SNL is now paying its live studio audience to get around COVID regulations

The New York Times reports:

On Monday night, the state's health department confirmed that "S.N.L." had followed its reopening guidelines by "casting" members of the live audience for its season premiere on Saturday — the show's first live episode since March 7 — and paying them for their time. (It is not clear how many audience members were paid guests.)

Traditionally, tickets to a live taping of Saturday Night Live have been available for free, but were also a hot commodity.

Now, audience members will reportedly be paid $150 for their attendance — about the same as a typical day rate for background work on a TV show or movie, in my experience. This turns them into "cast members" — which is to say, employed contractors — rather than "audience members," thus enabling the show's producers to skirt COVID-related health regulations:

Based on the guidelines around pandemic-era media production that were released by the state, television shows are not allowed to host live audiences unless they consist of paid employees, cast and crew. And if the show decides to create an audience out of its workers, the audience can be only 25 percent of its typical size — and can be no more than 100 people.

These audience-members-for-hire are still required to wear face coverings throughout the filming of the show, and also have their temperatures taken before they can enter.

What a time to be alive.

'S.N.L.' Had a Live Audience. It Went Home With Paychecks. [Julia Jacobs and Dave Itzkoff / The New York Times]