In nearly five decades of producing Saturday Night Live, season 46 was the first that Lorne Michaels (30 Rock) was not sure he and the team at Studio 8H would be able to “pull off” (The New York Times). Thus, Saturday’s finale stood as a celebration of the cast and crew’s perseverance through a particularly bizarre year for live sketch comedy. However, as the night went on, rumors began to circulate that Saturday’s finale doubled as a goodbye party for some of the show’s longest-running cast members.
‘SNL’: Pete Davidson, Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant & Kenan Thompson Spark Exit Speculation In Emotional Season 46 Finale As Cast Changes Loom https://t.co/p5bQSbh7tT
— Deadline Hollywood (@DEADLINE) May 23, 2021
The evening kicked off with a strikingly sincere cold open about Saturday Night Live’s unique 46th season that saw “the show’s longest-tenured cast members […]on central stage” (Deadline). Many viewers saw the framing of Kenan Thompson (Kenan & Kel, Kenan), Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters, The Magic School Bus Rides Again), Aidy Bryant (Shrill, The Big Sick) and Cecily Strong (Ghostbusters, The Boss) as an intentional and informal goodbye, a notion not quelled by McKinnon’s tears or Strong’s Weekend Update sendoff as Judge Jeanine Pirro.
According to Esquire, “McKinnon’s emotional delivery sparked rumors across social media that she may not be returning next year.” The actress, who has been a central player at Saturday Night Live for a decade, has spent her hiatuses on major film productions such as Ghostbusters and Bombshell and will be playing Big Cat Rescue proprietor Carole Baskin in the upcoming Peacock series Joe Exotic. McKinnon’s increased star power outside of Saturday Night Live has made her the center of departure rumors for quite some time. According to Deadline, “McKinnon had been mulling an exit from SNL for a couple of years now.”
One aspect that made season 46 unusual for Saturday Night Live was the sacrificed schedule of cast members Bryant and Strong, who, despite their return, were unable to appear in many live episodes this season. While Bryant was filming the final season of her Hulu series Shrill, Strong had work on both the animated series Loafy and the upcoming Apple TV animated comedy Schmigadoon!. The special accommodations made to work around Bryant and Strong’s schedule are a fairly unprecedented circumstance extended to cast members on Saturday Night Live.
The newest Saturday Day Night Live generation has seen more overlapping television projects during their time on the show than any cast to date, with Thompson’s NBC sitcom Kenan and Michael Che’s (Michael Che Matters, Top Five) HBO sketch show That Damn Michael Che both premiering during season 46. Unlike Bryant and Strong, Thompson and Che’s shows did not disrupt their Saturday Night Live schedule. In fact, Thompson and Chris Redd (Kenan, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) commuted between Los Angeles and New York on weekends in order to make live shows, a habit they would have to continue next season now that Kenan has been renewed.
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Despite his hectic schedule, Deadline reports that Thompson “has not indicated that he may depart and recently said that he still enjoys doing SNL and is ‘never in a rush to leave’.” Thompson has been a stalwart on Saturday Night Live for nearly two decades, making him the longest-serving cast member in the series’ history. However, Thompson’s inclusion on stage alongside McKinnon, Bryant and Strong still made fans wary that “the sketch comedy is likely headed for major cast changes this summer” (Deadline).
Another departure rumor was thrown into the mix when Pete Davidson (The King of Staten Island, Big Time Adolescence) dropped by Weekend Update. When Davidson ended his mental health segment, he became sentimental and reflected about growing upon the show. “The comment came out of nowhere and stirred up speculation about his exit on social media,” Esquire reported on Davidson’s visit to the Update desk.
Regarding Weekend Update, Esquire reported that: “Che recently told The View that he’s “99.9% sure” he will return next season, Jost had indicated that he may leave after the 2020 election.” Head writers Che and Colin Jost (How to Be Single, Coming 2 America) have also been with the series for nearly a decade and built a repertoire together behind-the-desk. If one of the two left, the remaining host may have to forge chemistry with a fresh Weekend Update co-anchor or go-it-alone for a bit.
This doesn’t mean anyone is leaving, of course. I mean, emotions could just be running high after what had to be a crazy and stressful season.
That said, sure feels like this could be the end for some of SNL’s beloved cast members.
— Frank Pallotta (@frankpallotta) May 23, 2021
Though this slew of impending departures is still merely speculation, if two or more of these rumored players left Saturday Night Live during hiatus it would mark a massive shift for the series. According to Deadline, season 46 “[included] what could be the most ever cadre of cast members who have been on the show for 7+ seasons.” Saturday Night Live is a sketch comedy institution that lends itself to a rotating cast of fresh faces, but that has not been the case as much in the past decade, which has seen very little in the way of big-ticket departures.
Season 44 marks the last time a single cast member stepped away from the sketch comedy show, when Leslie Jones (Ghostbusters, Coming 2 America) announced she would be moving on to focus on her film and continued stage comedy career. However, the last time more than one cast member left in a given season was season 43, which saw the departure of Vanessa Bayer (Trainwreck, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar), Bobby Moynihan (Mr. Mayor, DuckTales) and Sasheer Zamata (Woke, Home Economics).
Deadline remembered the entertainment news cycle that followed Andy Samberg (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Palm Springs) and Kristen Wiig’s (Bridesmaids, Wonder Woman 1984) 2012 exit from Saturday Night Live as “it prompted gloom-and-doom predictions for NBC’s venerable late-night sketch comedy program.” Though its been awhile, whenever more than one veteran leaves Saturday Night Live, fans and critics dismay about the end of an era in the show’s history. However, letting the long-running cast blossom into careers outside of the show allows for a new stable of talent take the reigns and steer Saturday Night Live’s voice and future.
The coming months will tell whether the emotions fans witnessed during Saturday Night Live’s finale signaled the final curtain for veteran players or whether they will continue to do it their way in season 47.
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