Saturday Night Live hosts whose episodes were canceled amid strikes: John Candy, Gilda Radner, more

Impacts of a Hollywood writers' strike are often immediately felt with Saturday Night Live long being among the first shows to go dark given its production week writing schedule. That tradition extended with the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike, which went into effect Tuesday. That same day it was announced that Pete Davidson's return to host the show for the first time since leaving the cast last May was canceled due to the strike.

Davidson's canned return to Studio 8H is only the latest instance of SNL episodes being shelved due to strike-related issues — and he's not the only former cast member whose hosting gig has been interrupted. While the original writers' strike in 1960 predates the sketch comedy show, the last four have occurred during times when a season was already underway. These lost episodes are lingering reminders of the pop culture moments (and laughs) that were denied as a result of ongoing labor tensions in Hollywood.

Pete Davidson on SNL (screen grab) CR: NBC
Pete Davidson on SNL (screen grab) CR: NBC

NBC Pete Davidson on 'Weekend Update'

Here, we look back on how previous strikes impacted seasons of SNL, and the hosts and musical guests we missed out on.

Season 6

New York in the early '80s was like a modern frontier town, a gritty no man's land that almost certainly was reflected both by SNL's onscreen aesthetic and offscreen tumult. The end of season 5 saw the exit of creator Lorne Michaels, as well as the departure of the original years' remaining performers. With associate producer Jean Doumanian now at the helm, the show lumbered through a chaotic period, which started late due to the 1980 actors' strike. Once Doumanian was fired (along with much of the cast), TV exec Dick Ebersol took over for the April 11, 1981 episode. Shortly after, the 1981 Writers Guild of America strike kicked off, forcing the show into a hiatus during which it saw even more retooling. Before the next season, Ebersol also fired most of the remaining cast, leaving Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo as the only remnants from Doumanian's tenure.

What we lost: During this chaotic period for the show, former writer and performer Al Franken announced that he and comedy partner Tom Davis would host the next episode with musical guest the Grateful Dead. While the Dead would never appear on the show again (they had performed twice previously in the first Golden Age), Franken & Davis returned in a few capacities once Michaels was back in charge, with Franken settling in as a featured cast member until his eventual pivot into politics. Other rumored episodes canceled due to the '81 strike was the April 25 show with original cast member Dan Aykroyd set to host, followed by May 9 with longtime friend of the show Steve Martin, May 16 with Brooke Shields, and May 23 with Five-Timer Club member Buck Henry.

Season 10

In Ebersol's final season as producer, he pushed for more video segments — seeking to effectively downplay the Live part of Saturday Night Live — while hiring a murderers' row of talent, including Billy Crystal and Martin Short. However, only 17 episodes were produced before the 1985 writers' strike and budget issues forced the end of the season.


Everett Collection Eugene Levy and John Candy in 1986's 'Armed and Dangerous'

What we lost: The next casualty was SCTV legends John Candy and Eugene Levy, who had plugged a show with musical guests Hall & Oates that never was. Candy died in 1994 without hosting again after his Oct. 22, 1983 debut, and Levy would not appear on the show until his son Dan Levy hosted 35 years later (Footage from Levy and Candy's hosting promo was used to plug Dan's episode).

Season 13

Following Judge Reinhold's episode on Feb. 27, 1988, the Writers Guild of America went on strike again, abruptly ending the season. The strike continued until August, cutting the season short at 13 episodes, which at the time tied the problem-plagued sixth season as the shortest in the show's history – until 20 years later when season 33 barely reached a dozen episodes (more on that below).

What we lost: This is a crusher. With her cancer in remission at the time, beloved Not Ready for Prime Time Player Gilda Radner was scheduled to return to host SNL in spring 1988, with musical guest U2. This would have marked the first time a female cast member came back to host the show, a milestone that wasn't reached until Julia Louis-Dreyfus hosted on May 13, 2006. Radner died on May 20, 1989 without returning to the show that made her a household name.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, from left: Gilda Radner, as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Jane Curtin
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, from left: Gilda Radner, as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Jane Curtin

Everett Collection Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna with Jane Curtin on 'Weekend Update'

Season 33

On November 5, 2007, after Brian Williams' stint hosting, the Writers Guild of America went on strike. SNL had announced its next episode for Nov. 10 featuring host Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and musical guest Amy Winehouse, with another episode to headline Jonah Hill with musical guest Kid Rock. However, two days later, the show confirmed that those episodes were called off. At 12 episodes, this remains the shortest season in the history of the show. It is also the only season in SNL history not to have a Christmas episode, as the strike ran from November 2007 until February 2008.

During the strike, the full cast (save Maya Rudolph) participated in a non-televised performance of the show called Saturday Night Live - On Strike! hosted by Michael Cera and musical guest Yo La Tengo at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Manhattan.

What we lost: Hill hosted on March 15, 2008 after the strike ended, with musical guest Mariah Carey (who was pinch hitting for a sick Janet Jackson), and Johnson eventually hosted in season 34. But Winehouse would never get the chance to appear due to her death in 2011.

Season 48

There were still three episodes left to go in the season when the 2023 strike commenced. If not resolved in the next few weeks, April 15's episode 18 hosted by Ana de Armas will serve as the de facto season 48 finale.

What we lost: In addition to Davidson's thwarted return, it was confirmed that there were two remaining episodes of the season that were already booked. Succession star Kieran Culkin was scheduled to return to the 8H stage in May after making his hosting debut just last season. English singer-songwriter Labrinth, fresh off his recent Coachella performance alongside Zendaya, was set to be the episode's musical guest. And in what was sure to be a very buzzy episode, White Lotus star Jennifer Coolidge was set to make her hosting debut to close out season 48, robbing us of seeing her alongside Chloe Fineman's spot-on impression of the scene-stealing comedian. The musical guest for the episode was set to Foo Fighters, making their ninth appearance as a band and first since the death of drummer Taylor Hawkins in 2022. With no official season finale, we also mess the chance to formally say goodbye to any potentially departing cast members.

Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.

Related content: