Is a 'Saturday Night Live' Cast Crisis Brewing?

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Burning Question: With Fred Armisen, Seth Meyers, and Bill Hader leaving "Saturday Night Live," is the show in a crisis right now? — L. Robbins

Some "SNL" fans may be in a tizzy, especially those who consider New York City correspondent Stefon to be a make-or-break hallmark of a happy Saturday night.

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But those fans have short memories. Very, very short.

This is a show that has been on for 38 seasons and, since almost the beginning, has seen a constant revolving door of talent. Yes, Hader is very funny. So is Armisen, whose last night was believed to have been Saturday, and so is head writer Meyers, who will leave in the middle of the next season. And also Jason Sudeikis, who may or may not be departing the show as well. On Sunday, castmate Jay Pharaoh tweeted: "Hader, Armisen & Sudekis the talent of those three and just them as people in general will be missed but we will be strong and carry on." The tweet was later deleted.

"They are losing some very, very talented people," confirms David Bushman, TV curator for the Paley Center for Media in New York. "Fred Armisen is not only an incredibly nice guy, but also someone who, I think operates, on another level, in terms of his comedy."

Fair enough. But you know who else probably operated on another level?

Eddie Murphy or Chevy Chase or Amy Poehler or Dan Aykroyd or Gilda Radner or Tina Fey or Adam Sandler or Chris Rock or Andy Samberg or Bill Murray or Harry Shearer or Martin Short or Christopher Guest or Rachel Dratch or Billy Crystal or Maya Rudolph. All of them left "SNL" at one point or another. Some fled or got forced out because of management changes. Others ended their run because they wanted to do movies or start a new TV show, à la Fey. (Meyers is taking over Jimmy Fallon's seat on "Late Night.")

But no matter how the departures happened, no matter how devastating or sudden these losses, none have managed to kill the series. Not even close. And experts credit that resilience to co-creator Lorne Michaels, who has produced the show for most of its history.

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"Lorne has been amazingly adept at finding new talent," Bushman says. "For a show to last 38 years is a testament to how good the producers are at finding people who resonate with the desired demographic — which also keeps changing. This is a show that has maintained its core audience and builds on it as well."

Let's also comfort ourselves with some math. This season, three (3) talents are leaving us.

In 2006, five (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) cast members left the show, including Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Horatio Sanz, Finesse Mitchell, and Chris Parnell. At the time, there was much wailing and rending of ironic T-shirts. Such fretting seems silly now, given that Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph were still on the show at the time, killing it every Saturday night until they, too, eventually left.

My point: Even though "SNL" lost three of its best this week, the series always seems to have a very strong, promising bench. The current comers include Cecily Strong, Taran Killam, Kate McKinnon, and Bobby Moynihan.

"These relatively young comedians," the New York Observer points out, "were able to fill the hole made last season by the departures of heavy-hitters Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, and Abby Elliott, and gave the show, in the words of Bill Hader, 'a new sensibility.'"

Oh yeah! That's right! Remember when Wiig left the show, too? Did the show face a crisis then?

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"They've lost talented people many, many times before," Bushman tells me, "and there is no reason they won't be able to replicate the success they've had in the past. [Turnover] hasn't just happened once or twice, it's happened over and over again, and the show just bounces back."

 

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