SNL paid attendees $150 each to meet New York state rules on live audiences

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    The big debate — the one between Alec Baldwin and Jim Carrey — was a winner in the ratings. “Saturday Night Live” scored its biggest season premiere audience in four years and second best in 12 years, emphasizing the importance of presidential election time for the NBC comedy show.

    Attendees at Saturday’s Season 46 premiere of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” were part of the show’s first live audience of the coronavirus pandemic era — and perhaps the first to receive a paycheck for enjoying the show.

    SNL’s audience was drawn from the show’s crew and members of the public, the latter of whom were given checks for $150, effectively being “cast” as viewers in a live audience. The news was first reported by the New York Times.

    The payment is an apparent workaround to New York state rules about live audiences during the pandemic, which prohibit them “unless they consist only of paid employees, cast, and crew.”

    Representatives for SNL did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but the New York State Department of Health said the show confirmed it selected the audience through “a third-party screening and casting process” and paid attendees for their time.

    “There is no evidence of noncompliance — but if any is discovered, we will refer that to local authorities for follow up,” NYSDH spokesman Jonah Bruno said in an email.

    Audience members reportedly took rapid coronavirus tests, were temperature-checked and signed health disclosure forms before entering Studio 8H, protocols similar to what the cast and crew must follow.

    SNL representatives did not comment on recent news reports that country singer Morgan Wallen, scheduled as this week’s musical guest, was seen partying maskless in crowds at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa last week.

    In May, at the height of New York’s coronavirus outbreak, SNL switched to a remote format for the final episodes of the season. As recently as Sept. 24, show creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels had said it was still unknown whether the Oct. 3 premiere would include members of the public or be limited to NBC employees and their family.

    The Washington Post

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