‘SNL’: How Will NBC, Lorne Michaels Fix the Cast Conundrum?

Show could cast wider net for talent in late summer

SNL Cast Crisis

Live, from New York….speculation about ‘Saturday Night Live’!

The venerable NBC late-night skein is on summer hiatus, but the lack of fresh material on air isn’t keeping SNL-watchers from prognosticating the show’s direction come the autumn.

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Talent agents have taken notice of cast member Bill Hader’s departure from the program, and there is a widely held belief veteran Fred Armisen will not return in September. Armisen, who has been on the program since 2002, has made no official confirmation of any decision to leave. ‘Weekend Update’ anchor Seth Meyers is set to leave the show sometime in 2014 to start his tenure on NBC’s ‘Late Night’ talk show. Speculation rose last summer that Jason Sudeikis might leave, raising questions about his desire to return to the program for another season (a spokeswoman for the actor did not return a call seeking comment). And cast member Nasim Pedrad had been attached to a pilot backed by ‘SNL’ executive producer Lorne Michaels that NBC did not pick up.

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An NBC spokeswoman for the program said the network does not comment on cast changes or departures.

Loose talk about the ‘SNL’ roster is quite common, and the rise of Twitter and other social-media channels has only intensified it in recent seasons. Even so, the number of question marks hanging over the current cast seems higher than usual. And the most recent chatter surfaces while Michaels has a lot on his plate. In 2014, he will oversee the launch of both a Meyers-led “Late Night” as well as Jimmy Fallon’s new New York-based “Tonight.”

One veteran comedy manager thinks Michaels will seize the opportunity to refresh the show. “I would think Lorne would look forward to a chance like this to rebuild, putting together a new group of people,” said Barry Katz of Barry Katz Entertainment, who has had clients in the show’s cast and its writing staff.

One talent agent familiar with the workings of ‘SNL’ believes the show will cast a wider net for cast this summer when producers go through their typical routine of auditioning candidates and visiting comedy showcases in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. This agent said the show often has a few specific criteria in mind when seeking new cast members, but could abandon that approach this year. “SNL” added three new featured players at the start of this season: Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant and Tim Robinson after losing cast members Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg and Abby Elliott.

Anyone who thinks Michaels will be distracted by other projects could be in for a surprise. The executive has long juggled multiple projects, including oversight of NBC laffer ’30 Rock.’ development of various movies and the current incarnation of “Late Night. The late-night institution remains Michael’s, and his alone, said Katz, the comedy manager. At ‘SNL,’ he added, “there is only one decision maker.”