The last four episodes of Saturday Night Live’s 42nd season will air live in every US time zone, a first for the NBC series. Until now, the show was broadcast live from New York City at 11:30PM ET (and 10:30PM CT), and was re-broadcast three hours later for Mountain and Pacific time zones. This means for the next month, West Coasters will have to tune in at 8:30PM PT to catch the new episodes, hosted by Jimmy Fallon, Chris Pine, Melissa McCarthy, and The Rock.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, NBC’s Robert Greenblatt explained the decision: “SNL — enjoying its most popular season in two decades — is part of the national conversation, and we thought it would be a great idea to broadcast to the West and Mountain time zones live at the same time it’s being seen in the East and Central time zones. That way, everyone is in on the joke at the same time.”
Greenblatt also complimented Lorne Michaels and the whole production team for making SNL “one of the most relevant and anticipated shows in the zeitgeist.”
It’s no secret that Saturday Night Live has enjoyed a huge ratings lift following the election of Donald Trump, who was invited to host in November 2015. The Trump boost doesn’t seem to have motivated a turn toward more incisive or interesting satire, but it has introduced Saturday Night Live to the double-edged sword of social media: it helps you go viral and it ruins your punchlines.
This decision likely came after a realization that renewed viewership also means increased online conversation. With East Coast and Central viewers reposting SNL jokes and entire sketches on social media before the time-delayed rebroadcasts aired, West Coast viewers were increasingly likely to get their first impressions of the show from social media instead of NBC itself.
The new live policy is also a blatant play to emphasize what NBC would surely love everyone to believe about SNL in the age of Trump — that it’s important, and doing something useful. For the West Coast, it just became prime-time television. With that, Saturday Night Live is technically culturally central, regardless of whether it really has anything to say.