Michaels and his team are making plans to bring the show back to NBC’s Manhattan studios for the venerable late-night program’s 46th season, according to two people familiar with the matter – the latest of TV’s wee-hours programs to try and navigate a new normal in the midst of a pandemic that makes the process of putting on a TV show anything but.
NBC declined to comment on its plans for the next cycle of “SNL.” To be certain, any concepts for the fall would hinge on how the nation is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and the safety of the “SNL” cast and crew. NBC has yet to announce a premiere date for “Saturday Night Live.”
One early strategy calls for the program to be made in a “controlled” environment, meaning a live audience is likely not part of current considerations, according to one of these people. There is a template already in place: NBC’s “Tonight Show,” which Michaels also oversees, last week started taping new episodes from the network’s studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Those broadcasts featured host Jimmy Fallon, a socially-distanced Roots band, and a handful of mask-wearing cameramen – all working from a smaller facility, NBC’s Studio 6A. Guests like Charlize Theron appeared via videoconferencing technology.
If producers can pull it off, “SNL” would look vastly different from the three final episodes the team put together at the end of a shortened 2019-2020 TV season. In those broadcasts, cast members devised “at-home” sketches – Chloe Fineman revealed impressions of Timothee Chalamet and JoJo Siwa, and Kenan Thompson offered a new take on an old “SNL” favorite, “What’s Up With That” – rather than hold forth from the show’s traditional perch, Studio 8H in NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters. Those programs featured taped sketches as well as surprise cameos from people like Paul Rudd and Martin Short. Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and Kristen Wiig served as hosts. The episodes were fueled less by live-audience reaction and more by the editing and post-production effects that could be done by producers behind the scenes
There is reason for NBC to steer the show back into familiar terrain. “SNL” tends to thrive during the run-up to a presidential election, which will be in the offing this autumn. In 2016, impressions of Hillary Clinton by cast member Kate McKinnon and of Donald Trump by frequent guest Alec Baldwin proved winning. Ratings soared and viewers gravitated to seeing Melissa McCarthy’s impression of former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. “SNL” antics have long been part of the national conversation, but the show’s buzz was remarkable for a program that has been on the air more than four decades.
Plans for a coming “SNL” season aren’t typically revealed until the end of the summer. Some cast members have a growing spate of commitments. Kate McKinnon’s involvement with a Hulu dramatic series has long been known, and Kenan Thompson, Aidy Bryant and Michael Che have other projects under the aegis of Michaels’ Broadway Video. NBC recently teased a new sitcom project featuring Thompson and Don Johnson. Whether all of those actors will juggle all their responsibilities or focus on one likely won’t be known definitively for several weeks.