Prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus, tickets to join the studio audience for “Saturday Night Live” were a valuable commodity – offered for free by NBC, but so difficult to obtain that some comedy fans were willing to pay for them.
But now tickets to this long-running sketch show – still free and still scarce – have an added bonus: members of its studio audience have been paid to attend.
The payments are the result of new guidelines implemented by the state of New York, which regulated the reopening of businesses and industries during the pandemic.
Sean Ludwig, who participated in the “S.N.L.” first season on weekends, said he and seven friends who had gone with him each received a check for $ 150 from Universal Television, a division of NBC’s parent company, at the end of the show.
“We had no idea that we would be paid before the checks were handed to us,” Ludwig said. “We were all pleasantly surprised.”
Ludwig, a freelance writer who runs a barbecue website and newsletter, said he and his friends got their tickets via a website called 1iota that monitors audiences for talk shows and other events. Ludwig said he had undergone a rapid test for the virus and asked to sign health forms indicating they had no Covid-19 or symptoms of the disease and had not come into contact with anyone who had it before he was allowed to. attend the show.
In the days preceding the “S.N.L.” prior to the season, it was unclear whether the show would be able to draw studio audiences from the general public, as it has done in past years, due to state restrictions on reopening during the pandemic. In a previous statement, the state health department said ticketed events had been banned since March 16 and that the restriction had not changed.
But “S.N.L.” had previously asked live audience members to register through his 1iota page, which has since been removed. The show had asked candidates to request seven to nine tickets for people they considered part of their “social bubble” and outlined the coronavirus-related precautions the show would take.
Based on the pandemic-era media production guidelines issued by the state, television shows cannot host a live audience unless paid employees, cast and crew. And if the show decides to create an audience with its employees, the audience can only be 25% of its typical size and cannot be more than 100 people.
That left “S.N.L.” one option that would allow them to include audience members in its live audience, while staying in line with state rules: pay those audience members as employees.
A spokesman for the state health department, Jonah Bruno, said in a statement Monday evening that “S.N.L.” had confirmed to them that he had followed the state’s reopening lead by selecting audience members through a third party selection and casting process and compensating them for their time.
“There is no evidence of non-compliance,” he said, “but if one is found, we will refer the local authorities for follow-up.”
A spokesperson for “Saturday Night Live” said in an email that the show “was working closely with the Department of Health and following all of their guidelines.” The spokesperson did not say how many members of the “S.N.L.” the audience was paid.
“S.N.L.”, which aired by Studio 8H at NBC’s Rockefeller Plaza headquarters, had to stop its live episodes in March due to the spread of the pandemic. It concluded its previous season with three remotely produced episodes consisting of sketches that cast members had filmed from their homes.
Last month, NBC announced that “S.N.L.” would return to its traditional live format, starting with season one on October 3, hosted by Chris Rock. The show is expected to air at least four more episodes live through the end of the month.
A now defunct registration page for “S.N.L.” on the 1iota website outlined the coronavirus protocol for members of its host audience. All guests will be required to take a nasal antigen test upon arrival, with results available before the show begins. They would be required to wear a face cover at all times in the building and asked a series of questions about their potential exposure to the coronavirus. And they should have checked the temperature upon arrival; anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher would be asked to leave (along with everyone else in that person’s group).
A portion of the tickets for the show were reserved for health workers, who received a funny shout at the start of the show on Saturday. In his opening monologue, Rock addressed the front of the audience, who he identified as the first responders, and joked, “They’re so good, let’s let the people die tonight so they can see a good show.”