The “Cecily got snubbed” spin on things is also a disservice to Strong herself, though. As Michaels points out in his interview with the Times, it’s not like she’s getting fired, or even pushed aside. Instead, she’s now free to spend less time reading one-liners as Cecily Strong, Weekend Update anchor, and more time in sketches as characters like Mayor Bloomberg’s overzealous sign language interpreter, the SNL version of Rachel Maddow, or even her previous Weekend Update gig, the Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party.
Weekend Update may be a high-profile gig, but giving it to Strong was arguably under-utilizing one of SNL‘s most gifted comic actresses. On his popular blog Pop Culture Brain, Alex Rabinowitz put it more strongly: “Imagine if Will Ferrell or Kristen Wiig did Update. She was being beyond wasted behind the desk.” And Strong wasn’t just restricted to the character of blazer-clad, straitlaced Weekend Update host; she was also handed the difficult task of setting up a rapport with Seth Meyers as he was on his way out, then switching over to Colin Jost. No wonder, as Michaels delicately phrased it, the segment “struggled to find an identity” in Season 39.
Taking Strong off the Weekend Update desk isn’t a demotion; according to Michaels, Strong even asked for more screen time in other sketches. It’s possible that’s just PR spin, of course, but it’s understandable why Strong might want more roles like the ex-porn star spokeslady for “Saboski Crystals” and “Herman’s Handbags,” particularly when someone like Che is available to take her place at Jost’s side. Michael Che on Weekend Update isn’t a zero-sum game. It’s a savvy move for SNL‘s 40th year, and a step up for both Strong and her successor.