Last season, “SNL” celebrated 40 incredible years of existence. Next year, it will have the giant advantage of a presidential election, an event that always draws attention to the show. Seemingly in no-man’s land, the show is staying as hot as ever.
Here are five ways “Saturday Night Live” is maintaining buzz as it bridges the gap between two landmark seasons:
1. Primarily focusing on the primaries
OK, so it’s not 2016, but politics are pretty much all the rage right now — and “SNL” has hosted some of
Then there are the actual players playing politicians: Taran Killam has handled both the regular Trump duties and the show’s less demanding Martin O’Malley and Rick Santorum needs; Kate McKinnon has been brilliant as Clinton; Kyle Mooney did his best Lincoln Chafee; and Bobby Moynihan played Mike Huckabee in a pre-taped segment, to name a few.
And we’ve still got a year to go, folks.
2. Doth protest too much?
More Trump, because that’s exactly what the nation needs! Trump’s hosting — which he revealed Wednesday was originally only supposed to be a one-skit guest spot — is under protest. Hispanic activists picketed outside the “SNL” studio on Wednesday evening, midway through the GOP candidate’s week-long tenure at 30 Rock. Plus politicians outside of the show’s writers room’s radar are even on the bandwagon: Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez delivered an impassioned speech last month on the floor of Congress demanding that NBC reconsider.
“To put Donald Trump on the air in American living rooms on the signature comedy show of one of the most important national networks – after saying that Mexicans are rapists, drug-dealers and criminals – that is a corporate blunder too big to be ignored,” he said.
3. Hosts with the mosts
Obviously, Trump is the trump card at this point in “Saturday Night Live’s” 41st season, but the NBC sketch comedy staple was already drawing huge names. That started with Cyrus — the buzziest pop star this side of Justin Bieber — pulling double duty for the season opener.
A week later, newly ascendant queen of comedy Amy Schumer headlined the show. The “Trainwreck” star’s first go as “SNL” host came just a couple of weeks after her Comedy Central show topped the NBC staple for the variety sketch series Emmy, though we’re betting Michaels saw that as more fortuitous than awkward.
4. Everyone loves a reunion
… Tracy Morgan made his triumphant return to Studio 8H this season, a year and change removed from a horrific automobile accident that took his friend Jimmy Mack’s life and forever changed Morgan’s. The former “SNL” cast member looked and sounded great when the spotlight was brightest.
Morgan’s episode was as successful for advertisers as it was inspirational to fans — but we’ll save the numbers for last.
The comic’s “SNL” reunion sparked another one involving some of his closest former coworkers.
5. Killer cameos
We already mentioned Clinton, but did you see Larry David‘s perfect impression of her left-wing rival Bernie Sanders? Alec Baldwin also joined the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star at the podium for the mocked debate.
The last time “SNL” called an old friend back to impersonate a top political candidate, it was Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. Well, Fey stopped by the show this season too, alongside friend and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” collaborator Jane Krakowski — as well as Jack McBrayer and Baldwin — joining Morgan for a “30 Rock” spoof.
Fey also swung by her old stomping desk “Weekend Update” to talk about Playboy’s controversial editorial decision to walk away from its bread-and-butter nude photos.
6. Consistency is key
There were no firings on the turnover-happy “SNL” this season, though there was one addition and one asterisk-y subtraction.
Stand-up comedian Jon Rudnitsky joined the cast for Season 41 as a featured player. Meanwhile, Colin Jost stepped down from his co-head writer position to focus more on “Update.”
Have these moves paid off? We don’t really know yet. But they sure haven’t hurt.
7. Rat(ings) Race
We won’t spend too much time on ratings, as they’re admittedly a result of “SNL” staying buzzy and not a reason for it. But the numbers beg mention.
“Saturday Night Live” is up 9 percent in total viewers for original episodes versus last year, averaging 7.8 million this time around per Nielsen’s “most current” ratings, which count seven-day of delayed viewing where available. The show is fractionally up in the key 18-49 demographic as well.
Cyrus’ season premiere rose 12 percent year over year in terms of total viewers; that was the most-watched episode of the fall. Morgan’s return yielded the best numbers in the main demo. Time-shifting has made a big difference this season, as the show’s affluent audience is finding it beyond its live time slot.
All of this and it’s just November 2015 — just wait until the same pivotal month in 2016.