The surge in Omicron variant infections in New York has sent “Saturday Night Live” into an eleventh-hour scramble to contain the health threat posed by the latest highly contagious iteration of COVID.
IATSE crew members on the show are said to have became vocal on Thursday and Friday amid the increasingly dire reports of infection rates and hospitalizations from the variant. Sources close to the situation said executive producer Lorne Michaels and NBC were in “constant contact” with crew members and local health officials to determine the best course for delivering “SNL”s final installment of 2021.
On Saturday, NBC said tonight’s show would be produced with no live audience and a limited crew, with the strictest COVID protocols in place. It’s understood that numerous cast and crew members have tested positive for COVID in recent days, another factor that has made producing tonight’s show difficult.
There was widespread speculation on social media on Friday about whether Colin Jost would be seen in his usual role as co-anchor with Michael Che of the “Weekend Update” segment. The New York Post reported that Tina Fey was being recruited to appear on “Weekend Update,” the segment she anchored from 2000-2006. A knowledgeable source said Fey had been approached to “pop in” on tonight’s show but not in the “Weekend Update” segment. A source close to Fey noted that she was already on board for a cameo appearance to tonight to salute host Paul Rudd on his fifth time out as “SNL” frontman, joining a short list of stars who have hosted five times.
A source close to the situation noted that NBC already has mandated daily testing protocols for all “SNL” cast, crew and production staff members as well as guests, and that rigor allowed them to identify the outbreak early on. Michaels and NBC were quick to make accommodations for tonight’s show given the chance that cast, crew or audience members might become exposed and have to quarantine right before the holidays.
“Why take the risk? It’s not fair to people,” the source close to the show said.
At about 7 p.m. ET, the “SNL” team went into regular dress rehearsal mode, but so much of tonight’s production was up in the air. “It’s been a nightmare at 30 Rock,” quipped one source with first-hand knowledge of the situation.
The live elements of the show originating from Studio 8H at 30 Rock are expected to be largely be limited to Rudd’s monologue. Musical guest Charli XCX was compelled to cancel her appearance on the show earlier in the day on Saturday, citing the lack of crew needed to properly producer her musical segments. A source said that Charli XCX’s departure came at NBC’s behest given the need to limit the number of crew members in the building.
“SNL” is also known for its famously raucous after-parties. Those gatherings have been tabled for most of this season in a nod to the pandemic, although a few hosts have thrown their own post-show events, as Kim Kardashian did at Manhattan’s Zero Bond in early October.