Two L.A. vets, 1 Chi grad join ‘SNL’

Latenighter kicks off season Sept. 26

NEW YORK — NBC latenight warhorse “Saturday Night Live” will kick off its 24th season next month with three new featured players, including the show’s first Latino regular.

All of last year’s cast members have signed on for another season, with the exception of Jim Breuer.

Breuer, best known for his imitation of actor Joe Pesci and the recurring character “Goat Boy,” is exiting after three seasons by mutual agreement with “SNL” exec producer Lorne Michaels. He’s already signed with Universal to write and star in “Love Shack,” a comedy feature from producer Bob Simonds slated to begin production in early 1999.

In keeping with usual “SNL” practice, the show’s new regular performers — Jimmy Fallon, Chris Parnell and Horatio Sanz — are relative showbiz unknowns.

Fallon is a stand-up comic with extensive comedy club credentials who’s done some work with the Los Angeles-based Groundlings, a comedy troupe which has supplied “SNL” with numerous cast members over the years.

Parnell also is a past member of the Groundlings, with several sitcom credits, including a guest shot on “Seinfeld” in which he played an NBC exec.

Sanz, who’s “SNL’s” first regular Latino player, comes to the show from Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe, another frequent breeding ground for “SNL” talent.

The trio joins a cast dominated by members who’ve been with the NBC latenight franchise for at least two seasons.

Among the nine returnees, Tim Meadows remains the old man of the gang, starting his eighth season. Molly Shannon will begin her fifth, while Will Ferrell, Darrell Hammond and Cheri Oteri are back for their fourth seasons.

Colin Quinn next month will also begin his fourth season as a writer/performer, including his first full season as anchor of “Weekend Update.” Ana Gasteyer, Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan will return for their third seasons.

After taking a ratings hit during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons, “SNL” has been on an upswing the past two years. Last season, the 11:30 p.m. program averaged 8.5 million total viewers with a 20 share of the key adults 18-49 demo, the latter statistic representing a 29% gain over the course of two seasons.

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