Saturday Night Live‘s experiment in season 42 was a success: broadcasting the final four episodes live from all time zones across the country broke ratings records for the long-running sketch comedy series and produced its most-watched season finale in six years. As a result, creator Lorne Michaels is now confident this broadcast strategy will continue in season 43.
Asked on The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast if the live cross-country airings will continue, Michaels said, “I think so. Yeah, I think it is.”
Jimmy Fallon hosted the first of the four shows on April 15, followed by hosting stints from Chris Pine and Melissa McCarthy. Dwayne Johnson closed out the season with musical guest Katy Perry and a guest appearance from Tom Hanks.
Michaels explained “there were two significant reasons” for these episodes: “One was [NBC Entertainment Chief] Bob Greenblatt wanted it, and two was that social media was so [focused] on the show that you couldn’t — if you were following Twitter you were hearing about it before you could see it. And so, we’d be divided into two days, there’d be a lot of action on Saturday and then another group [of viewers] on Sunday, and it just seemed like that’s what’s driving things and to get people to stay tuned for a broadcast, it’s better if it’s live and they’re seeing it at the same time.”
McCarthy’s episode, which earned her a spot in the Five-Timer’s Club, became SNL‘s most-watched May telecast in seven years with an average of 10.337 million overall viewers. The finale brought in an average of 8.272 million overall viewers, the most-watched season finale since Justin Timberlake hosted on May 21, 2011, with musical guest Lady Gaga.
“There was an interesting statistic or fact which was that when we were doing those four shows live, we were either the No. 1 or No. 2 show on television, on all of television,” Michaels reflected, “and we had the same number that we had when we were doing [the] Palin-McCain-Obama thing and in ’08 we wouldn’t be in the top 30 shows. It’s just that broadcast is now fragmented more.”
He also attributes the success of this past season to the unprecedented election of Donald Trump. “Who had any idea that it was gonna be this kind of season?” he remarked. “And we’d be on it opening and then Trump would do something on Friday and you’d have to change it and then something else would happen late Friday night and you’d have to change it again, and so the nimbleness of it meant that we were good at it but it also meant that you were paying attention, like seven days a week and it’s exhausting.”