Thursday, July 1, 2010

Why SNL waits so long between new episodes

So why does SNL wait so long between new episodes?

They have gaps because the cost per episode is too high. Lorne was told to cut costs (fire people) or cut episodes. He chose to cut episodes.

For example, on SNL there are currently (as of last season) 8 men and 4 women, totaling 12 cast members (although Seth is only in the Update segments). Like this...

Fred Armisen
Will Forte
Bill Hader
Seth Meyers - Update Anchor
Andy Samberg
Jason Sudeikis
Kenan Thompson
Kristen Wiig

Abby Elliott - Featured Player
Bobby Moynihan - Featured Player
Nasim Pedrad - Featured Player
Jenny Slate - Featured Player

This setup is very different than when the show started, because Lorne recognized (over time) that he needed lots of people in order to have an organic cast where anybody could leave one season and he could fill in the gaps with the large cast and find new players organically.

He learned this because the original season of players was 6 men and 3 women, totaling 9 people:

Dan Aykroyd
John Belushi
Chevy Chase
George Coe
Jane Curtin
Garrett Morris
Laraine Newman
Michael O'Donoghue
Gilda Radner

In the second season, Lorne cut some of the fat and was left with 4 men and 3 women (Bill Murray was hired to replace Chevy Chase), totaling just 7 people:

Dan Aykroyd
John Belushi
Jane Curtin
Garrett Morris
Bill Murray - First episode: 01.15.1977
Laraine Newman
Gilda Radner

That was working well, but then Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi left the show after the 1978-1979 season, leaving Lorne to frantically feature the writers to fill the gaps. Only the next season the rest of the original cast was also ready to leave, and Lorne wasn't very prepared for that. The producers and executives lost faith in Lorne, and they replaced him and the full cast.

Needless to say, they came to their senses after a year or two of trying to chase the dream that SNL was originally, before they brought Lorne back and tried again.

When Lorne came back in 1985, SNL was being carried by a few cast members who were on their way out (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jim Belushi, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Martin Short) and a few cast members who had just left (Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo, and Harry Shearer), and so Lorne had a new cast and a new strategy. He hired the funniest comedians he could find (Jon Lovitz and Dennis Miller), and he hired comedians who were already proven and in films (Joan Cusack, Anthony Michael Hall, Robert Downey Jr, and Randy Quaid).

Reunited with his writers, this gave Lorne a season to build up the new comedians and add more the next year in 1986 (Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, and Kevin Nealon). That gave Lorne a solid cast that he could build on in 1989 (Mike Meyers and Ben Stiller), 1990 (Farley, Sandler, Spade, Schneider, Chris Rock), 1993 (Norm MacDonald, Jay Mohr, Sarah Silverman), and so on.

And so Lorne found a stronger strategy in building up a larger cast so that he wasn't betting as big on players that didn't work out and so that he could lose a few players when they wanted to leave and then still keep the ball rolling on the show.

So he realized the larger staff keeps the show moving forward. However, it also means that the show gets too expensive, which is why they don't have as many episodes as we'd like them to.

It's debatable whether or not the show is as funny as it once was, and to be honest, my favorite time was when Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon, and Chris Kattan were on. However, I definitely prefer the current cast over when Dratch, Fallon, Sanz, Rudolph, and Parnell were running the show. I remember watching the great cast led by Will Ferrell and then they kept adding these players who weren't funny and I was like, "What are they doing? They're killing the show!" Well the show survived, and each of them had a moment or two where they were hilarious, and they kept it alive for current players like Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, and Andy Samberg to take over.

I have faith in newcomers Abby Elliott, Bobby Moynihan, Nasim Pedrad, and Jenny Slate (although Jenny still has more to prove). I don't think the current cast is anxious to leave, mostly because they have nowhere to go. Kristen Wiig has lined up the critical starring role, and it looks like Andy's got an upcoming shot with The F-Word. Plus Andy has a potential career with The Lonely Island either in making more music, their own TV show, or their own movie.

Will Forte is making a critical attempt at leading a film with MacGruber (since The Brothers Solomon didn't work). Bill Hader has had a lot of success, but he still needs to line up a starring role. Armisen, Thompson, and Sudeikis are probably going to retire from SNL to do voices and supporting roles for the rest of their careers (but I think Sudeikis might be landing a lead role in The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, and he seems to be having success in supporting roles like Hader; he's just a few years behind Hader).


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