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.

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. Sandra says:

    Very funny show! I laughed out loud in a house full of sleeping people! Thanks SNL for another great season.

  2. Sandra says:

    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.

  3. Greg says:

    Kate McKinnon is going to be a huge star…beauty and incredible talent.

  4. EritotYnohtna says:

    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.

  5. Stuart says:

    Have watched this show since its inception and it is as funny now as it was when it started. Keep up the great job.

  6. How is this a crisis? it actually gives them an opportunity to build a more diverse cast.

  7. me says:

    oh please, not mulaney!

  8. Andrew says:

    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.

  9. Doxienurse says:

    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

  10. M.L. says:

    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.

  11. chad says:

    need new writers. it hasnt been funny since the 90s

  12. jberlat says:

    talent comes and goes.

  13. As long as they keep the chipmunk girl who likes to show all the teeth in her head and the newer blonde with the “crazy” eyes, it doesn’t matter who else leaves.

    • Vic says:

      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.

    • Kathi says:

      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!

      • lucasmom says:

        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!

    • Richard Mcdowell says:

      Let’s not forget 1980-1981 when the entire original cast departed.

    • Bridgette says:

      “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…..

    • carmensandiego2013 says:

      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.

    • It’s not funny anymore , Your actors don’t have much to work with it’s the writing not the performances! get better writers or kill the show!!!!

  14. Rimmington says:

    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.

    • backroads523 says:

      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…

    • M.L. says:

      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?

      • Rimmington says:

        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.

  15. phinfan says:

    I nominate the rest of the Lonely Island Boys

    • M.L. says:

      Ah, false dichomtomy! Love it (i.e. free clue: One can be cognizant of who is on the show and how unfunnythey are without watching it every week).

  16. Live from New York says:

    “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.

  17. Mike says:

    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.

  18. mom to one says:

    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.

  19. j c rotta says:

    Jane, you ignorant slut!

  20. WimpyBerger says:

    They haven’t been able to find anybody as good as those two and they’d rather cancel the frickin’ show than hire fuggin’ MICKEY ROONEY, who’s been CLAMORING FOR A SLOT FOR FUGGIN’ YEARS!!!! Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. jack says:

    “Solid Season”? What was Variety watching? The show can be either be half-funny or a complete waste of time.
    Smirking Seth will be gone. How come nobody mentioned his COMING OUT?

  22. As soon as Tina Fey took over as head writer, it was OVER. Ruined the show

  23. Andy Samberg wasn’t the least bit funny and annoying to boot.

  24. I think Bill Hader is one of the MOST TALENTED actor/comedians to date. I can’t wait to see him on the “Big Screen”. He is an incredible talent!!

  25. I wouldn’t worry..no one is watching anyway. Not since the early 200’s, at the latest. Bill Hader is leaving..Who? Seth Meyers is leaving. Once again, beyond SNL, what have they done? Nothing. Earlier cast made movies, etc, due to their talent, this cast does not have that talent, and that is why no one watches anymore. Loren,put this to bed already. It was funny in it’s first 20 year..the last 18 have been PAINFUL(Though,thankfully, not many watched.

    • Erik says:

      Yes what has Seth done? Oh yeah, the roast of Obama at the WHC dinner and is landing a late night gig. What have YOU done?

    • Dave Palmer says:

      “no one is watching anyway.”… Apparently, YOU are not watching, so why waste your time writing a comment? According to the show’s ratings and the views on Hulu, indeed. many people are watching. If I may translate your comment, you and your peer group don’t watch the show anymore. That’s just fine for you. But, at 50 something, I still find it worth watching (though some references leave me lost). Oh, and I love the New York liberal humor… though Obama takes it in the neck quite often.

  26. Dan Druggan says:

    I don’t know why everyone is worried about Lorne will just sign some of the outstanding performers @ Second City in Chicago & everything will be all good Belushi got his start there and two of SNL’s most recent cast members came from there Second City is the best

    • JJ Connally says:

      How can you write a freeking article about the up-and-coming crop of SNLers without talking about Vanessa Bayer who is in every sketch on the show? How in the heck can you leave her out? She is one of the few on the show that is the glue for the vast majority of SNL sketches, in bit and lead roles. You don’t get that billing by sucking…just saying.

  27. Dave says:

    SNL survived a year when their cast included Mary Gross, Charles Rocket and Tim Kazurinsky. Painful, but they’ll be fine.

  28. shark says:

    SNL has been over with for sometime now. So who really cares? Having watched more of it this year than in previous seasons it’s obvious that the show has become “dirty” and “class-less” as it relies on “Two and a Half Men” type humor way too much. I remember well the beginnings of the show and also the banner years in the 80’s and 90’s when the writing was creative and clever, but then again those were writers who had more background than just watching TV and ingesting what has already been done. Granted, there are some talents who have come and gone, but the show is now all too often excruciating to watch.

  29. jw says:

    They still haven’t solved the cast crisis since 1993 when Carvey left.

    Once Nealon,Sandler, Myers, Spade and Farley were gone, so were the laughs

  30. Think you can do a better job? Send your demo here:

    Lorne Michaels
    c/o Broadway Video
    1619 Broadway
    New York City, NY 10019

    …”I” did…and I bet he’s gonna’ be “thrilled”…

  31. We all thought that SNL will dry up after they lost their original cast of Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Garrett Morris, Dan Akroyd, and Lorraine Newman. Obviously, the show has carried on for decades since- entertaining those who have a liberal, counter culture mentality. We all need to have that kind of humor in our world or we would go crazy. I am sure that they will be funny until they are not, and then, like everything else in this world, it will evolve to Hippie Heaven and something will come along just as funny that will cater to a more liberal audience.

    • M.L. says:

      This is my 2nd try here; my first got sent prematurely *sigh*. As I was saying, where do you get this notion of SNL as a “liberal, counter culture mentality” program from? It’s certainly not a programn that caters to a right wing audience but calling it a “liberal, counter culture mentality” TV show is a bit of a stretch. Because they made fun of Sarah Palin? It’s a very mainstream, low brow, light show. It’s never really been any good, though some talented people have passed through over the years (though none in recent memory). The old SCTV show that was on inthe late 70s and early 80s was far superior than any versin of SNL.

  32. Lord Ernie says:

    Since the origional cast went there has been a cast crisis at SNL. The crap they are putting out now is just plain stupid. I hardly ever watch and by chance cannnel surfing come across SNL watch for about a minute before turning it off. Bad stuff. Put on re-runs of Chevy, John, Dan, Gilda, Jane and Bill.

  33. Mike Santoro says:

    BRING BACK NORM MACDONALD FOR WEEKEND UPDATE!!!!

    • Brian says:

      You beat me to it. He’s a comedic genius and was the best at the Weekend Update. Even Chevy Chase said so… FUCK Don Ohlmeyer!!!

  34. DennyBoy says:

    Bobby Moynihan is awful, and his desperate mugging makes him one of the most annoying cast members in a long while.

  35. martin says:

    Jay Pharoah is probably the worst actor on SNL in many years. He just isn’t funny.

  36. Hannah says:

    Bill Hader is the funniest guy on there :( Wish he wasn’t leaving.

  37. sdbizzle says:

    They really need to add a black woman to the cast. Thirty-eight years and only four black women?!?. Come on Loren! You can’t make Kenan Thompson wear a dress forever!

  38. jenne says:

    Who gives a crap? SNL hasn’t been worth a damn for years now…

    • Jose says:

      I totally agree. Hasnt been funny for many, many years now. The 90s cast with Hartmen and the gang was the best I’ve ever seen.

  39. Tony says:

    SNL has been sub-par for years the geezers who still watch will laugh at anything

  40. Frank W says:

    Maybe I should apply for weekend achor. Couldn’t do any worse and I can do my own writing.

  41. moviefan says:

    John Mulaney would be a good choice for the chair. Speaking of which, since the majority of SNL cast members have come from here in Chicago, why not just tape the show here? Change the scenery. I’ve thought this for years. But hey, since I live here, I’m partial! I also want to see the new season of 24 taped here but that’s not gonna happen either.

  42. Stephen says:

    Wow. Who cares. Seth Meyers isn’t funny in the slightest…

  43. Arthur Greenwald says:

    With all respect, how is this a story? There’s a “cast crisis” at SNL except there isn’t because this happens every few years and it’s often a good thing? And while taking attendance, you left out Vanessa Bayer and Nasim Pedrad.

  44. Jory says:

    The talent has been there this season, so even if they lose four people, there will still be talent left over. They made some good hiring choices this season, which makes me think it not be too difficult to hire new folks next season. And they made some good guest host choices (Waltz, McFarlane, Mars). The writing has been the biggest problem this season. Too many tired and never funny skits (The Californians).

    • shinseng says:

      Completely agree about The Californians. It was funny as a one-time skit, but I don’t understand why they continue to beat it to death . It’s actually painful to watch now.

  45. TIm Burns says:

    I would not be surprised if Nasim Pedrad does not come back. I really like her but she was barely used this year.

  46. John Doe says:

    I certainly agree that 4 strong veteran male cast members leaving (2 confirmed, Armisen is all but a lock to leave and I’d wager Sudeikis is gone too, if not immediately next season then sometime during it, or at the end even) seems like a terrible thing, but they had a strong crop of featured players this year. They need to replenish their male cast and maybe add just 1 female as they have a strong selection of females already. I’ve grown to see McKinnon as a solid member and Cecily is definitely the best new cast member (and better than many of the veterans too). Aidy Bryant deserves recognition too and I relish most sketches with the underused Nasim Pedrad (too bad Mulaney’s pilot that she was cast in didn’t get picked up).

    As for the guys, I disagree with your assessment of Tim Robinson, true, he hasn’t wowed yet, but it’s too early to write him off as ‘will never amount to a star player.’ Not that I don’t think that’s not a possible scenario, but he could turn into a solid straight man. I’m iffy on Bobby Moynihan (I actually can’t stand drunk uncle at all), he’s definitely solid in many sketches but I don’t know if he’s a star that could lead a sketch. Taran Killam is fully great and probably the top dog now with all the departures. So with 1-2 star guys and a strong crop of talent among the ladies, they need to replenish the guys side and made add a lady or 2 to supplement what they’ve already got. Will be looking forward to who takes the Weekend Update chair, while I think Mulaney is an inspired choice, I’d love for him to get a chance to flap his wings and be able to strike out on his own outside of SNL instead of being attached to SNL for several more years, but, it’s still a great choice. I’d like to see it return to a 2-chair position, maybe Pedrad & Mulaney?! Actually I’m not quite sure Pedrad would fit, but who knows.

    • Jeff says:

      Aidy Bryant is absolutely terrible. She made me laugh one time the entire season. She has no range at all. She looks like she has to try too hard be funny whereas most of the successful cast members make it look effortless. Dump her

  47. Daw Johnson says:

    Uh, bro, that was Fred Armisen’s last episode. Did you not see the curtain call?

    • Cristofer Cierra says:

      Armisen departure- Also in the final skit, Armisen had some initials on his guitar strap that read:

      TY
      LM
      I”heart”U

      (Meaning, Thank you Lorne Michaels I love you, IMO)

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