This season, Saturday Night Live has had to adjust to the departures of two of its biggest names in recent years, Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg. To fill the void, the show has four new featured players: Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, and Tim Robinson. The newcomers have all shown promise, particularly McKinnon, who debuted at the end of last season and who’s gotten buzz for her impersonations of Ann Romney and Penelope Cruz. EW talked with SNL maestro Lorne Michaels about the newbies and losing Wiig and Samberg.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: After finding out that Kristen and Andy weren’t coming back, was there a moment of panic?
LORNE MICHAELS: I think there’s a tremendous feeling of loss like, What will you do and it will never be the same. Then, the sun comes up. I was in Chicago for like four days just looking for people. Kate we brought in the spring and that worked well. The one thing you can’t do is try to replace Kristen Wiig with Kristen Wiig. You know Chevy Chase was followed by Bill Murray. And that worked well because it’s hard enough to make your mark without being compared to the person that you are “replacing.”
What was the idea of Kate coming on later last season? It was just you knew you had to add people?
Yes. I do that. I think Molly Shannon came in in March. It allows them to work with another cast and take the temperature in the room.
The transition this year with the new cast members seems to have gone really well. What do you attribute that to?
Colin Jost, who’s one of the head writers, wrote that goodbye to Kristen on the Mick Jagger show. I think it turned out to be way more emotional than any of us thought it would. I think there was a sense of completion, which allowed new things to happen and not end on any kind of unresolved note.
Are you surprised when people pop in certain sketches like Cecily as the “Girl at the Party You Don’t Want to Talk To” in Weekend Update or Kate with Penelope Cruz?
No. Theoretically that’s what I do. When it works, it’s clear it works. What’s interesting is how fast an audience takes to people. It doesn’t take long. The first time Bill did Stefan, you heard it. When it works, we hear it.
You also made changes like Jay Pharoah doing Obama. How do you feel like that’s going?
I think really well. It was time to put new energy into it. Fred [Armisen] was great about it. I talked to Fred about it first. One of the reasons I chose Fred originally was that you knew that he would find a way to make it funny and that it would be relatively benign. It worked for us for four years and now it’s a different kind of time.
What’s the status of Jason Sudeikis? Do you think he’ll stay with the show?
Jason’s very loyal so I think he’ll be here. He’s absolutely essential. I love him. I hope he stays a long time.
For our exclusive first interview with the new SNL cast, pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands now.
Bruno Mars on hosting ‘SNL’: ‘I’m not going to be funny’ – EXCLUSIVE VIDEO
Bruno Mars hits the right notes in ‘SNL’ promos – VIDEO
The best of ‘Saturday Night Live’ political debates, from Chevy Chase to Tina Fey
Follow Tim on Twitter: @EWTimStack