on a Monday, staying up all night writing sketches on Tuesday, reading scripts around a table on Wednesday to see what goes forward, creating costumes and sets on Thursday and Friday and somewhere in there, rehearsing things once or twice.
But what if each cast had two weeks to prep a show? Insanely sane, right? Team Red could take a whole week to write and perfect scripts while getting a few decent nights’ sleep as well. The following week could be spent actually rehearsing, even, God forbid, making the sketches better. It would be impossible for the final product not to be funnier.
Competition Is a Good Thing
No matter how we split the baby here, controversy is inevitable. “Team Red is so much better than Team Blue!” “Team Blue’s show with Martin Short was way funnier than Team Red’s show with Bill Hader!” “Why did Team Red get Kristen Wiig as a host while Team Blue got stuck with Jason Momoa?”
Good! If one cast is consistently killing it, it’s just more incentive for the second cast to step up their game. Raising the bar has never hurt comedy. And if a perceived disparity between the two casts generates a lot of online arguments? All the better for Saturday Night Live, which historically has thrived on controversy.
Maybe There’s Money in It
The Daily Show found something interesting when it went to a series of rotating hosts instead of immediately replacing Trevor Noah. Ratings went up! Maybe it was the novelty of seeing comedy favorites behind the desk, maybe it was because Comedy Central was holding an open competition for the job. One thing’s certain: The curiosity factor paid off. The split cast idea has the same things going for it — curiosity about how the new casts will work together, plus some natural rooting over which group is best.
And with the extra time afforded by the two-week schedule? Why not open a black-box theater at 30 Rock where each cast can try out new sketches in front of a live audience? It wouldn’t be a polished show, but audiences would know that in advance. It’s always a thrill when a Chris Rock or Sarah Silverman drops in at a club to workshop some new jokes — there’s no better way to know a bit is working than live laughter. So give SNL casts that valuable feedback sometime before the day of the live show. Did I mention Michaels could charge cash for those tickets?
Are there any flaws in my proposal? Despite the potential for more screen time, cast members might not like it in the same way the high school kids cried when Will Ferrell’s high school drama teacher double-cast Bye Bye Birdie.
But heck, it’s been 50 years. Comics in a double cast will get fewer shows but more opportunities. Tradition is great but with Lorne Michaels moving on in a year, the time is right to shake things up. Whoever takes the producing job next? Let’s split.