Lorne Michaels Talks SNL 'Transition Year' After 7 Cast Departures, Plans to Add 4 More

Fans of “Saturday Night Live” know that casts come and go, but it’s become increasingly rare to see a large number of them go at the same time. After all, the show has not always fared well in those “transition years.”

Well, fans should brace for another one, though perhaps not as dramatic as what’s been seen in years past. Creator and showrunner Lorne Michaels said as much after picking up his sixth straight win for Variety/Sketch Series at Monday’s Emmy Awards.

The win comes on the heels of the announcement of three additional cast departures to go along with the four announced during the Season 47 finale last spring.

At the finale, it was announced that long-time cast members Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney and Pete Davidson would all say goodbye to the show after having each been there for eight years or more.

The latest departures added a few cast members in their sixth year, Alex Moffat and Melissa Villasenor, and newcomer Aristotle Athari. Even with all of those farewells, though, the current cast still stands at a healthy 14 cast members. Michaels has done plenty with far fewer “Not Ready for Prime Time” players.

Nevertheless, while speaking backstage after his Emmys win, Michaels called this a “transition year” for the legendary sketch comedy show, and then revealed that there will be new cast members. “There are four new people, at least for now,” he shared, per Deadline.

He did not, however, share the names of those people, saving that for an announcement next week. NBC already announced the series’ season premiere, with “SNL” kicking off its 48th season with three consecutive new shows beginning October 1.

Perhaps more remarkable than the relatively large turnover this season is the low turnover the show has experienced over the past few years, which Michaels attributed in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After having trouble with some of his big cast turnover years in the past, Michaels had adopted a more steady flow of performers coming into and out of the show. Suddenly, though, the goodbye rate slowed, leading to a record 21 cast members for Season 47.

“The pandemic sort of interfered with the natural order of things,” Michaels said. “I think there was a bonding, people got very close.”

“When we did those at-home shows, you got to see everyone’s apartment where and how they lived,” he added. “There was an intimacy and connection between audience and group. I couldn’t imagine we could work without that whole team, so we kept going.”

But that unusual retention started even before that, dating back to Season 43 in 2017-18, when only one new featured player departed after that year. Aside from a couple more first-season cast members who didn’t work out, only Leslie Jones and Beck Bennett departed over the next four seasons.

In a way, this latest exodus is a bit of a course correction, with most of the unusually-long-tenured cast departing, leaving room for cast members going into their fourth through seventh seasons to rise up to the position of veterans.

Of the repertory players, excluding “Weekend Update” anchors Michael Che and Colin Jost, only Cecily Strong and Kenan Thompson have been there more than seven years. That leaves a lot of room in sketches for the newer cast to shine.

While Michaels calls this a “transition year,” with 14 returning cast members, it’s hard to compare it to some of the more notable “transition years” in the show’s storied past.

The first came after the original cast’s total departure after Season 5 — Michaels would also step away for five tumultuous seasons that fans prefer not to think too much about. His return for Season 11 would mark a huge “transition year” that was so disastrous, he nearly lost the show, and had to do it again the very next season.

That season put together the “second renaissance” cast including legends like Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, and Kevin Nealon. He found himself again in trouble after the “Bad Boy” era — featuring Adam Sandler, Chris Farley and David Spade — culminated in the extremely messy Season 20 and most of their departures, leading to his next “transition year” in Season 21.

That was the season that introduced cast members like Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, Darrel Hammond and Chris Kattan, joined shortly by Ana Gasteyer and Tracy Morgan. After that gamble paid off and again saved the show, Michaels adopted his more natural ebb and flow.

In fact, there has arguably not been another “transition year” until this upcoming one, if it truly can be considered that. Certainly the show hasn’t said goodbye to seven cast members since the infamous Season 20, but Season 21 added nine, so that was a far more dramatic turnover than we’re looking at for Season 48.

Michaels has been hinting that he might be looking at Season 50 as his farewell season, with some wondering if the cast was lingering around to be there for his big goodbye. We have a feeling Thompson — heading into his 20th year — will be there, while many other alums will likely come back.

Whatever year the 77-year-old comedy legend decides to retire will be a huge celebration year — and definitely set up the biggest “transition year” the show has seen in at least four decades.

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