Why Is ‘SNL’ Returning to the Air During the Actors Strike?
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Why Is ‘SNL’ Returning to the Air During the Actors Strike?

Why Is ‘SNL’ Returning to the Air During the Actors Strike?

“Saturday Night Live” is coming back to the air next week. Yes, there is still an actors strike going on, but yes, this is okay. SAG-AFTRA even says so.

But if you’re still wondering why “SNL” is back on the air, your questions are warranted. “SNL” isn’t a game show or reality show that just has a celebrity host. It airs on NBC, whose parent company NBCUniversal is a struck member company with the AMPTP. And generally, they’re getting hosts who have something to promote, which is a strike no-no. In fact, Pete Davidson, who will be the host on the season premiere October 14, was supposed to be the host just before the writers went on strike and cut “SNL’s” season short.

This is hardly the first time SAG-AFTRA has had to clarify to members what actors can and can’t work on during the strike. Because it’s arguably not the performers on those shows who don’t understand their contractual obligations but the general public and the media who might be quick to call them scabs.

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SAG-AFTRA came out in defense of “The Drew Barrymore Show” and its contractual obligations to return to air during that whole fiasco, it did so when “Dancing With the Stars” resumed filming, and it has done so again with “SNL,” this time in lockstep with “SNL” announcing its hosts for the first two weeks.

As the guild explains in its statement, SAG-AFTRA members appearing on “SNL,” whether they’re a host, guest star, or cast member, are working under what’s called the Network Code Agreement — more commonly Net Code — “which is not a contract we are striking.”

Net Code covers everything from morning news shows, talk shows (both daytime and late night), soap operas, variety, reality, and game shows, sports, and promotional announcements. The guild upon the Net Code’s latest ratification in 2022 mentions shows like “Good Morning America,” “Tamron Hall,” “The Young and the Restless,” “Jeopardy,” “The Voice,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” the Academy Awards, the Super Bowl, and yes, even “Saturday Night Live.”

“They are not in violation of SAG-AFTRA strike rules, and we support them in fulfilling their contractual obligations,” the guild says. “The program is a SAG-AFTRA non-dramatic production under a separate agreement that is not subject to the union’s strike order.”

The guild also clarifies that the majority of “SNL” cast members have contractual obligations and that it’s the producers who are exercising these performers’ options requiring them to return. The guild has a “No Strike Clause” in the Net Code contract, meaning they have to return to work, they can be held in breach of contract if they don’t, and the union is prohibited from advising them not to work.

“It is important to recognize that SAG-AFTRA is fighting against the studios and not members who are required to go to work every day under other union contracts or personal service agreements. We stand with our union siblings across the industry as we also recognize our obligations under federal labor law.”

It’s possible that some cast members might choose to stay at home in solidarity with the other striking actors, but the guild can’t advise them to do so, and they’re taking a risk if they do. Mayim Bialik stood aside from her “Celebrity Jeopardy” hosting duties, and “Veep” actor Matt Walsh decided to not participate on “Dancing With the Stars” until the strike was over. When the writers strike ended, he returned to the competition and has already been booted after just one Cha Cha.

But Pete Davidson would be in trouble and potentially violating strike rules if he started talking about his latest scripted projects like “Bupkis” and “Dumb Money.” An “SNL” rep tells IndieWire he’ll be promoting his ongoing stand-up tour, while the Oct. 21 host Bad Bunny has a new album that came out earlier this year. If an actor had an interim agreement for a project, they might also be able to appear but would only be authorized to discuss or promote that specific project.

A rep for SAG-AFTRA did not respond to IndieWire’s request for additional comment.

All this may be moot in a couple of weeks; SAG-AFTRA is back at the negotiating table with the AMPTP as we speak, and the industry remains hopeful that a resolution will be reached soon. “SNL” is likely hoping it can get by with some dual threat musicians, athletes, or politicians as hosts before anything becomes a real problem.

Additional reporting by Tony Maglio

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