‘SNL’ Ditches Audience, Limits Cast, Crew Amid Omicron

'SNL' Ditches Audience, Limits Cast, Crew Amid Omicron the omicron variant is shown in an illustration (Dreamstime)

The Associated Press Saturday, 18 December 2021 05:17 PM

People's Sexiest Man Alive of 2021 is set to be inducted into the vaunted Five-Timers Club on "Saturday Night Live," but the surging omicron variant of the coronavirus means there won't be a live audience to see it happen.

The long-running sketch comedy show announced on social media Saturday afternoon that the night's episode would tape without a live audience and with only limited cast and crew "due to the recent spike in the Omicron variant and out of an abundance of caution."

"Ant-Man" star Paul Rudd is the host, returning to Studio 8H for the fifth time — typically a milestone of much fanfare. British pop star Charli XCX is the night's musical guest. The Dec. 18 episode was the NBC show's last announced episode for the year.

It is unclear which cast members will appear on Saturday's show, which usually tapes a dress rehearsal at 8 p.m. ET, followed by the live show at 11:30 p.m. ET.

The show returned for its 47th year in September with 16 cast members and five featured players, a particularly crowded field. The size of the cast has allowed for atypical flexibility for its high-profile members, who can now take time off for other projects during the season.

The show said on social media that those who had won tickets to the night's show would receive more information soon.

This is far from the first time the Lorne Michaels-produced show has had to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. The virus outbreak halted its 45th season for about a month, but "SNL" was back on the air by mid-April with a "quarantine version" of the show hosted by Tom Hanks. The show returned to 30 Rockefeller Center for its 46th season after implementing COVID-19 protocols, but booted singer Morgan Wallen from that season's second episode for breaking rules. And just last month, British singer Ed Sheeran had to perform from home after contracting the coronavirus.

New York state reported Saturday that nearly 22,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday — eclipsing the previous day's mark for the highest single-day total for new cases since testing became widely available. More than half the positive results were in the city. Omicron is expected to become the dominant coronavirus variant in many countries within weeks.

Other live shows in New York have been devastated anew by the recent coronavirus surge, with many Broadway stages forced to go dark because of outbreaks. Mayor Bill de Blasio this past week declared omicron "in full force" in New York, snuffing out holiday mainstays like the Rockettes Christmas show and threatening others yet — all portending another holiday season without much cheer.