SNL Boss Lorne Michaels Breaks Silence on Taran Killam, Jay Pharoah Ousters: 'They Served the Show Well'

Saturday Night Live Season 42

Ahead of this weekend’s return of Saturday Night Live, exec producer Lorne Michaels is speaking out for the first time about his surprising decision to pink-slip longtime cast members Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah.

“I think they were great, and they did wonderful work when they were with us,” Michaels tells USA Today. “They served the show well, and are two people I really care about. [But] change is the lifeblood of the show; it always has been. And you have to keep bringing new people in. Hopefully it’s for the best. I’m not worried about either of them going on to success.”

Killam and Pharoah — who recently signed on to headline separate Showtime comedy pilots — were let go one year shy of their seven-year contracts. The decision blindsided Killam. “I had sort of had it in my head I would make this upcoming year my last year, but then heard they weren’t going to pick up my contract,” he said at the time. “I was never given a reason why, really… I honestly don’t know what happened on the other side.” (Rookie featured player Jon Rudnitsky was similarly shown the door.)

Michaels also addressed this fall’s other big SNL headline: The casting of Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump. Turns out, it was Tina Fey’s idea. “She said, ‘You know who would be a great Trump is Alec!’ ” he recalls. “I talked to Alec, who was finishing a movie, he was getting ready to have a baby — it couldn’t have been worse timing. But, slowly, the idea grew on me.”

The decision had “nothing to do with” Baldwin’s predecessor, Darrell Hammond, who Michaels insists was “obviously great at” playing Trump. But “just as Darrell took over from Phil Hartman doing Bill Clinton, these things have to change. I don’t know how many people have played Hillary Clinton.”