Kristen Bell Saturday Night Live

SNL's Anti-TV Host Bias: Insiders Try to Explain the Inexplicable

Casey Affleck is many things. A great actor is one of them; a household name is not. He’s certainly no Norman Reedus. Or Kristen Bell.

Saturday Night Live‘s decision to tap the Manchester By the Sea star to serve as the show’s final host of 2016 underscores a perplexing trend at the long-running late-night sketch show, one in which even marginally known movie stars are considered more viable hosting material than A-list TV talent.

Consider for a second that the following TV stars have never taken the Studio 8H stage: the aforementioned Reedus or Andrew Lincoln from the well-watched The Walking Dead, anyone representing the Modern Family cast (save for Sofia Vergara), Atlanta‘s Donald Glover, Master of None‘s Aziz Ansari, Orphan Black‘s Tatiana Maslany, Grey’s Anatomy‘s Ellen Pompeo or onetime leading man Patrick Dempsey, Gilmore Girls‘ Lauren Graham, Arrow‘s Stephen Amell, Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke or Lena Headey… and the list goes on.

In fact, we crunched the numbers, and over the past five-and-a-half seasons, only 20-ish percent of SNL hosts have been “TV stars” (i.e. actors whose primary gig at the time was a TV series and only a TV series). And of that 20 percent, many of the TV stars’ hosting gigs coincided with the release of a major movie in which they starred. For example, while Chris Pratt’s Season 40 hosting stint occurred while he was still on Parks and Recreation, it was pegged to the release of Guardians of the Galaxy. Similarly, Girls‘ Adam Driver was promoting Star Wars: The Force Awakens. How I Met Your Mother‘s Jason Segel had The Muppets. Amy Schumer had Trainwreck. Seth MacFarlane had Ted. Martin Freeman had the third Hobbit film.

Aside from starring in a buzzy film, two other criteria give TV stars the occasional leg up: being an SNL alum (see: Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg, Jimmy Fallon, Maya Rudolph), or a singer with a huge following (The Voice‘s Blake Shelton and Adam Levine).

All told, since the 2011-12 season — out of more than 100 hosts — you can count on three hands the number of non-SNL alum TV stars who went “Live, from New York!” Here’s the list: Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage, Louie‘s Louis C.K., Empire‘s Taraji P. Henson, Girls‘ Lena Dunham, The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons, Scandal‘s Kerry Washington, 30 Rock‘s Alec Baldwin, New Girl‘s Zooey Deschanel, Boardwalk Empire‘s Steve Buscemi, Up All Night‘s Christina Applegate and the aforementioned Vergara. And sources close to two of the above A-listers (who requested anonymity) tell me that they had to work fairly hard to sell the SNL brass on said actor/actress before a commitment was made.

“It’s perplexing for sure,” noted one of the frustrated publicists. “It’s at the point where we don’t even bother pitching them a TV client because we know it’ll be met with silence. Or they’ll say, ‘Yes, we’re tracking them,’ and that’s the last we’ll hear. It’s frustrating.”

Lest you postulate NBC is loathe to draw attention to a competing show, it would seem that even being on a Peacock series doesn’t give you an advantage. If it did, The Good Place star Bell would’ve hosted the season opener, and any cast member of NBC’s breakout hit This Is Us would be fronting this weekend’s show. After all, as one insider points out, “Lorne Michaels is not beholden to NBC when it comes to booking guest hosts. He has, for the most part, complete autonomy.” (Michaels declined TVLine’s request for comment.)

One could argue that production schedules are a unique obstacle to TV talent participation. It’s tough for an actor shooting 14-hour days to find the time to go to the grocery store, let alone spend a week in New York in the middle of the TV season. But after talking to nearly a half-dozen studio and network executives, we were hard-pressed to find one example of a guest-hosting overture that fell through due to scheduling conflicts. As one exec insists, “We never had an offer we could not accommodate.” Networks and studios view overhauling a production schedule as a small price to pay for the kind of exposure an SNL gig can bring (hence ABC’s willingness to let Washington — who is pretty much in every scene of Scandal — take a week off; ditto Empire‘s Henson).

Another exec at a major TV studio said they would move “heaven and earth” to ensure the star of one of their shows could host SNL. “Unfortunately,” that insider sighs, “we’ve rarely had that problem.”

So what’s behind the double standard? The entertainment business as a whole has long since gotten past TV’s “second-class” status, so why not SNL? Everyone we spoke to was hard-pressed to explain the ongoing slights, with one exec reasoning that perhaps Michaels “feels that TV stars are too accessible and not as ‘mysterious’ as a movie star who only becomes available once a year, when they have a movie to promote.”

Another longtime publicist puts it more bluntly, sniffing, “It’s snobbery, plain and simple.”

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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103 Comments
  1. Dev says:

    That’s interesting considering they started a #snlhost trend a few months back and I remember a large majority of the responses being TV stars (I personally submitted Tatiana Maslany). Wonder if any of them are being considered. SNL has not been entertaining to me (save a few sketches now and then – David S. Pumpkins anyone?) for several years now anyway, but it does seem a shame that so many talented actors are being overlooked.

  2. Gina says:

    I’ve been watching SNL for as long as I can remember. Im also a HUGE tv watcher. I have to say, I have honestly never thought about this. And now it’s all I’m going to think about. Ok, not really. But it seems like they are definitely missing out on a huge talent pool. I can think of a few hosts in the last few years that were just terrible and could have easily been replaced by one of my tv faves.
    #TVstars4SNL

    • Big Cheddar says:

      Same here! I never really thought about it either. It’s too bad – they would really open themselves up to some interesting hosts options if they considered more TV people.

    • jj. says:

      agreed, it wasn’t something I had thought of before but there are so many fantastic tv actors and with many shows they are able to showcase some comedic elements even in some of the most dramatic shows. I’m certainly in the ‘meh’ camp when it comes to most SNL hosts and would love if more tv actors were given the opportunity

  3. V says:

    Jane Lynch also hosted during one of the first seasons of Glee.

    • ChrisShut says:

      Her episode was in October 2010. This study starts with the 2011-12 season.

      • Gena says:

        Ah, I wondered about that; otherwise I was just about to add that Jon Hamm hosted 3 times (s.34 in 2008, and seasons 35 & 36 both in 2010) during his time on ‘Mad Men’. :)

        But yeah, one thing I thought about was that the TV landscape is so much more splintered, with a wider variety of outlets chasing smaller niche audiences; plus, you have a lot of ensemble casts full of terrific actors who work well together, but it’s hard to tell which individual actors would fare best in the SNL environment (and attract a decent-sized audience, to boot).

  4. jtrattray says:

    Casey Affleck? Jesus. Maybe TV doesn’t have enough rapey white dudes with racist girlfriends.

    • Samantha F says:

      this! does this guy even have a fan base to speak of?

      • CAN says:

        They’re probably hoping for a cameo by his brother and maybe even Matt Damon.

      • KatsMom says:

        I think they’re also looking at the award show buzz and he’s got it in spades right now. They think this is going to be the time when he stops being Ben’s brother and becomes a star in his own right. But, even so, the fact that he’s a rapey white guy who’s never presented himself as someone with a sense of humor (see his appearance on Colbert a few months back for example) would disqualify him immediately if I were making the calls. (I don’t know anything about his racist girlfriend either, but keeping company like that would definitely be a dealbreaker for me too.)

    • Jeff says:

      There is nothing wrong with being white. You are the racist.

  5. Lisa says:

    I also find it weird, especially since we now live in a golden age of television – so many great shows with amazing acting talent! I understand that film stars get more attention and that’s why they are hosting SNL so often these days (also considering that most people tune in to SNL nowadays only because of the host, the days of Andy Samberg, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig etc. when people tuned in to watch them perform are over), but I say give TV stars more hosting gigs! I think it would be way more fun to have them host.

  6. Matt Ceccato says:

    Too right! It is snobbery. Granted, most “SNL” guest hosts (whether they are hosting for the fourth time of not) are “plugging a movie” as opposed to a TV show which, potentially, could take eyeballs away from NBC.

    With TV now providing the best entertainment right now, you’d think “SNL” would be clamoring for this talent. Shoot, why not have Charlie Cox and Krysten Ritter team up for an episode when “The Defenders” drops?

  7. Sharon says:

    Not any of Ausiello’s faves listed in the first paragraph interested me much. Sorry!

  8. NK says:

    I think SNL does TV Stars a favor. Who wants to be associated with such weekly sub-par writing

    • darkangel200 says:

      Exactly! Their entitlement is a bit mind boggling. I’m actually glad no one I like or respect does the show.

      • Nichole says:

        That was my thought process too lol, assumed SNL could only get people when they had something to flog, like a new movie, and that everyone else was staying away due to the poor quality!

    • ashleytwo says:

      The cast of Big Bang Theory seem okay with it.

      Sorry, had to ;)

  9. Leslie Noble says:

    I *think* Steve Carrell hosted during “The Office” days, but I always wondered why other cast members (John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson, Jenn Fischer, Mindy Kaling) never did. Seemed like a great opportunity for both shows and the actors.

    • Gena says:

      Rainn Wilson did get to host once (s.32, 2/24/07) — in fact, that’s when they did the first Song Memories (“you know what this song reminds me of?”) sketch — but yeah, it is a wonder why TV actors hosting doesn’t happen more often. :\

  10. Steveo says:

    Isn’t it scheduling?

  11. K says:

    It’s not just TV. New York is home to Broadway and there are a ton of Tony-winning performers who would never in a million years have that opportunity. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the only one I can think of. Sutton Foster is a Broadway and TV star. Imagine how fun she would be as host.

  12. Samantha says:

    I’ve taken issue with SNL’s host choices for years. They’d rather have repeat hosts who were plain horrible or so-so (with the exception of Tom Hanks) or boring “movie stars” than dare to bring in anyone new from other entertainment pools who might actually be funnier and draw a larger audience. If Lorne Michaels doesn’t want TV actors to host due to the outdated idea that TV is for B-actors, then he deserves the poor hosts he goes with. We’re in the golden age of TV right now where more than half of what’s on TV is better than any movie coming out. If you ask me, SNL has been wasting golden opportunities since way before the 2011-12 season.

  13. warren says:

    SNL is not the show it once was, I imagine quite a few tv stars would refuse the job just because it might actually hurt their career. SNL is one of those shows that still has a big name but the shine has long since been lost, it’s not funny any more, hasn’t been for many many years.

  14. Lysh says:

    I’ve definitely noticed that SNL mostly has hosts with movies to promote. Or sports people, which I’m not very sporty so I don’t get it. It’s a huge surprise that Lin Manuel Miranda was able to host at all; a lot of non-theater nerds who live outside of NYC still have never heard of him or Hamilton (and some not until Pence showed up). I tend to enjoy TV more and thus TV actors so I’d totally watch if say, Steven Amell hosted but I might cringe through the whole thing. The writing is often more miss than hit lately.
    Anyway, great article!

  15. cuius says:

    Try money – TV stars earn per episode the same as a SNL “star” earns in a year

  16. Master_K says:

    Explain Drake then. Other than his music, he’s known for a tv series, Degrassi. Unless he’s an anomaly.

    • OA says:

      Drake hasn’t been on that TV show since 2009 so no, that’s not why he was chosen at all. The article specifies people currently on TV / those whose main gig is a TV Series.

      • CG says:

        Drake was on last season as a host and musical guest.

        • KatsMom says:

          They meant Drake hadn’t been on DeGrassi since 2009, not SNL. The point was he was asked to host SNL primarily because of his music career. The only way his now ancient Canadian TV history may have played into the decision to allow him to host was because he’s proven the ability to have some charisma on screen even when he’s not singing/rapping.

  17. Kevin says:

    SNL desperately needs to booked big name stars who haven’t host the show from the world of TV, movies, music and sports to make things better and funny again. It’s been on the air for 40-plus years and how will it ever going to end.

  18. Lizzie says:

    I loved all those on the list you provided but yes SNL is lacking some TV talent. Man I think the whole cast of Dawson’s Creek hosted back in the early 2000’s. By those standards all the cast of Vampire Diaries at their height should have hosted by now. There are so many funny, multi talented people on TV that could easily bring the house down. Great study.

  19. Tony Lang says:

    Tatiana Maslany is more of a household name than Ben Affleck’s Oscar nominee younger brother Casey? okay….if you say so…

    • flutiefan says:

      My thoughts exactly

      • DL says:

        Yeah I don’t agree with the premise of this article. A lot of TV stars wouldn’t be as big ratings draws. TV is so diffuse now, not everyone is aware of all the different shows. But we all see a lot of the same trailers and movie commercials, so the exposure is way higher.

    • Joey says:

      You honestly think someone sees Casey Affleck hosting, and they think, “Wow, its that guy who was nominated for an Oscar for The Assassination of Jesse James”! Wow, now I just have to tune in! And while Manchester by the Sea will get nominations for sure, most people won’t go to see it.

      • DL says:

        No, they probably think, “Hey, it’s Batman’s brother!” But I’d bet they know who he is more than a lot of the TV stars. Nothing against them.

        • Joey says:

          I’m merely commenting on the fact that the person above me made a big deal out of the fact that Casey Affleck has been nominated for an Oscar.

    • Bev says:

      Right? Lol!

  20. TvLover says:

    Huh, I never really thought of that before. Lately though, I haven’t really enjoyed many of the recent episodes, regardless of whomever the guest star was.
    But, I think SNL should get more TV stars on the show, especially since it’s one of the big networks. I’m shocked Tatiana Maslany was never asked, not just because she’s great in Orphan Black but wasn’t she in some Canadian improv group? That’s basically a no brainer. Or anyone from shows on Netflix or Hulu.
    Mandy Moore or Sterling K Brown?
    I mean there’s tons of actors and actresses.
    A shame.

  21. Amy says:

    James Spader please!

  22. Anon says:

    Charlie Day was Nov. 2011 (IMDB). Not sure that I saw his name on the list, but think he qualifies in your timeline.

  23. John036 says:

    Dangit, Ausiello now I really want Tatiana Maslany to host SNL

  24. A fan of TV says:

    I agree this is a clear trend, and I wonder if half (most of?) the problem is with networks being fairly uninterested in promoting shows on other networks…?

  25. GuessWhat says:

    I think you answered your own question. Partially due to TV stars’ shooting commitments. And partially due to freed-up movie stars with a current movie to sell. I am ok with this.

  26. Lia says:

    We need an awesome Scottish lad to host…….Sam Heughan.

  27. Jason says:

    I would actually argue that Alec Baldwin and Steve Buscemi were already huge movie stars before they became TV stars so the list of ones who actually made it kind of shrinks. Plus, Baldwin’s 30 Rock gig already makes him tangentially connected to SNL. The whole thing is really nonsensical. Most of us spend way more time watching these tv personalities on a weekly basis then any given movie star.

  28. Brock Hard says:

    You say Casey Affleck isn’t much of a draw. But the TV “A-listers” you mention — Donald Glover, Tatiana Maslany, Stephen Amell — aren’t exactly draws either. I think you’ve disproved your own point.

  29. Card_D says:

    Oh, Tad Cooper….I miss you, so!

  30. Agreed. Same with the musical guest. Constantly picking people that most Americans have never heard of or care about & expecting us to give a care.

    • taylorrness says:

      but with SNL musical guests anonymity is part of the draw – a lot of artists “break through” on SNL, especially those coming from another country who want to be known in the States. even if I don’t like the music, I always appreciate SNL making unusual choices.

  31. Dannie C says:

    That’s crazy to think about. You would think TV Stars & SNL would go hand in hand together.

  32. Pia says:

    Ain’t no op-ed like a Michael Ausiello op-ed.

  33. SGFan says:

    Obviously SNL wants people to tune in and having names like Tatyana, Amell, K Bell and other small screen actors whose shows can barely hold onto a decent non-fractional rating is not a major selling point for people to tune in….However actors of Mega TV shows like TWD, GOT TBBT/MF etc are a diff story, they might actually do well, ratings wise for snl.

    • ashleytwo says:

      Perhaps its because I really like Kristen Bell, but I think while she’s never been the star of a huge movie her work in films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Bad Moms and The Boss (plus to a lesser extent Frozen but obviously that’s just voice) would mean people would be kind-of aware of her. Seemingly not enough for SNL, but it’s not like she’s Dichen Lachman or something.

      Basically I want Kristen Bell on SNL now I’ve seen that image :p

  34. Here’s a better question: In general, how does SNL chose its hosts?

    This question came to mind after John Cena hosted last week and the writers seemed like he was forced upon them (as all of the sketches had him play the stereotypical macho/wrestling characters).

  35. Walkie says:

    Man didn’t you ever reach for the TV stars you think should host. Wow.

  36. Dominique says:

    i agree with a lot of things written here, but did you seriously just try to convince me that norman reedus is a bigger name than casey affleck? cause that’s only true for people who know and/or watch the walking dead. outside of that, there aren’t billions of people who know him.

    • Joey says:

      By the same token, you’re acting like people actually know who Casey Affleck is.

      • Dominique says:

        actually, i only said that outside of twd, norman reedus isn’t that big of a star. i did not say that everyone knows/should know who casey affleck is.
        i do think, however, casey is a bigger name. A+++ hollywood star? no. but definitely more established than norman reedus.
        sometimes the tv industry forgets that its actors aren’t actually that well-known outside of their shows (probably due to all these conventions etc).
        i also have no idea if affleck is funny, but given that wasn’t what i was talking about…

    • Samantha F says:

      I’m a big TV and movie watcher. I do not watch Walking Dead because I have a huge zombie phobia so Norman Reedus holds no appeal for me. Is he even funny? Generally I’d rather see people with comedy chops host than huge drama stars. That being said, Emilia Clarke makes sense to me because even though she stars in a drama, I’ve seen her be funny too.

  37. Jack says:

    No, Casey Affleck is not a star, but I know who he is, which is more than I could say about Norman Reedus (until I read this article).

    I agree with basic premise, of course, but it’s ridiculous to think SNL should book basically unknown TV actors like Reedus or Tatiana Maslany over a John Cena (who was terrible) or even, yes, a Casey Affleck.

    • Gina says:

      Clearly, you underestimate the sheer madness that is The Walkind Dead fandom. When Reedus showed up last season (I think), the audience went crazy. Any WD actor would bring in the ratings.

  38. dude says:

    But they’ll give it to athletes who are terrible like Ronda Rousey and Michael Phelps…

  39. Tom says:

    They are liberal elitists, of course they thumb their nose at the lowly TV people. Unless of course that person has a movie, or an album, or is politically relevent.

  40. I love Jimmy Fallon 💕💕and Casey Affeck💕💕. I can’t wait to see them together. Jimmy you are silly and you crack me up. I have a continuous smile on my face when I watch your show. Keep the Facebook videos coming too. They are also very funny and put a smile on my face even if I’m having a bad day. XXOOXXOO💕😙

  41. lindsay says:

    I just always assumed this was the movie studios have big money to pay for their actors’ placement as marketing for their film releases.

  42. DJ Doena says:

    First off, I don’t actually watch SNL. A few years ago I watched a few episodes, I never found it that funny. Same with MadTV. It’s just not my cup o’ tea.

    That being said if I were interested in the show, I would watch it weekly, like I do with all my other shows. I watch the Daily Show even when I’m not interested or never heard of that day’s guest. I watch the British QI even though I often don’t know any of the three guest comics.

    So for me, it wouldn’t matter who the guest host is (I didn’t even know that Ben had a little brother nor – due to my lack of interest in zombies – do I know who Norman Reedus is).

    But Stephen Amell? I mean I watch Arrow, but Stephen doesn’t have the widest of acting ranges and unlike his bow-wearing brother Justin Hartley I don’t see him being particulary funny.

  43. Chfh says:

    Stop looking for causes! First it was the dont hire enough blacks, then it was latinos, now its tv stars? Come on!

    Second love the way everyone praises the show when it bashes donald trump, but now jumps on the snl sucks bandwagon because they dont host enough tv stars?

    Heres the deal most of these tv stars are working and cant just take a week off to go host snl. And thank god snl isnt beholden to nbc.

    • Bev says:

      Thank you! I am thinking the SAME thing!mis it always a bias, racism,,sexism, ageiim…whatever ism? This is just something CREATED to bet bored troublemakers all up in arms…. Seriously , tvline?

  44. Samantha F says:

    Mindy Kaling, Donald Glover, and Aziz Ansari all stand out to me as people who would be amazing on SNL. They’ve been standouts on multiple comedy shows and are amazing comedy writers in addition to acting and producing.

    Casey Affleck?? Are you effing kidding me? I could not care less.

  45. BillyBobJohnson says:

    It could be that all the people you list, Michael, are NOT A-list celebrities. SNL hosting has always been tied to movie releases. It’s about the only way they can get the REAL A-list stars.

  46. xyz says:

    Aren’t the host usually tied in with some kind of promotion? Funny how the hosts forthcoming movie also has commercials on that episode of SNL…

  47. s says:

    I always thought it was political, if Lorne limited the number of hosts from TV land to just a few and those few had a serious following he could then manage the NBC suits trying to foist upon the show the entire NBC line up as hosts. “No sorry, so and so isn’t going to add anything viewer wise”

  48. Ana M says:

    The problem is most people know SNL isn’t funny other than their political stuff or their news stuff, with very few exceptions. They should try a themed show with multiple hosts from the same show, then parody the show. I’ve been watching SNL since inception, it’s just not as funny as it once was unless it’s politics.

  49. Doctor Sam says:

    It seems to me that Ed O’Neill would be a natural.

  50. Allie says:

    Reedus and musical guest Anthrax would kill. Make. It. Happen. NBC! Also throw in some James Spader, Sophia Vergara and I’d be happy.