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The Coming Cast Crisis at ‘Saturday Night Live’

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.

PHOTOS: Bill Hader’s Best ‘SNL’ Characters

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. 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. 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. 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
    MAKE THEM STAY!!!!

  4. 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!

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. “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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. I was just starting to get used to these two guys. They’re all so multi-talented but not all have that like ability factor. Luv Jason Sedakis too but that black guy who plays Obama isn’t on the same plane as the others. He’s just black.

  20. There is no crisis. Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan and Nasim Pedrad are primed to explode next season. Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong and Jay Pharoah are proving to be solid players; and Tim Robinson and Aidy Bryant are stronger than average newbies. Add to that the consistent performances by Kenan and Vanessa Bayer, then sprinkle in a few new faces and next season is looking to be pretty good.

  21. There have to hundreds of talented male comedy actors-writers who could take the spots on the show. Let them leave and get new cast members/writers on the show each season. They are not using enough talented people to make the show better. Some sketches last too long, because they have problems with ending a sketch. Get new male writer-actors on the show each season. SNL is supposed to be a start to a career, not a decade long job.

  22. Who cares I agree that SNL hasn’t been even close to funny since the 90″s and then it was minimal. Stop trying with these new comedians and get some reliable ones that you know are funny

  23. I think SNL has always been a show that people who aren’t hip watch in order to feel that they are hip. Or something. When has this show ever been funny? All it’s accomplished is having lowered the bar of what is considered funny so low that we now have the entertainment sphere saturated with people like Adam Sandler and Jimmy Fallon and all the hordes of other lightwwights America has been programmed to think of as funny.[Well, I guess Bob Hope and Milton Berle have to share sone of that blame as well, but I digress.]They aren’t funny. At. All. Please stop watching this show and maybe – JUST MAYBE – it will FINALLY go away.

    • Agree about McKinnon’s crazy eyes. It’s distracting. Even when she’s playing a non speaking background character, she is sometimes doing something weird with her eyes. She reigns it when the roles aren’t live. Still think she’s talented though. The best actors on the show now are Strong, Pedrad and Killam, who both have a lot of range and can do impressions.

    • I really don’t think after 38 years this is considered a “crisis.” They have some crazy good talent on there with great potential (Bobby Moynihan, Taran Killam, Cecily Strong, Kate McKinnon, Jay Pharoah, Vanessa Bayer). Just like many other transition times, it’s just an adjustment period. I’m sure there are many more talented people who would LOVE to be on the show!

      • Beautifully said. I think they have some great aspiring comedic talent on SNL, and I am particularly please with the female talent. The last time I was excited about a case on SNL was during the Sandler, Farley, Spade, Schneider, Myers era. I think they’ll be just fine!

    • “Coming Crisis”…….”COMING”??????…….SNL has been in crisis-mode for 20 years!…..go back and look at the shows from its heyday…….the writing was funny and satirical and the cast members actually looked like they were having fun!………now its become 7 minute, one-joke bore fests with a rerun once a month simply because they cant produce enough quality material for 4 weeks in a row……….when they get performer/writers the quality of Ackroyd, Murray, Radner, Newman, Candy, Spade, et. al. back, then ill have a reason to watch but please, PLEASE….dont just hire bodies to have a cast so the show can stay on………just put it out of its misery…..

    • They survived it 30 yrs ago, they will survive it again. Nobody is indispensable. They already have a few of the women behind the scenes that can move forward. Have been enjoying watching them.
      Funny since the 90’s? Other than Mike Meyers, you have to pull way back to get it when it was PRIME. Belushi, Akroyd, Martin, Radner, etc..Nothing has ever compared to that golden time. But it will survive. And it will go thru another “crisis.” Move on. It will survive again.

  24. Dude, if the final skit and the front and center Hader and Armisen during the thank you’s at the end wasn’t proof that Armisen is out of there, then you need to hang it up buddy.

    Good job avoiding a mention for Nasim and Vanessa too. They are very strong cast members. Maybe a bit underutilized, but very strong.

    On a sad note, I suspect Hader leaving will mean the end of What’s Up With That. Can’t have that sketch without Lindsey sitting there.

    • I hope it doesn’t stop ‘What’s up with that!’ One of the funniest skits they’ve done. I think it will be fine with out Lindsey. Or maybe they can get the real Lindsey Buckingham. I don’t think he’s doing much theses days. lol
      And M. L. I think Nasim and Vanessa are funny. And I think Sandler WAS funny…

    • Now THIS is funny; you think Nasim and Vanessa are funny, and will miss Hader, and you’re telling others they aren’t qualified to judde humor? Let me guess, you own every season of “Home Improvement” and think Adam Sandler is hysterical, right?

      • Do you even know who these people are? If you do, then why are you wasting time watching a show you loathe so much?

        Sandler is awful as are all of his movies except for Happy Gilmore. The thought that he has his own production company to churn out his garbage movies is absurd. On SNL he had a few good bits but was clearly way behind the likes of Hartman, Farley and Spade. How he “made it” post SNL is amazing.

  25. “Crisis” seems like a bit of a strong word. This isn’t some sort of war that is happening, or a terrible national situation (i.e. the DEBT CRISIS), but rather the case is many SNL players who have been on the show for quite some time are going to pursue their future endeavors, which should be a cause of celebration.

    Someone important leaves almost every year (Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg last year, Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Jason Sudeikis, and Seth Meyers this year), however this causes many less-prominent cast members to step up.

    I believe that as Taran Killam, Vanessa Bayer, and Jay Pharoah made the transition from featured cast members to repertory players, their levels of confidence and airtime definitely increased and all of them went from being second banana to important members of the process which is Saturday Night Live.

    Furthermore, the featured players of this season (especially Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong) are showing a lot of promise, both having consistent recurring characters and spot on celebrity impersonations. As for Aidy Bryant and Tim Robinson, although they have not gotten as much air time, I believe that Lorne Michaels clearly put them on the show for a reason (just think of all the people chosen to audition, one in a million in a sense), so their time will come when they get their respective spotlights.

    Lastly, if SNL survived its 1980-81 season (under the Doumanian Regime) and its 1985-86 season (featuring Robert Downey Jr, Joan Cusack, Damon Wayans…), then it can survive anything.

  26. SNL has been unbearable. The best thing to happen to them was the departure of Kristen Wig. Bill Hader will be their biggest loss. Seth Myers is the worst news anchor ever and I can’t believe that NBC is giving him a late night talk show. There isn’t a Best of Seth Myers for a reason! It’s time for new writers and a new executive producer.

  27. They need to get rid of everyone and start over with comedians who are actually funny. The only way Taran Killam is funny is if you like 2nd grade playground humor about poop and penises. It is horrible and painstaking to watch anything he is in or writes. Same goes for everyone else on it. I agree with other posters on here that it has been horrible and unfunny in years. It desperately needs a revamp if it wants to survive.

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