While the show has seen plenty of turnover in its 38-year run, the confluence of Bill Hader, Seth Meyers and Fred Armisen taking their final bows, with Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg doing the same last season and Jason Sudeikis rumored to be jumping ship as well, SNL looks to be facing something of a casting crisis.
But is the change such a bad thing?
Andrew Wallenstein, the digital editor-in-chief at Variety, says this kind of exodus has had a positive effect on the show in the past.
"The prospect of losing at least four prominent cast members before 2013-14 might seem dire," Wallenstein writes, "but students of “SNL” history will note that past mass cast defections tend to be like forest fires: While the damage done is seemingly devastating, it actually has a counterintuitively restorative effect, clearing the way for future growth. And what’s more, the seeds for the next generation of SNL already seem to be sprouting in the current cast."
Wallenstein points to three previous seasons after which a clearing of the deck brought in great new talent.
After about half the cast left after Season 11 (1985-1986), new members for Season 12 brought in Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and Kevin Nealon. A decade later, a similar slew of departures was offset by the infusion of Will Ferrell, Darrell Hammond, Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan and Colin Quinn.
And after 2005-06, when Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch departed, and several other cast members were cut due to budget shortfalls, Hader, Samberg, Sudeikis and Wiig were all bumped up to regular status.
Some of the current cast members do seem poised to take up the mantle dropped by this year's departing quartet.
There's Jay Pharaoh, who has grown into his role as President Obama, and Bobby Moynihan, whose popular Drunk Uncle character is ready-made to take over from Hader's Stefon as the highlight of Weekend Update guests.
Newcomer Kate McKinnon has made a splash with her celebrity impressions, particularly of Ellen DeGeneres, Martha Stewart and Ann Romney.
So while the complexion of Season 39's cast is still up in the air, the show may be in better shape going forward than than it might first appear.