Thursday, May 27, 2010

Q & A: Why does SNL wait 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. However, 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 (without the original cast + Murray, the show had no fan base), and they replaced Lorne and the full cast.

Needless to say, the producers came to their senses after a 5 years 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 (in her upcoming Bridesmaid film, produced by Judd Apatow), and it looks like Andy's got an upcoming shot with The F-Word movie. 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).



Anonymous said...

hey thank you for the explanation, that was very interesting :)

I don't think any of the regular players are gonna leave snl this season, they normally say goodbye at the end of the last episode and this time there was no such thing (unlike last season when darrell waved goodbye and everybody hugged him and it was clear that he was leaving). also I liked when fallon left they sang summer nights of grease for him :P

i really hope jenny, nasim and bobby can stay. don't really know about abby... she was better in her first season, she needs more characters.

they should make andy more of a will ferrell typ of leading player. just like they did with kristen. He's got everything! and I'm not only saying this because I'm on an andy samberg fanblog and I love him, but seriously because he's got the potential to be the next will ferrell.

DO you know how much the players make each episode? are there some that earn more than others?

I once heard that hosts get 5000 $ per episode.

Ed Price said...


According to his book "Gasping for Airtime," former SNL cast member Jay Mohr said that his starting salary on SNL was $5,500 per week, plus $1,500 per week for a writing credit. The next year's salary was $6,500 per week (or $8000 with the writing credit) up to $12,500 per week for a fifth year tenured performer.

As of 2001, Will Ferrell held the record for the highest salary for an SNL cast member at $350,000 for the year, or $17,500 an episode.


Given that it's 2010 and not 1995 (Jay Mohr) or 2001 (Will Ferrell), the average is probably higher and closer to $7 or $8,000 now. Plus the writing credit might be up to $2 or $3,000 now.

The reason why we only have old data is that it usually takes a ridiculously high negotiation to get it leaked to the press (like Will Ferrell's) or a star to be a little frustrated (Jay Mohr) and willing to divulge the secrets. (That said, Jay Mohr is on good terms with Lorne now, and I think Lorne was actually in the right at the time... Jay wasn't that big of an asset to the show; his comedy has gone on to mature more over time.)


Anonymous said...

i LOVE andy but you keep mentioning the fact that he can get his own tv show. You can teel they ahve expierence but they are not ready at all. Andy is one of those characters who has to literally read the cue card the whole time and if you look online they put up who wrote the scripts and Jorma or Akieva maybe get one skit every 3 or 4 episodes not counting the digital short. I would stop saying they could have their own t.v show because it won't happen =/

TheKinkySurgeon said...

i think a tv show could happen because you can tell they improve and develop.

actually i'd rather have them make movies (because a tv-show is very hard to get going in the beginning and I don't want them to be stuck in a contract with some network when they could be out there making movies), MacGruber (written by JORMA, forte and solomon) is a huge hit and you can tell he's got what it takes to write hilaaaaarious comedy.

also in their 5 years at snl they have met the who is who of comedy and vitamin b is always an advantage when making movies.
They can call fallon and ask him for a favor, ask poehler if she'll be in their new movie or go directly to tina fey and ask her to go over their script (for example) and so on....

the sky is the limit!

Ed Price said...

Anony 2,

I agree with Jennifer. They already had their own pilot... Awesometown. Plus their Digital Shorts and MacGruber shorts have been helping keep SNL alive. I think they could easily create their own show.

The problem is that they don't think in the way of traditional characters and sketches. That's why they don't write too many of them. They think about shorts instead. And that's probably what the show would revolve around.


Anonymous said...

Recent interview with Andy (sometime in April?). He seems kinda tired and withdrawn, but mentions that TLI is discussing a second album. Yay!!!

Unknown said...

But Jimmy Fallon, Horatio Sanz, Maya Rudolph and Chris Parnell are some of my favourite cast members! It's too bad the writing during their time wasn't great. Fallon is extremely talented with the impressions, he's doing a great job on Late Night too. Chris Parnell as hilarious whenever he appears as Dr. Spaceman on 30 Rock. Maya and Horatio have faded a bit, and the latter has lost some crazy weight!

Ed Price said...


I think at the time I was disappointed with Jimmy, Horatio, Maya, Chris, and Rachel Dratch, and Tracy Morgan because I saw them replacing Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan, Molly Shannon, Cheri, and Anya. The new crowd wasn't all that funny; not in the same way.

Ferrell's team had insane humor (Dog Show, Culps, his George W Bush, Spartans, Roxbury, Get Off the Shed), and the others had amazing humor as well (Mr. Peepers, Mango, Goth Talk, Simmer Down, Delicious Dish, Antonio Banderas Show). Each week was like a treat (similar to when Dana Carvy and Mike Meyers ruled or when the original cast was on).

Will Ferrell also had a few overlaps before he left, where he did a few amazing things with the new cast... Cowbell, Jeffrey's, Hot Tub Lovers. Plus Kattan revived his DeMarco Audition skit with Chris Parnell to make it a team skit and far better as the DeMarco Brothers Auditions.

So I kind of saw this amazing team breaking apart and getting replaced by people who weren't quite so explosive and funny. To be fair, Jimmy's impressions were amazing, and I looked forward to seeing him at the Weekend Update desk with a guitar in his hand. That was hilarious and amazing at the same time.

But the skits and characters weren't there, and I don't think they've ever gotten back to where Ferrell and team had them (they concentrated on team skits, which were far funnier than casts supporting individuals like they mostly do now). So I have found that cast/generation to be funny at times; they just didn't have the magic of Ferrell's team, the Dana Carvey/Mike Meyers team, or the original cast.

And I don't think the current cast is there either. I liken the current cast to when Sandler and Farley led the cast with their friends like Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, and David Spade (who still do movies together like the new movie, Grown Ups; Ferrell should be teaming with his SNL cast more for films, as should Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey).

Sandler and his boys were funny, and there were some great individual moments, but they didn't have the consistency, absurdity, and randomness that Ferrell's team, Carvey/Meyers's team, and the original cast had.

Likewise the current cast is similar. They are funny. I laugh hysterically when I watch "What's Up with That?" Kristen Wiig has mad skills. Jason's sports announcer makes me chuckle despite Will Forte. Andy's Digital Shorts are the life line of the show. And most of the other skits are worth a good chuckle (Bobby, Abby, and Nasim are promising). But they don't team together well enough. They support well, but individual skits or the strange Will Forte office-style skits just aren't as interesting and entertaining as a team skit.

The last great team skit I saw out of them was the A-Holes with Kristen and Jason, and they kind of overdid that skit in two seasons and ran its course.

Understandable, since the two had a hit skit, and they wanted to get popular and known as quickly as possible; lately SNL has done the same thing with "What's Up with That?", the Forte/Sudeikis Women's Sports reruns, Wiig's Gilly, and more. Basically, they randomly found a good thing so they repeated it as much as possible to keep the show alive.


Unknown said...

I completely agree. The current cast doesn't have too many recurring characters to look forward to, and I don't see anyone becoming as big as Will Ferrell in the future. They need someone who is capable of attaining that 'star comedian' status. Maybe Samberg should have been in more sketches in the years he's been there.

And I'm a little young to know how popular SNL was in Ferrel's prime, but I've been doing some (okay, a lot of) catching up recently. That dude seriously blows me away.

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