Saturday Night Live made its return to television last weekend, signifying a new era for the show amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The premiere saw the iconic sketch comedy series returning for its landmark 46th season, all while doing its first in-studio show since the pandemic began. Viewers were surprised to discover that the season premiere also included a live studio audience, and it sounds like that came with an interesting caveat. According to a recent report from The New York Times, each member of the SNL audience was paid, in order to comply with New York City's COVID-19 guidelines.
According to the report, New York's guidelines prohibit television shows from hosting live audiences unless they consist of paid employees, cast, and crew. An audience is also expected to be 25% of its traditional size, with no more than 100 people. As a way to follow those restrictions while also having some form of an audience, SNL decided to screen its audience members through a third-party website called 1iota, essentially "casting" them for the episode. The audience members were then required to take a mandatory COVID-19 test, sign health forms conveying their COVID-19 diagnosis, and subject to a temperature check when arriving at the show. The audiences were then compensated for their time, with some members reportedly receiving a check for $150 from Universal Television, NBC's parent company.
"We had no idea we would be paid before we were handed checks,” audience member Sean Ludwig says in the report. “We were all very pleasantly surprised.”
Jonah Bruno, a spokesman for the state health department, said in a statement that SNL had confirmed to them that it had followed the appropriate guidelines for selecting an audience, saying “there is no evidence of non-compliance, but if any is discovered, we will refer that to local authorities for follow-up.”
A spokeswoman for SNL echoed these comments, saying in the report that the show was "working closely with the Department of Health and following all of their guidelines.”
Saturday Night Live is set to return this week with host Bill Burr. Country artist Morgan Wallen was set to be the episode's musical guest, but has now been removed from the episode after breaking COVID-19 protocols to attend a crowded bar and a house party.
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