After 46 years, the late-night sketch comedy show and pop culture incubator Saturday Night Live has won a contest that would have been inconceivable when it launched in 1974: It crossed the finish line this season as the number-one entertainment show in the key 18 to 49 demographic, according to The Hollywood Reporter. SNL didn’t just win the prize for late night — it won it for all non-sports entertainment on ad-supported television.
The show averaged a 2.06 rating, edging out The Masked Singer and This Is Us. The second-rated comedy, Young Sheldon, was far behind with a 1.2 rating. SNL boasted 9 million viewers per episode in Live+7 ratings, which accounts for delayed viewing through DVR within one week. It also had 1.6 billion YouTube views, and the most new subscribers to social media channels of any other late-night program.
Susan Rovner, the chairman of entertainment content at NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, gushed about the workhorse program, saying that “one of the greatest gifts of this role is being able to watch the SNL team do what they do each week, all while keeping the show as strong and vibrant as ever.”
What does this mean, exactly? Are audiences thirsting for more of Elon Musk saying “bestie”? Well, not exactly, but as entertainment gets more niche-driven, and attention is pulled away to apps and social networks, there’s not much else in American television programming that casts as wide of a net on the zeitgeist, and is as sure to drive conversation the next day than SNL, even if it is just four years away from AARP eligibility.
The 2020 election didn’t hurt matters either, with Jim Carrey parachuting in to play Joe Biden opposite Alec Baldwin mugging as Donald Trump.
Just as the show is on top, however, there are more than the usual rumblings about who will return next season. For evidence of possible departures, some pointed to the start of this year’s final episode, which placed many of the longtime favorites center stage, including Kenan Thompson, Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, and Cecily Strong, for an unusually emotional “look back at the year.” (Granted, it was one intensely weird year.) Pete Davidson also concluded his Weekend Update segment by saying, “I’m very grateful to be here, and it has been an honor to grow up in front of you guys.”
It remains to be seen if Saturday Night Live will attempt to maintain its prominence with a stable of new faces.
More Great Stories From Vanity Fair
— A First Look at Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon
— 15 Summer Movies Worth Returning to Theaters For
— Why Evan Peters Needed a Hug After His Big Mare of Easttown Scene
— Shadow and Bone Creators Break Down Those Big Book Changes
— The Particular Bravery of Elliot Page’s Oprah Interview
— Inside the Collapse of the Golden Globes
— Watch Justin Theroux Break Down His Career
— For the Love of Real Housewives: An Obsession That Never Quits
— From the Archive: The Sky’s the Limit for Leonardo DiCaprio
— Not a subscriber? Join Vanity Fair to receive full access to VF.com and the complete online archive now.