How will SNL Season 48 cope with its cast exodus?

29 September, 2022

The new season of Saturday Night Live is set to premiere on October 1st.  But a massive cast exodus has raised questions about how the show will cope with the loss of some of its most popular talent.

Accepting the Emmy for Best Variety Sketch, Lorne Michaels, creator and executive producer of the show, thanked the cast for sticking it out the past two years during a pandemic that brought unique challenges for the show.  However, eight cast members have announced their departure from the show since the 47th season concluded in May.   

Demand for the venerable sketch show has grown notably since its 42nd season (2016-17).  During that season, the show averaged 16.8 times the average series demand.  Just two seasons later, demand for the show had more than doubled to 40.1x.  During these years the show drew from contemporary politics more for its sketches.  This clearly helped the show do a better job of grabbing audience attention, with demand for the show since the 2016 presidential election more than tripling in five years.  

The show also managed to continue its growth trajectory through the challenging years of the pandemic.  Even as Season 45 was cut short, with several episodes remotely produced due to COVID-19, it managed to average 46.1 times the average series demand during its season.  A record season demand was set during the show’s 46th season when it reached 58.0x for the season.

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The past season (47) was the first time in six years where demand for SNL decreased.  If season 46 represents a high water mark for the show, it may end up looking like a savvy move for the show’s departing cast to leave at the height of its popularity, especially if they are able to leverage its recent success as a jumping off point to new endeavors.

The show is among the most valuable content that platforms have to offer their subscribers, regularly ranking at the top of shows available on platforms like Hulu and Peacock.  But with a sketch comedy show like SNL, with its ensemble cast, it is arguable that talent is the most important ingredient.  That might be cause for concern at SNL. Looking at the talent demand for its cast last season, three of the five most in-demand cast members are among those departing.

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Of these actors, our data confirms what many already knew - Pete Davidson had outgrown the show. With 29.8 times the demand of the average talent, he had reached a level of popular recognition and engagement well above other cast members. Whether driven by his high profile love life or the number of films he has acted in recently, Pete Davidson has successfully expanded his fanbase beyond the SNL audience.

Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant are the other two departing cast members who had the highest demand during the past season (7.3x and 6.2x respectively). Colin Jost and Kenan Thompson will be important cornerstones in the upcoming season. They are the remaining cast members with the highest demand and also play an important role on the show. Jost is the co-anchor of the consistently popular Weekend Update and Thompson is the show’s longest serving cast member with a depth of experience unmatched by anyone else in the cast.

As the newly announced cast learns the ropes and tries to fill the shoes of departing cast members, one way the show could compensate is by doubling down on the star power of its hosts and musical guests. In this regard, things are looking positive for the show. The host scheduled for the season premiere is Miles Teller and the musical guest is Kendrick Lamar. They had 45.6x and 52.9x the average talent demand respectively in the last 30 days which puts them among the most popular talent in the US. It would also put them ahead of other hosts and musical guests from the previous season. However, it remains to be seen how much of a hit the show will take from the loss of so many cast members and how much hosts and special guests can help fill the void.

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