One Saturday Night Live favorite won’t be returning this fall while another one has opted to come back. Leslie Jones has will be leaving NBC’s venerable late-night sketch comedy program after five seasons. Kate McKinnon, whose contract was up in May, has decided to come back for what would be her eighth season on the show.
According to sources, it was Jones’ decision to depart SNL before the end of her contract. The standard SNL cast deals are for seven years but the actors’ options are picked up every year, and the performers also can ask to be released early.
Jones, who originally joined SNL as a writer, quickly established herself with a couple of buzzy Weekend Update appearances, leading to her joining the cast in fall 2014. Her list of memorable impersonations includes Whoopi Goldberg. She also has taken on a slew of hot-button topics in her Weekend Update commentaries, most recently on the new anti-abortion legislation in some states.
Jones had been toiling away for years when she got her break on SNL, becoming the oldest cast member ever to join the cast. The show opened a lot of doors for her and, after five years on SNL and two Emmy nominations for her work on the show, Jones has decided to take advantage of those new opportunities. They include her first standup comedy special Netflix, which was recently announced, and several feature and TV projects, including a role in the Coming To America sequel.
McKinnon, one of the most heralded SNL cast members with two Emmys to date for her work, had been mulling her future on the show since at least January. It came down to the wire, but she has opted to return. It is unclear whether she would be on the show full-time.
Like Jones, during her tenure on SNL, McKinnon broke out in features with several starring roles, including Ghostbusters in which the two starred together. McKinnon also is set to headline and executive produce The Dropout, a limited series for Hulu about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos.
Other veteran SNL cast members who are returning next season include Kenan Thompson, Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong.
Season 45 of SNL premieres on September 28 with Woody Harrelson, in his fourth appearance as host, and musical guest Billie Eilish.