Kenan Thompson has been with "Saturday Night Live" since 2003, making him the most veteran cast member in the show's history. And he has no immediate plans to step away, despite the launch of his new NBC sitcom, "Kenan."
"There used to be a time when people would leave the show and go into their careers," Thompson said last month during a virtual news conference. "But I kind of think you can do both as long as you can, then let your departure happen in a natural way."
The plan for him and for "SNL's" Chris Redd, who plays his best friend on the new series, is to juggle both duties simultaneously, even if it means flying from Los Angeles back to New York as late as Friday.
Thompson may want to reconsider his strategy.
"Kenan," which has its star playing a recent widower trying to raise two daughters while hosting a morning TV show, aims for the heartstrings while completely missing the funny bone. It's cute, especially when Thompson is playing Mr. Mom, but the "dad jokes" fall flat. When the best thing you've got going is Don Johnson as a father-in-law who gambles on "This Is Us" plot twists, you know you're in trouble.
Would "Kenan," which debuts at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on NBC, be sharper if Thompson didn't have other commitments? Maybe.
Tina Fey made a clean break from "SNL" before starting "30 Rock." Amy Poehler did the same for "Parks and Recreation," as did Andy Samberg for "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." All three shows are among the best network sitcoms of the past 20 years.
When Thompson finally lets go of his late-night gig, he'll be missed. He's been the cast's most reliable utility player since Phil Hartman, especially when a sketch calls for an Everyman bewildered by the madness around him.
His strengths were on full display during a bit last week in which bartenders start performing a ridiculous football song. As a bar patron, Thompson reacts with contempt before giving in and joining the staff in the musical number. Through it all he maintains his trademark grin, one that suggests he might burst out laughing at any moment.
It's hard to imagine the show without that expression.
But "SNL" survived without John Belushi, without Eddie Murphy, without Kristen Wiig. It'll continue without Thompson.
His departure would also provide an opportunity for new talent to step up.
Melissa Villaseñor's obscure impressions crack me up every time she's in the spotlight, but those moments are few and far between. Heidi Gardner and Bowen Yang show signs of being breakout stars; they just need more camera time.
Perhaps they'll get it just by other cast members taking the part-time approach. Aidy Bryant has starred in a lovely cable series, "Shrill," while staying on the "SNL" payroll, but it's meant long stretches without her appearing in a single sketch. MVP Kate McKinnon only popped up in one live sketch last week, most likely due to work on a limited series in which she'll play tech executive Elizabeth Holmes.
Cecily Strong, the show's most underrated comic, may cut bait to focus on an ambitious musical-comedy series for Apple TV. Or she, too, could try to maintain both jobs. If so, expect to see less and less of her on Saturday nights, as well.
Thompson could eventually find a way to successfully serve both shows at the same time. But "Kenan" may get canceled before he figures it out.