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Saturday Night Live can adapt to social distancing, but not if it sticks with the SNL At Home format

  • Late-night hosts from Jimmy Kimmel to Samantha Bee to Jimmy Fallon and Trevor Noah have found success doing their shows from home during the coronavirus quarantine because the talk show format thrives on the personalities of the host, says Jen Chaney. "All the taped bits and karaoke sessions are fine, but ultimately, they’re not central to what a late-night talk show needs to do," says Chaney. However, "Saturday Night Live is a different animal," she says. "We expect SNL to be both polished, with sketches that are well written and smartly realized by an agile production staff, and rough, as sketches are live, which means a screwup is always just a second away. In a socially distanced format, the show can’t be polished. There are no real costumes. Sets and backdrops in Saturday night’s episode consisted mostly of homemade signs. And because all the bits are pretaped, the unpredictability that comes from going live is missing. What has always given SNL its zing, even on its bad nights, is the energy that comes from having a group of comedy pros bouncing silliness off each other. That energy can’t be replicated when the players are not in the same space. It just can’t, even when a valiant, technologically supported effort is made." Still, Chaney says the emotional Hal Willner tribute showed the value of SNL during the pandemic. "It wasn’t a bit that was going for laughs, obviously, but it spoke to why we need SNL right now," she says. "Because Saturday Night Live is a tradition. Because, as dysfunctional as its climate has often been, its cast and alumni feel like family. Because you want to see all the faces in that family to make sure they’re all doing okay. For those reasons, I think SNL should continue to air in the 11:30 time slot, not just as repeats but perhaps not in exactly the Saturday Night Live at Home format, either. Trying to make SNL look like usual SNL is just not possible right now. Instead, maybe Lorne Michaels & Co. should plan to do a combination of clip show and new content." She adds: "There are a lot of ways to make Saturday Night Live into a must-watch weekly event without trying to do it the way it’s always been done. Part of living through this pandemic means realizing that we have to let go of certain habits and approach them entirely differently. This seems like a moment for Saturday Night Live to do exactly that." ALSO: Kenan Thompson tells Jimmy Fallon how SNL At Home came together.

    TOPICS: Saturday Night Live, NBC, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Kenan Thompson, Coronavirus