“Saturday Night Live” will return this weekend, but it won’t be “live from New York” in the way its viewers have come to expect.
NBC said that the venerable late-night series, which has been off the air for several weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, would air original content on Saturday, April 11, with material produced by a staff working remotely. Pieces are likely to include a “Weekend Update” segment and other material from cast members. NBC offered no details about a host or musical guest.
“SNL” will be the latest of TV’s late-night shows to chart a return to original performance after the spread of coronavirus has made traditional production of the shows impossible. For decades, “SNL” and its weekday brethren have relied on in-studio audiences to lend energy and atmosphere to the process of telling jokes, doing sketches and hosting celebrities. Already, NBC’s Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers -both of whom hold forth on programs that are under the aegis of “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels – have returned to production with shows that have them perched at home with celebrity interviews conducted via broadband video.
The weeknight shows are – except for special broadcasts – usually taped several hours in advance. “SNL” has always been televised live in front of dozens of audience members in NBC’s Studio 8H at its New York headquarters.
“SNL” won’t be out of its element. The show has always used elements taped in advance, whether they feature John Belushi in a fake commercial for “Li’l Chocolate Donuts” cereal; Andy Samberg doing an “SNL Digital Short”; or Kate McKinnon playing presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway terrorizing CNN anchors like Jake Tapper or Anderson Cooper. In recent seasons, the program has come to rely more heavily on pieces that are taped in advance, the better to compete with more sophisticated efforts from other late-night programs.
The series has helped Americans process other moments of tragedy. In 2001, Paul Simon played “The Boxer” in front of various New York first responders and then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, part of a bid to get the program back on the air after 9/11. In 2017, musical guest Jason Aldean played the Tom Petty single “I Won’t Back Down” as a means of paying tribute to victims of a mass shooting in Las Vegas. Petty had just passed away, and Aldean opened the program with a few words about the tragedy.