Mo’ Cowbell. King Tut, Funky Tut. Sean Connery and Celebrity Jeopardy.
Chevy Chase. Steve Martin. Will Ferrell. Tina Fey. Martin Short.
Saturday Night Live has created the biggest stars and most important inside jokes for almost 40 years now. The show’s evolution is absolutely incredible as the actors, actresses and writers continue to make the show relevant, must-see TV.
But the show has a ratings problem, laid bare in this October New Yorker piece. In the article, it says Bill Hader’s return to host the show in October registered the lowest ratings the show had ever seen, narrowly edging (does that still work when its something worse?) out a show from last May.
The main reason? The all-important 18-49 demographic is not interested in SNL anymore for some reason that can’t be explained entirely.
The New Yorker article argues that SNL has been condemned to death since its inception; there will always be people who watched it when they were growing up and bemoan the lack of funniness the current iteration of the show has. It’s amazing, the article says, how Chevy Chase himself thought the show was dead — after the first season.
So does SNL actually have an expiration date, an immenient extinction coming, or is it just the normal moaning and groaning that the New Yorker says comes with every new cast?
I think it is a little bit of both.
First off, there will always be people saying the original was the best, whatever the original may be for that specific individual. When I was a reasonably loyal watcher, it was Tina Fey and Andy Samberg and Bill Hader, and watching now, I catch myself thinking to myself how I missed the old cast. It’s a natural human reaction, to miss something you enjoyed.
But I think the ratings decline the show is struggling with is more than just viewers missing their old favorites. SNL is no longer the epitome of humor like it was when it was in its golden age. Shows like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and the always-impressive Daily Show take away some of the political punch that SNL used to have on its show. And while the show’s talent remains at a consistent levels talent-wise, the way people are making consuming media has drastically changed.
Ratings are down because people do not like being told when to watch something now that they have had the power to watch what they want, when they want. Apart from live sports, there are a select number of shows that capture a huge audience’s attention every time it runs and I do not believe SNL is one of the shows.
The ability to watch any funny skit within minutes of it airing takes away from the need to watch the show as it’s happening. Like every other form of media, SNL is going to have to learn to survive in the new world of media, where everything is second to online.
And it will adapt, like it has for nearly 40 years. I don’t know what the changes will be, but I do know I won’t be counting SNL out. For a show that has gone on since my parents were kids, it just wouldn’t be smart to bet against SNL.