The surge in Omicron variant infections in New York has sent “Saturday Night Live” into an eleventh-hour scramble to contain the health threat posed by the latest highly contagious iteration of COVID.
IATSE crew members on the show are said to have became vocal on Thursday and Friday amid the increasingly dire reports of infection rates and hospitalizations from the variant. Sources close to the situation said executive producer Lorne Michaels and NBC were in “constant contact” with crew members and local health officials to determine the best course for delivering “SNL”s final installment of 2021.
On Saturday, NBC said tonight’s show would be produced with no live audience and a limited crew, with the strictest COVID protocols in place. It’s understood that numerous cast and crew members have tested positive for COVID in recent days, another factor that has made producing tonight’s show difficult.
There was widespread speculation on social media on Friday about whether Colin Jost would be seen in his usual role as co-anchor with Michael Che of the “Weekend Update” segment. The New York Post reported that Tina Fey was being recruited to appear on “Weekend Update,” the segment she anchored from 2000-2006. A knowledgeable source said Fey had been approached to “pop in” on tonight’s show but not in the “Weekend Update” segment. A source close to Fey noted that she was already on board for a cameo appearance to tonight to salute host Paul Rudd on his fifth time out as “SNL” frontman, joining a short list of stars who have hosted five times.
A source close to the situation noted that NBC already has mandated daily testing protocols for all “SNL” cast, crew and production staff members as well as guests, and that rigor allowed them to identify the outbreak early on. Michaels and NBC were quick to make accommodations for tonight’s show given the chance that cast, crew or audience members might become exposed and have to quarantine right before the holidays.
“Why take the risk? It’s not fair to people,” the source close to the show said.
At about 7 p.m. ET, the “SNL” team went into regular dress rehearsal mode, but so much of tonight’s production was up in the air. “It’s been a nightmare at 30 Rock,” quipped one source with first-hand knowledge of the situation.
The live elements of the show originating from Studio 8H at 30 Rock are expected to be largely be limited to Rudd’s monologue. Musical guest Charli XCX was compelled to cancel her appearance on the show earlier in the day on Saturday, citing the lack of crew needed to properly producer her musical segments. A source said that Charli XCX’s departure came at NBC’s behest given the need to limit the number of crew members in the building.
“SNL” is also known for its famously raucous after-parties. Those gatherings have been tabled for most of this season in a nod to the pandemic, although a few hosts have thrown their own post-show events, as Kim Kardashian did at Manhattan’s Zero Bond in early October.
Former HBO Exec Len Amato Joins MasterClass as Chief Content Officer
Len Amato, a 13-year veteran of HBO, joined MasterClass as chief content officer at the company that sells subscriptions to celebrity-led online courses.
In the new role, Amato will head up MasterClass’ content organization and help lead content innovation, strategy and development of class launches. He reports to David Rogier, founder and CEO of MasterClass.
Amato formerly served as president of HBO Films, Miniseries and Cinemax before he departed in late 2020. Most recently, Amato was an executive producer on HBO’s upcoming limited series “The White House Plumbers” through his production company Crash&Salvage, where he will continue to produce independently.
MasterClass provides access to more than 150 online courses led by experts and celebs including James Cameron, Shonda Rhimes, Ken Burns, Jodie Foster, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Nas, Gordon Ramsay, Bob Iger, Metallica, Issa Rae, RuPaul, and Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. An annual membership to MasterClass starts at $180/year.
“Len has been a pioneer in creating premium, original content, and I’m thrilled to welcome him to the team,” Rogier said in a statement. “His passion for storytelling, proven leadership and ability to attract talent will help us expand and innovate, providing even more ways to transform our members’ lives through our content.”
“MasterClass is setting a new standard for premium content with its cinematic value and ability to intimately connect world-class instructors with its members,” Amato said. “I’m excited to continue to democratize learning by bringing these stories to life in new ways and scale the impact of our content.”
Amato joined HBO in 2007 as a senior VP and was promoted to president of HBO Films the following year. Under his leadership, HBO Films earned best television movie Emmys for originals including “Grey Gardens,” “Temple Grandin,” “Game Change, “Behind the Candelabra,” “The Normal Heart” and “Bessie.”
Prior to joining HBO, Amato served as president of Spring Creek Productions. His producer and executive producer credits include “Analyze This” and “Analyze That,” “Possession,” “Deliver Us From Eva,” “Rumor Has It,” “Blood Diamond” and “The Astronaut Farmer.” Amato also was story editor for Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Productions. He started his film career in New York as a story analyst for various independent producers and studios. Prior to his career in the film industry, Amato was a musician and actor.
Music Industry Moves: FKA Twigs Partners With Atlantic Records
Along with her “Caprisongs” mixtape on Friday came the news that FKA Twigs has “partnered with Atlantic Records for this next exciting phase of her art,” according to the announcement. In the U.K., she will continue to release music via the Young label (formerly Young Turks) through Beggars Group.
“FKA twigs is the kind of artist you dream of signing — one with truly original vision, voice, and presence,” said Atlantic chairman-COO Julie Greenwald. “She’s among the most compelling talents, always pushing her creative envelope to deliver emotionally honest music that’s both intensely personal and universal. We’re thrilled that she’s chosen Atlantic to be her home as she continues on her fantastic musical adventure.”
“The progression of FKA twigs’ music over the past decade has been extraordinary,” said chairman-CEO Craig Kallman. “She’s never content to stay in one place – constantly crossing musical boundaries, embracing fresh sounds, telling new stories, and exploring what’s next. An amazing vocalist, songwriter, lyricist, and producer, she’s barely scratched the surface of her potential, and we’re incredibly excited to see what she’ll be bringing her fans in the years to come.”
+ Artist-services company AWAL has promoted Jennifer Kirell to senior vice president of catalog & retail marketing. Based in New York, she will report directly to Ron Cerrito, president of AWAL North America, and oversee and support artist and label partners. Prior to joining AWAL, Kirell spent 11 years with Sony Music Entertainment at Legacy Recordings, where she led global marketing campaigns and audience development strategies for artists including Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Johnny Cash and others. Cerrito said, “Jennifer is a goal minded, follow-through obsessed, results oriented, serial over achiever with a deep understanding of modern music marketing. She is also a thoughtful leader and people manager. We are proud Jen is a member of our executive team and look forward to continuing to redefine catalog and retail marketing into the future.”
The 2021 deal that saw Kobalt selling AWAL to Sony for $430 million remains under review by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority.
+ RCA Records has named Alex John director of publicity. She joins after two years at Red Bull Records, where she worked with Blxst, the Aces and producer WondaGurl. Over the course of her seven years in the business has also worked for Listen Up (where she worked with Martin Solveig, Kevin Saunderson, Jamie Jones and others), FYI Brand Group (Jhené Aiko, Tyga, DJ Khaled) and M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment (Sprite, Coca-Cola, WAV Media).