By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
They're also, unusually, rather settled: Unlike most cast ensembles of the past three decades, most of them are married or in long-term partnerships. Maya Rudolph lives with movie director Paul Thomas Anderson, with whom she recently had her first child; Sudeikis is married to 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon; Bill Hader was married last summer to filmmaker Maggie Carey. The SNL cast joined to celebrate in Boise, Idaho.***
It's quite a change from the SNL chronicled in Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller's Live From New York: An Uncensored Oral History of Saturday Night Live, where the binge-doping, partner-swapping, backstabbing proclivities of players past were meticulously documented. "We were young, and the guys were single and the women were single and we were together twenty-four hours a dayyou do the biology," recalled former writer Marilyn Suzanne Miller in its pages. This group seems to love the job and each other in a wholesome, decidedly non-angsty manner. "There's way less, you know, crazy everyone's-boning-each-other kind of awesome gossip, but at the same time everyone's much more relaxed and friendly," says Samberg. "Everyone in the cast and all the writers too are just super-laid-back, humble, mellow peopleit's really nice." Agrees Poehler, "We all really love each other a lot around here."
Is this feel-good chemistry enough to keep the creative sparks flying? Aren't artists supposed to be, you know, tortured and drama-driven? Only four episodes in, it's hard to say; depending on which MySpace page you're reading, SNL is either hilarious or it sucks. Michaels, who no doubt has had enough of drama, thinks the alchemy of a new group finding its way is enough. "I think that the vitality of the show is about turnover, and about discovering new people and seeing new people develop," he says. "When you see somebody come into their own and do something remarkable, you realize why you're there."
The current cast, like most of its previous incarnations, has described SNL as "a family," with Michaels as the unofficial father figure. Which raises the question: What happens to the family when, all of the sudden, Dad fires three siblings?
"We had been pretty well warned that no matter how close you get with people and no matter how much it feels like family, it's still a TV show on a TV station, and ultimately that means that it's going to be cutthroat at some point or another," says Samberg. "We were definitely bummed that Parnell's gone. He's a good friend of ours and we think he's amazing and hilarious, but I don't think that change happening is something that caught anyone off guard, just because they tell you so much ahead of time that that's how it is."
Hammond, the show's elder statesman, came to success in comedy later in life after a tough slog. "I've always felt that show business was just brutal," he says. "There are times in show business . . . it just seems so difficult. I just try to take everything as it comes."
The group speaks with real fondness for Sanz and Mitchell, but a special category of reverence seems reserved for Parnell. "Somebody resubmitted a sketch that was done last year and I had to do a part that Chris Parnell had done last year, and I couldn't do it nearly as well as he was able to do it," says Forte. "I just remembered him doing it in my head as I was doing it, and I was like, 'Awww, he's so awesome.' " Says performer Bill Hader: "He's one of my heroes. Just to be able to do a scene with him was amazing."
But there's no arguing with more playing time, and the flip side of a sad departure is a leaner, more active cast. Fred Armisen is both diplomatic and optimistic. "It's not black-and-white," he says. "I'll say that I love the cast the way it is right now, and I love the cast the way it was then. And that's the nature of the show."
Michaels had a year to mull the decision, knowing of Fey and Dratch's departures and deliberately bringing on players from which to carve his new cast. "It's always hard," he says. "But I think for me, all the people who left were sort of in a good place in their career. And I really felt that I couldn't build the current cast unless they could get a lot of playing time." Michaels admits he had a sense of who would be leaving, and part of it had to do with bringing in new blood. "I think with Horatio and certainly with Parnell, I'd be happy if they were all here forever," he says. "They're great at it." But on SNL, even talent has its limits. "Half the fun of it is watching people who are just starting, and discovering it for yourself, and the other half is watching people who are incredibly accomplished," Michaels says. "I mean, the tragedy for me is that when people have mastered it, it's usually time for them to move on."
Though it was kind of a tragedy of his own making, there were those budget cuts, rumored at $10 million. (Michaels says "it wasn't that much" but declines to confirm a number.) As for cutting episodes instead, it was never a possibility: "Last season we did 19 episodes because of the Olympics, and it's an easy way to solve budget problems. But part of it is, all of television is going through this."