The Coming Cast Crisis at ‘Saturday Night Live’

SNL Cast Crisis

Hader and Meyers may not be the last to leave but don't panic just yet

It wouldn’t be a “Saturday Night Live” season finale without the bittersweet moment that comes when a veteran cast member makes a final appearance. Last night it was Bill Hader’s turn to say goodbye, just as Kristen Wiig had done the previous season.

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Given the revolving door at “SNL” has never seemed to stop moving over its 38-season run, the exit shouldn’t be cause for concern. Hader made a strong case for cast MVP over 2012-13, but Wiig also ended her run as “SNL’s” top player. And yet the show seemed to have enjoyed a solid season without her and another high-profile defector, Andy Samberg.

But 2013-14 could very well shake out to be one of those tricky transitional seasons that every now and then seems to threaten “SNL” over a history that has seen its share of low points.

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Consider the already announced departure next season of head writer and “Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers, who plans to transition to his own NBC late-night show by next January. Add to that the increasing likelihood that Jason Sudeikis and Fred Armisen may not be with the series much longer; a New York Post report suggests this season will be their last, and the finale’s last sketch didn’t explicitly send them off, though it was certainly strongly hinted (NBC has yet to confirm whether either is done).

But don’t panic. The prospect of losing at least four prominent cast members before 2013-14 might seem dire, but students of “SNL” history will note that past mass cast defections tend to be like forest fires: While the damage done is seemingly devastating, it actually has a counterintuitively restorative effect, clearing the way for future growth. And what’s more, the seeds for the next generation of SNL already seem to be sprouting in the current cast.

The prospect of a mass exodus shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Sudeikis was originally intended to exit midway through the current season only to inexplicably stay on for the duration. Armisen also seemed to signal one foot out the door by relinquishing Obama impersonation duties to Jay Pharoah. Armisen and Sudeikis have had truly great runs at ‘SNL,’ but both seemed to be used less this season than in previous years, only accentuating the feeling that it’s time for them to move on.

To prevent this talent drain, “SNL” impresario Lorne Michaels will likely do whatever he can to forestal their exits, but it’s a short-term solution at best considering Sudeikis is eight seasons in, Armisen is on his 11th and yet another stalwart, Kenan Thompson, is on his 10th.

Michaels clearly has his work cut out for him in the off-season. But he’s been through this so many times he may not even be sweating.

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The most direct comparison might be the 2005-06 season ,when “SNL” lost five cast members including “Update” anchor/head writer Tina Fey. But that was a breeze compared with the mass exoduses that rocked the franchise in 1985-86 and 1994-95.

But a funny thing happened in both of the seasons that followed: “SNL” experienced bumper crops in new cast additions. 1986 brought Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and Kevin Nealon in one fell swoop. 1995 delivered Will Ferrell, Darrell Hammond, Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan and Colin Quinn. All in one season.

But 2013-14 doesn’t necessarily require a fresh infusion of talent to salvage “SNL”; the series did a fantastic job of grooming in-house this season.

Two bright spots in the “SNL” men’s room: Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan. Both of these guys grew tremendously in 2012-13. Moynihan’s rise was actually something of a surprise given his first four seasons seemed to indicate he was headed for second-class status in the cast. His Drunk Uncle character may be the biggest draw on “Update” now that Hader’s beloved Stefon is gone.

SEE ALSO: ‘SNL’s’ Taran Killam Nabs Two Indie Roles

As for Killam, he’s as close as “SNL” is going to get in terms of replacing Samberg’s singular weirdness, and he may have even more range than Samberg. In time, clearing the decks of all these male vets may actually give Killam room to shine.

Still, “SNL” desperately needs to bring in new male blood in the off-season. Beyond his much-improved Obama personation, Pharoah continues to be under-utilized and there’s little sense that’s going to change. Sole freshman addition Tim Robinson is not star material; he’ll be lucky to last a few seasons on “SNL.”

The female side of “SNL” might seem even more challenging given a franchise that was something of a boy’s club for so many seasons became dominated by women like Wiig, Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph more recently. And yet the unsung story of 2012-13 for “SNL” may be how quickly they managed to refuel.

Kate McKinnon, who joined at the tail end of last season, is probably second only to Pharoah when it comes brilliant celebrity mimickry, from Martha Stewart to Ellen DeGeneres. And Cecily Strong may be the “SNL” Rookie of the Year, demonstrating a versatility that may make her a breakout talent in no time.

With the “Update” anchor chair emptying next year, it’s tempting to hope Michaels will turn to one of his up-and-comers for what would be an instant status booster. That said, the good money is that chair will go to John Mulaney, an “SNL” writer who had a pilot in contention at NBC this year. He didn’t get a series order, which could be the best thing to happen to “SNL.”

While there’s every indication “SNL” is on the verge of a serious manpower outage, don’t fret yet. There’s already a lot of talent waiting in the wings at Studio 8H.

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  1. Patrick R. says:

    Will Greenberg
    Piotr Michaels
    Ross Bryant
    John Lawniczak
    Tim Baltz
    Jordan Lannan
    Chris Witaske
    Dave Burleigh

    All are decent, but I’d like to see someone really fresh.

  2. Patrick R. says:

    Who do you guys think some of the new cast members will be? I always thought Mile Meyers was the best, I think with YouTube the whole world of sketch comedy has changed, SNL is an hour long and their bits run on and on. They definitely could use new male talent out there, any thoughts?

  3. Dennis says:

    Please tell me I read it wrong when you said Kenan Thompson is leaving?? Its bad enough to be losing Bill Hader,but to lose both then I be seriously hurtin for comedy…I was suprised I didnt miss
    Kristen Wiig as much as I thought I was going to….
    Please make it 3 or none of them…I think Kenan is one of the funniest guys on TV along with Bill

  4. Laurie Mann says:

    I think since Tina Fey left the writing has been very erratic, especially the last two years. The performers are all very good. I hope the show focuses on getting stronger writers this year.

  5. Ramzy Sweis says:

    Do you visit Chicago? My web series, “I Never Repeat A Joke,” nominated by Funnyordie, has 700K visitors. Lakeshore Ent. will offer a TV contract @ 1 million. YOU can be a star! Newspaper feature:

  6. RJP3 says:

    The has been great for the last two decades and will continue to be.

  7. Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong? Are you kidding me? These women are God-awful. The best part of Romney losing is that I’ll never have to see McKinnon’s cringe-worthy and very lame Ann Romney impersonation again. Ana Gasteyer did a much better Martha Stewart several years ago. The best thing, in my opinion, is to get rid of everyone and start fresh. This season has been the worst one I can remember!

  8. I imagine that SNL will continue since it has survived from the early 70’s. As long as liberal humor is permitted, there will be a SNL. Politicians like Romney could someday try to pull the plug,…. goes back to finding black humor in the ridiculous way our politicians conduct business…. everyone is fair game on this show, which makes it attractive to the masses. But….. nothing lasts forever. I don’t know though; never dreamed that Rolling Stone Magazine would still be pumping this long

  9. rac says:

    all you did was rank the new blood in order of attractiveness.

    tim robinson will be a legend and kate mckinnon is not exactly brilliant. she has a good ellen impression but other than that it’s like i’m watching un-heartfelt kristin wiig impersonation.

  10. Curtis says:

    SNL has BEEN in a cast crisis since the 90’s. A few have come along and tried and done fair, but this show has been in the tank for a long time now.

  11. Sammy King says:

    Kristen Wiig is not and never has been funny. Her characters were insipid and I marvel how this talentless woman can have a career. Bill Hader and Seth Myers are great (I didn’t like Meyers at first) and the supporting cast is getting better each show. I can only hope there are new people coming on board with talent, using the others to showcase their abilities. Taran Killam surprises me with his varibility. I hope SNL goes on for years. Just without the Wigg woman.

  12. Alexander says:

    I agree with Kathi that the remaining cast members are excellent, and just need some wild-n-crazy skits written for them. If Fred does return, I would like to see a resurgance of Prince or the funky German lady he plays. And, his impersonation of the Queen is spot on; the impending birth of William and Kate’s baby would provide fun material for him to do his thing. Sudeikis has a wide repertiore, also. I may be the Lone Ranger with this comment, but I was never particularly impressed with Kristen Wiig. While she was there, it seemed to me that the writers catered more to her with the skits and the other performers were just afterthoughts. Big Congrats to Fallon and Meyers who always seem to be having a good time and genuinely enjoy interacting with others. Good riddance to Jay Leno – dull, pompous, and self-absorbed are three adjectives that really sum him up.

  13. ivrn says:

    SNL cast are very talented in front of the camera. The writing is horrible. If the cast are the writers – hire real writers. If they are not hire new writers.

  14. I am ready for SNL to emerge from the label of the “boys club”. I think that for the first time since Tina, Amy, & Mya there is actually a strong cast of hilarious women in this cast. I think that Nadim Pedrad has already shown us that she has quite a range. Also Cecily Strong and Vanessa Bayer are hilarious in their former strippers skits. Aidy Bryant I think will be a stand out next season because of her ability in physical comedy and Kate McKinnon is just good all that she does. I think that it would be refreshing for this to be a female dominated cast for a change. Hope to see good things in the new season.

  15. Mike P. says:

    Wait, SNL is a comedy show?

  16. Renee Ward says:

    I think this may be an issue of bad writers as opposed to poor staff (with the exception of the annoying Kenan Thompson). The skits just aren’t funny anymore. Bring back Conan, Tina, and J.B. Smoove.

  17. Renee Ward says:

    For the love of god, get rid of Kenan Thompson. THEN I will watch again.

  18. JLC says:

    Jason Sudeikis is the funniest one on the show. They should go to different cities and take auditions for skits. There’s many more talented people out here that are super funny that just need a break. Do a city tour of auditions and let some average Joe’s and Jane’s get a chance. Can’t do any worse then some of the people in the cast!

  19. M.L. says:

    “1986 brought Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and Kevin Nealon in one fell swoop. 1995 delivered Will Ferrell, Darrell Hammond, Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan and Colin Quinn.”

    Are Kevin Nealoon, Darrell Hammond, Chris Oteri, Chris Kattan, and Colin Quinn supposed to be some kind of comic gold? Out standrads are WAY too low when it comes to comedy. George Carlin, Richard Pryor, even early Woody Allen – THAT’S funny. These SNL guys for the most part aren’t funny at all.

  20. PJ says:

    That show has had a “Cast Crisis” since the days of Garrett Morris, Eddie Murphy, Dan Akroyd, Gilda, Chevy, and the like. Hasn’t been worth watching for 30 years.

  21. ann says:

    I enjoy older SNL, it has become to liberal political for my taste. its not that funny any longer

  22. Dan says:

    Saturday Night Live hasn’t been funny in decades. I don’t understand how it stays on the air. The cast is irrelevant and the skits are laden with inapposite anecdotes and unfunny jokes.

  23. Thomas says:

    Maybe they can get some decent talent for a change. Hasn’t been but a few good shows over the last 15 years. Just hasn’t been the same since Dan Akroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner, George Coe, and Michael O’Donoghue left. I only watch maybe 3x a year now

  24. Lee C says:

    Don’t Panic? Somewhere, Douglas Adams is laughing.

  25. Darlean says:

    I bet myself a dollar that some hipster/pseudo-intellectual would have posted on this thread about how the show has been over for years, and sure enough, Shark came through. I have been watching the show since it started, way back in ’74 or ’75. The cast has changed many times, and with every change I have heard (or read) the same thing. To this I say, “Yawn.” I agree with Dan Druggan.

  26. Cindy Malinowski says:

    If John Mulaney becomes the new Weekend Update anchor, I’ll watch every week! He’s hilarious!

  27. John Do says:

    Horrible reporting. How did this even make it through?

    Armisen *did* leave the show this past Saturday night. Why do you think he and Hader waved goodbye to the audience together? Not to mention the obvious send-off song they performed together (alongside Killam and Sudekis) as “The Bizarros.”

    Moreover, Sudekis didn’t inexplicably stick around. He stuck around to portray Romney, which was a big deal this past season for obvious reasons.

  28. dobb says:

    Now if they could just infuse the show with something funny it may be worth watching

  29. Diana Elise Mills says:

    I quit watching SNL years ago. From time to time I tune in, but it simply isn’t funny anymore. Kenan Thompson is the worst. He thinks he is hilarious, but typically, if he’s in a sketch when I tune in, I keep on surfing.

  30. shoopuff says:

    hire the cast of madtv lol.

  31. crim says:

    please put a bullet into that dead horse snl hasnt been funny since early 90s

  32. crim says:

    snl hasnt been funny since early 90s lorne michaels put a bullet in the dying horse please

  33. Ben says:

    Forget the cast— they desperately need some new writers!

  34. Ben says:

    The problem with SNL isn’t so much the cast, it’s two things.. one, it really is a show who’s political humor is always oriented toward the left, and when I was say 15-20 years old found it funnier but I’ve evolved. Two, it’s just not that funny, maybe 20 minutes out of a 90 minute show is on a good night.

  35. warholboy says:

    Hire me… Crisis averted……

  36. Mo P says:

    SNL stopped being funny sometime in the late 90’s…

  37. Entertainment News Is Pathetic says:

    Somehow, I think I can still get on with my life after hearing this. This show has been a joke for over a decade. Apparently, it lives on, thanks to the demographic that eats up reality trash shows.

  38. They will be fine. This season was like one encore too many because they relied too much on old characters that are played out or were never funny. There were flashes of brilliance this season, and I agree with those who say the writing is the problem, not the cast. There are plenty in the cast who haven’t yet had a chance to shine and will be more than capable of stepping up to the plate now that the vets are out and the writers are forced to finally use them and come up with new ideas. This was a weaksauce season, and next season should be much better even though I do like the people who are leaving.

  39. Geo L says:

    Hopefully they will get some actually funny people. The past few years and current cast some ok players at best but for the most part the show is so bad nowadays I regularly forget its even on, not to mentioned the majority of musical acts are downright atrocious. Nothing but talentless auto-bots. The last time SNL truly funny was the Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, Molly Shannon etc. days.

  40. Vicki Smith says:

    I’ve been watching SNL since it’s debut in 1975, when it amazed us with Live television comedy. Drama is one thing, but comedy is a high-wire act when it doesn’t have the advantage of a film editor. SNL has roller-coasted through the decades and survived. But what does Lorne Michaels want to do? Have SNL limp toward 2015, or start up new adventures in televisionland? It’s not about the players — you can always find the next new thing — it’s about the producer.

  41. mark says:

    SNL is a boring liberal show. Potty humor and butt humor. Not funny

  42. Delta says:

    That’s to bad they are leaving.
    I hope they don’t make the mistake of getting people that might actually make SNL funny again.

  43. john says:

    The US Government becoming a dictatorship is a crisis. A lowly watched unfunny corpse of it’s former self tv show is not

  44. shinseng says:

    Crisis? What crisis? No one stays on SNL forever – the only permanent fixtures have been Don Pardo’s voice and Lorne Michaels. From the original Not Ready For Primetime Players to the current batch, SNL has chugged onward through good and bad seasons and good and bad casts irregardless. Though I’m sorry to see favorites go (and still miss Phil Hartman), there’s plenty of talented and funny people to take their places.

  45. Joe says:

    SNL hasn’t been funny since the 90’s. You don’t see very many up and comer’s like back in the day. I hope they cast well for the next season and bring some young talent in and funny writers and would recommend maybe even a known veteran that might bring some more talent in with the cast. Thanks!

  46. Marcus says:

    I have really enjoyed Hader’s time at SNL. Unforgettable this season when Stefon did Donald Duck having a PTSD moment. I think the author missed something here. Kenan Thompson has been a pretty solid player. He’s one of the longest lasting cast members of SNL. Wonder what his plans are?

  47. JenT says:

    where can I sign up? I bet its a really hard schedule!?! & kinda scary being ‘Live’ but WOW WHAT FUN!!! You MUST get Norman Reedus as a Host!!! Happy Summer!

  48. s424h says:

    Tim Robinson is going to be great.

  49. bobby says:

    I have to disagree about Kate McKinnon. All her characters are the same. Although I don’t sell any of them short. I didn’t think Fred Armisen was going to make it but he developed into one of the funniest on the show. I t will be interesting to say the least. Stay tuned. :)

  50. says:

    SNL hasn’t been funny since late 90s. Time for it to be cancelled.

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