Imagining a Post-Lorne Michaels SNL

So what’s going to happen to Saturday Night Live once Lorne Michaels…departs? (However that might go.)

I always say that SNL is something fans have a relationship with that’s more like a baseball team than a TV show. Yeah, there’s more incisive or more consistent sketch comedy to be had, but (unless you’re a fan of the World Series champs in whatever the current year is) there’s better teams out there than the one you’ve been following and rooting for all your life. SNL is about tradition and legacy, and a big part of that is bound up with Michaels himself. (How many other shows do you watch where the executive producer isn’t an established star and yet is a well-known personality and occasional on-air performer?)

He’s been there (minus those five years in the 80s) since the beginning. Every decision the show makes is bound up in his comedic sensibilities and preferences. Why does SNL keep doing game show parodies long past the point that the traditional game show format has faded from relevance? Lorne likes them, apparently.

So what might happen to SNL after Michaels? Let’s look at the possibilities.

NBC cancels SNL right there and then

Nah. Even if you believed that SNL is inextricable from Lorne Michaels, I mean…it makes money. Plus, I imagine NBC has really enjoyed not having to think about what to program on Saturday night for the past several decades.

Someone currently or historically involved with the show takes over and leaves things the way they are

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Producer Marci Klein is usually talked about as the potential successor. I could see this, couldn’t you? It seems like the safe bet. Things would invariably be different with someone different in charge, but maybe everything could just…carry on?

The downside would be that I’m pretty confident just doing The Lorne Show without Lorne is going to result in bad coverage in the media whether it’s successful or not. If it fails, it’s, “Well, this never would have happened if Lorne was here, obviously!” But if it remains a viable show, every pop culture writer in America is going to want to serve up the take that SNL had a chance to mix things up to be bold and daring but decided to stay in its stale rut. I think “zombie Lorne Michaels SNL” is going to be considered something of an imitation whether it’s bad or good (or even better).

A big name takes over and keeps the basic structure of the show while adding a bold new sensibility 

This is what, I think, most of the sort of people like us who might be inclined to click on an SNL article on a pop culture website would want. Tina Fey, Seth Myers, John Mulaney, or maybe even an SNL outsider like Jordan Peele or somebody comes in comedy guns a-blazin’. They give the show a creative revitalization—“We’re not gonna do any more morning news or 80s-style game show sketches!”—but keep things recognizably SNL. There’s still a cold open, a guest host, two musical breaks, Weekend Update.

But I would bet this is pretty unlikely. Because every option that isn’t “just cancel it” is going to be nitpicked and compared by viewers and critics, and NBC is going to fuss and fret about it and meddle so this hypothetical new executive producer can’t do everything they’d like to. Tina Fey makes her own shows on her own terms; she probably doesn’t want that. Jordan Peele definitely doesn’t need that.

NBC radically revamps the show

This might not be that unlikely. I would bet that there are already tons of things NBC would like to change but can’t because Michaels just says, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Do you think NBC still wants that 70s-style Saturday Night Live Band with its wailing saxophone? Do you think NBC considers live music an essential component (especially considering the musical segments’ reputation as “time to get another drink and a snack”)? Given that we have a half-dozen-plus late night hosts making topical monologue jokes all week, themselves competing against the immediate current-events joke machine that is Twitter, is Weekend Update even worth doing? And you just know they’ve asked themselves if they need this show to be a whole 90 minutes or if they could just do a stronger hour.

I would not be surprised if SNL got a big revamp. Maybe not all at once. But you could probably find a producer confident enough in a bold new vision that they actually wouldn’t be afraid of being compared to Lorne Michaels; they might be cocky enough to think they can do it better. Someone who sees all the fat on the show and isn’t attached to the SNL legacy and will just get rid of stuff. Maybe keep “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” and a few cosmetic touches and callbacks. Because it’s the #brand.

And maybe they’d be right to do it? Honestly, some weeks I watch another host doing another full musical number for the monologue and it’s like, maybe if we didn’t have to do this, Melissa Villasenor would have time to actually do something on the show.

But at some point it would probably stop being the same SNL. And that would make me sad.

But whatever happens, we can rest assured that people will complain. So what do you reckon is gonna go down?