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As 'SNL' season ends, signs of a coming shift

Associated Press Modified: May 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm •  Published: May 16, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — How can "Saturday Night Live" possibly replace (fill in the blank)?

How many times have we asked that question across nearly four decades?

"Impossible!" said some in 2006 when Tina Fey, Chris Parnell, Horatio Sanz and Rachel Dratch headed for the door, only to be followed two years later by her friend and "Weekend Update" co-host Amy Poehler.

But in their wake grew one of the most versatile, multi-threat casts in "SNL" history, one that firmly established its own "SNL" era. Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis all became cast members in the 2005-2006 season, joining a group that already included Seth Meyers, Fred Armisen and Kenan Thompson.

At the time, "SNL" creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels pronounced them "the wave of the future" and Fey likened herself to a senior seeing "exciting freshmen" arrive. But as this latest season of the sketch institution comes to a close this Saturday night (with host Mick Jagger, and musical guests Arcade Fire and the Foo Fighters), there's a growing sense that another "SNL" class is nearing graduation.

Wiig, Samberg and Sudeikis have been reported to be leaving, though Michaels has said any decision will wait until the summer. With a presidential election looming, an immediate exodus of all three is unlikely. Sudeikis plays both Republican candidate Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden, and "SNL" has previously taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to election season shows.

Of course, the 2008 election season was a historic one for "SNL," one that saw record ratings for the show as Fey returned — to much fanfare — to play Sarah Palin. This time around, no one is expecting Romney to choose a running mate that looks exactly like Andy Samberg.

A transition period, whether sooner or later, seems on the horizon. Perhaps more than any previous cast, this one has already expanded considerably from the show.

Wiig, of course, starred in and co-wrote the hit "Bridesmaids," but even before that had notable roles in "Friends With Kids," ''Paul," ''Adventureland" and "Knocked Up," among others. She has six films in some form of development, along with plenty of interest in a "Bridesmaids" sequel from her and her writing partner, Annie Mumolo.

Hader, who played Wiig's husband in "Adventureland," co-starred in "Superbad" and has numerous projects lined up, including a bit as Andy Warhol in the upcoming "Men in Black III." Samberg, who made the film "Hot Rod" with his Lonely Island cohorts, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Shaffer, costars with Adam Sandler in the soon to be released "That's My Boy." Sudeikis' films have included "Horrible Bosses," ''A Good Old Fashioned Orgy," ''Going The Distance" and "Hall Pass." He'll also be in Jay Roach's comedy "The Campaign."

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