When reports began circulating that Saturday Night Live scene-stealer Kristen Wiig will likely leave the show for Hollywood at the end of the current season, hardly anyone was surprised. Wiig, the thrice-Emmy-nominated mastermind behind the Target Lady, narcissist extraordinaire Penelope, and uncanny impressions of everyone from Paula Deen to Bjork, is coming off a banner year. She scored an Oscar nod for co-writing Bridesmaids, and already has six major films in the pipeline for the next two years, opposite A-listers like Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller. Just last week, she emerged as a frontrunner, along with It Girls Emma Stone and Emily Blunt, for the female lead in the hotly anticipated The Thin Man remake opposite Johnny Depp.
Need more convincing that this is the perfect time for Wiig to leave? New York’s Josh Wolk noticedthat the most successful SNL vets from the last two decades left the show sometime between their sixth and eight seasons, a “sweet spot” window Wiig is in now. Will Ferrell, Mike Myersb and Dana Carvey all left after seven. Amy Poehler and Phil Hartman put in eight. David Spade and Tina Fey departed after six (on-camera) years. Those who stayed beyond that—Darrell Hammond, Tim Meadows—have struggled. So look out, Hollywood, here comes Wiig, right? To quote my favorite SNL creation of hers, the nerve-addled Judy Grimes, “Just kidding!” Though her Hollywood prospects look promising, a survey of history reveals that success is by no means guaranteed.
Wiig is entering essentially uncharted territory. The Oscar nominee is, understandably, avoiding another television gig and shooting for the (movie) stars. On the surface, this doesn’t seem all that unusual: Ferrell, Myers, Carvey, Sandler, after all, have all gone on to hugely lucrative film careers. But they’re all men. With the exception of Tina Fey, no former female SNL cast member successfully made the transition to movie star after exiting Studio 8H. But the grosses for Fey’s two major post-SNL films, Baby Mama and Date Night, were nowhere near the stratospheric hauls of Ferrell’s or Sandler’s or Myers’ flicks. Plus, Fey more typically associated with her TV work on 30 Rock than with her film roles. The same is true for Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Molly Shannon. In fact, a survey of the post-Saturday Night Live resumes of the show’s most talented female alumni reveals that almost all of them struggled to achieve a respectable film career, many struggled to find regular work at all, and those who managed to get steady jobs found them most consistently on television. Wiig’s road to movie stardom is rockier than it may seem.
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