‘SNL’ Had To Get Creative To Bring A Live Audience Back And Not Run Afoul Of The Law

SNL returned on Saturday, and it wasn’t even one of those virtual webcam deals, like they were forced to do at the end of last season. The cast, crew, and a spartan audience were all present on the famous studio set — not quite like old times but close enough. And yet they almost didn’t have an audience at all, as an audience, unlike the actors and crewpersons, are not considered essential workers under state COVID-19 workplace guidelines. So they had to find a creative workaround.

According to The New York Times, New York State dictates that TV shows “are not allowed to host live audiences unless they consist of paid employees, cast and crew.” So they made the audience temporary employees. Each person was handed a check for $150, effectively paying them for their time. Given that the show runs 90 minutes, that’s $100 an hour. What’s more, the audience had no idea they’d be getting paid to be entertained. “We were all very pleasantly surprised,” one of them told the Times.

It’s not clear exactly how many people were in the audience, but another one of the state’s rules is that, if TV shows do pay their audience, they still have to keep that size about 25 percent of what it was before, to ensure social distancing.

So good thinking, Team SNL! It’s a curious evolution from the before-time, when SNL tickets were still free but hard to come by, and sometimes were scalped to die hard live sketch comedy show fans. But it sounds like cutting each audience member a $150 check won’t dig too into the show’s finances: After all, the season premiere, hosted by alum Chris Rock, was a Nielsen rating smash.

(Via NYT)