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New excerpt from Maureen Ryan’s Burn It Down focuses on racism, sexism, and misconduct at SNL

SNL has been an infamously hard place to work for a long time, and the book puts the blame for that squarely on the obvious guy

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Lorne Michaels
Lorne Michaels
Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for PEN America

Last week, Vanity Fair shared a harrowing excerpt from longtime television journalist Maureen Ryan’s new book Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, And A Call For Change In Hollywood about the toxic culture behind the scenes (and in the scenes, really) of Lost. As disappointing as so much of that information might’ve been for fans, it was also just one chapter in a larger book full of stories like that from the entertainment industry, and now The Hollywood Reporter has shared another one—this time with an excerpt focusing on Saturday Night Live.

The SNL except is framed around the sexual misconduct allegations that were made against Horatio Sanz a few years ago, wherein an unidentified woman claimed that she met Sanz and Jimmy Fallon when she was 15 through an SNL fan site she made, which she had said led to years of grooming by Sanz and ultimately an attempted rape, with other SNL cast members also being accused of witnessing what happened, knowing she was underage while Sanz and others gave her alcohol, or both. Sanz’s attorneys denied the allegations, and the suit was settled last year.


But Ryan’s report shifts the spotlight to a person who she argues deserves more blame than he gets for the “awful work environment” that SNL has become (and maybe always was): Creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels. Ryan notes that “for decades, SNL has been a frequently terrible, punishing experience for a lot of people who worked there or ended up in the show’s orbit,” adding that “what is wrong is systemically and institutionally wrong, and Michaels runs the institutions.”

She notes that he’s the one with the power to make real changes at SNL to address “the hours, the pressure, the lack of inclusion, [and] the punishing, manipulative atmosphere,” but nothing has managed to “prevent the worst excesses of all that from negatively affecting many people, for many years.”


There are too many specific stories in the excerpt to really go through any of them, but there are quotes from tons and tons of people involved in the show over the years about how the working conditions were terrible, how Michaels will bully people into submitting to his authority, how there’s been a shocking lack of representation for people of color (especially women of color) and members of the LGBTQ+ community both in front of the camera and among the writers, and how even seemingly well-established white people like Colin Jost will have panic attacks worrying about whether or not they’ll be able to sufficiently impress Michaels—who, even 50 years in on the show, still makes pretty much every decision.

Unlike Lost, SNL being a terrible place to work has been an open secret in the entertainment industry pretty much forever, but whether you were aware of that or not, the except from Ryan’s book—if only for the expanse of it—is still worth checking out.