WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2013 — Fresh off her Emmy win for outstanding writing in a comedy series, “Saturday Night Live” alumna Tina Fey will be hosting the 39th season premiere of “SNL” tonight on NBC. Joining her will be musical guest Arcade Fire and six brand new cast members. For nine years Fey was a writer and cast member of “SNL” before moving on to develop and star in her memorable sitcom vehicle “30 Rock.”
From September to November 2008, Fey also made frequent guest appearances on “SNL” to perform a near-legendary series of parodies poking fun at then-Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Fey’s first impression of Palin went viral on the Internet, grabbing 5.7 million views in less than a week. Fey’s freakishly accurate impersonation of Palin also won her an Emmy for “Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.” But more than that, it forever cemented Fey’s status as a pop culture icon.
This year on “SNL,” popular cast members Jason Sudeikis, Fred Armisen, and Bill Hader will not be returning. To replace them, Lorne Michaels has recruited newcomers Beck Bennett, John Milhiser, Kyle Mooney, Mike O’Brien, Noel Wells and Brooks Wheelan.
Head writer and Weekend Update host Seth Meyers will be the next regular cast member jump ship. He plans to vacate his slot in 2014 as he prepares to take over NBC’s “Late Night.” As of 2012, his tenure on Weekend Update had reached its seventh year, making him the longest-serving Weekend Update anchor ever and breaking the records previously held by Dennis Miller and – you guessed it – Tina Fey.
For any other TV show, such a massive changing of the guard would most likely signal its imminent demise. But for “SNL,” such turnovers are old hat. Over the span of 745 episodes spread out over 38 seasons, the show has featured no less than 137 cast members. The roster of past and present “SNL” vets reads like a “Who’s Who” of Hollywood success stories, and serves as a testament to “SNL’s” broad and lasting impact on the entertainment industry over the years.
From the very beginning of the series, the departure of popular cast members has routinely prompted predictions of doom for “SNL.” But on nearly all occasions, newly-vacated cast slots have been filled with fresh, edgy new talent and hilarious new characters and impersonations.
Over the show’s nearly four decades on-air, each season has always boasted one or more favorite characters we wanted to see that made the entire show worth watching. Whether it was John Belushi’s manic samurai, or Bobby Moynihan playing the drunk uncle, every season has, almost without fail, given the audience at least one new character to love.
Another enduring current running through “SNL” from the outset has been its satirical twist on politics and current events. Since each episode is written the week before the show airs live, the most popular or controversial political topics of the moment offer fresh targets for the writers’ barbed wits. Long before Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert perfected this approach, “SNL” was testing the boundaries and arguably paving the way for this pair.
Despite the impressive legacy of “SNL,” the show has also endured its share of criticism over the years. The founding cast is often referred to, in tones of hushed reverence, as the most entertaining and original of all. But even skits featuring comedic giants like John Belushi and Chevy Chase either experienced awkward moments or bombed entirely.
Fact is, no matter how talented any given cast might be, a live 90-minute show will always experience low points. On the other hand, over the years, this is a show that’s experienced far more high points than flops. And it is important to remember that “SNL” has copped more Emmy nominations than any other TV show in history. In addition, the show has also garnered 36 Primetime Emmy Awards, 2 Peabody Awards and 4 Writers Guild of America Awards.
Because of “SNL’s” enduringly great reputation, each eagerly awaited fall season gives the show a fresh opportunity to entertain us and occasionally outrage us. This columnist will happily tune in tonight’s live season premiere episode just for the outside chance of seeing “Sarah Fey Palin’s” take on the current farcical state of affairs inside the Beltway. Anything beyond that will simply be icing on the cake.
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