Many have assumed that there would be a substantial shakeup to the Saturday Night Live cast ahead of this fall's Season 45 premiere, and these changes are finally starting to fall into place. The first major departure from Saturday Night Live has officially been announced, but it's not the name anyone was expecting.
After five seasons on the show, Leslie Jones will be departing NBC's long-running sketch comedy series. According to Deadline, it was Jones' decision to leave SNL, not one made by the producers or network. Cast members typically sign seven-year contracts but there options each year for the producers to decline to pick an actor's option, or for the actor to request to be released.
Jones began her time on Saturday Night Live as a writer but was added to the on-screen cast in 2014. She earned two Emmy nominations for her work on the show and has since appeared in several feature films, including the reboot of Ghostbusters. Her solo standup special was recently announced by Netflix.
While Jones is set to leave SNL in Season 45, the show's most celebrated cast member is actually on her way back. Kate McKinnon is widely known as the pinnacle of the current SNL lineup, which has easily blossomed to a successful career outside of the show. With her contract ending ahead of her seventh season, and plenty of other projects currently in the works, it was widely thought that McKinnon would be making her exit. But it turns out she's happy to stay at least another year.
McKinnon isn't the only veteran returning to the stage this season. Kenan Thompson, Aidy Bryant, and Cecily Strong have all renewed their contracts and will be participating in Season 45.
Thompson is currently the longest-tenured SNL cast member in history, participating in 16 total seasons. He's one of only six cast members to ever appear in 10 or more seasons, along with Darrell Hammond (14), Seth Meyers (13), Al Franken (12), Fred Armisen (11), and Tim Meadows (10). McKinnon is the second-longest tenured member of the current cast. This will be the seventh season for both Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong.