Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam (Screenshot: YouTube)

Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels is a cagey show-business lifer who typically plays things pretty close to the vest these days, preferring not to give the press or the internet any extra ammunition for gossip or speculation. But on the eve of SNL’s season 42 premiere with Margot Robbie and The Weeknd, Michaels has granted USA Today a brief but mildly illuminating interview about those attention-grabbing, headline-generating cast changes on his show.

Among the topics of discussion were the dismissal of longtime cast members Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah and the decision to bring in 16-time SNL host Alec Baldwin to play two-time SNL host Donald Trump until the November election, replacing the show’s resident Trump (and current announcer) Darrell Hammond. The last change, Michaels airily insists, was at the behest of Tina Fey, who costarred with Baldwin for seven seasons on 30 Rock. “It was nothing to do with Darrell,” Michaels says, “because he’s obviously great at it.” The producer says this kind of turnover is “the lifeblood” of SNL. “I don’t know how many people have played Hillary Clinton,” he adds. Funny he should mention that.

As for the fate of Killam and Pharoah, Michaels relies on vague platitudes and plaudits, the way any boss might when he brings down the ax on well-liked employees. “I think they were great, and they did wonderful work when they were with us,” he calculatedly opines. “Hopefully it’s for the best. I’m not worried about either of them going on to success.” It’s not difficult to imagine those same exact words coming from the Michaels-inspired pharmaceutical executive that Mark McKinney played in Kids In The Hall: Brain Candy. Other cast changes are happier to report: Michael Che, Leslie Jones, and Pete Davidson have all been promoted to members of the main cast, while Mikey Day, Melissa Villaseñor, and Alex Moffat have all been signed as featured players. No mention is made of Jon Rudnitsky, the featured player who was let go after one season. Stories like this serve as a reminder that, on SNL, the format itself is the show’s one truly indispensable star, the one destined to outlast even Michaels himself.

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