Before the coronavirus outbreak, tickets to join the studio audience of “Saturday Night Live” were a precious commodity — offered free by NBC but so hard to obtain that some of the fans were willing to pay for them.
But now the tickets to this long-running sketch show — still scarce — come with 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 has been regulating the reopening of businesses and industries during the pandemic. The state’s health department confirmed that “SNL” had followed its reopening guidelines by “casting” members of the live audience and paying them for their time.
Sean Ludwig, who attended the “SNL” season premiere, said that he and seven friends who had gone with him each received a check for $150.
“We had no idea we would be paid before we were handed checks,” Ludwig said. “We were all very pleasantly surprised.”
Ludwig said that he and his friends got the tickets through a website called 1iota that screens audiences for talk shows. He said that before being allowed to enter, they had been given a rapid virus test and asked to sign forms indicating that they did not have COVID-19 or symptoms of the disease and had not come into contact with anyone who had it.
No audiences since March
Ticketed events have been prohibited since March 16. 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. The audience can be no more than 100 people.
That left “SNL” an option that would allow them to include members of the public in its live audiences while keeping in line with the state’s rules: Pay those audience members like employees.
“SNL” asked audience members to register through its 1iota page. The show asked applicants to request between seven and nine tickets for people whom they considered to be part of their “social bubble” and outlined the coronavirus-related precautions that the show would be taking.
A spokesman for the state health department, Jonah Bruno, said in a statement that “SNL” had confirmed to them that it had followed the state’s reopening guidance by selecting audience members through a third-party screening and casting process and by compensating them for their time.
“There is no evidence of noncompliance,” he said, “but if any is discovered, we will refer that to local authorities for follow-up.”
A spokeswoman for “Saturday Night Live” said in an e-mail that the show was “working closely with the Department of Health and following all of their guidelines.”
“SNL,” which is broadcast from NBC’s Rockefeller Plaza headquarters, had to halt its live episodes in March amid the spread of the pandemic. It concluded its previous season with remotely produced episodes consisting of sketches that its cast members had filmed from their homes.