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A Complete Ranking of Saturday Night Live ‘Weekend Update’ Anchors

Photo: Maya Robinson and Photos by NBC

“Weekend Update,” which debuted with Saturday Night Live’s very first episode back in 1975, has taken a few detours over the show’s 39 seasons but has mostly stuck with the same basic format: one or two anchors recounting the top stories of the week broken up by commentary from various special guest characters armed with catchphrases. With the 2013-14 season now behind us, Vulture decided to analyze the 17 anchor iterations to sit behind the “Weekend Update” desk over the years and rank them from worst to best. Click through to see where your favorite anchors landed in our list, and guess what, folks … That’s the slideshow and we are outta here!

Oh, wait — a quick note on methodology before we begin: We counted only those anchors and anchor teams with ten or more “Weekend Update” segments under their belts. Sorry, fans of Gail Matthius (who sat in with Charles Rocket twice in 1981), various one-off guest anchors during the 1983-84 season, a few other desk configurations, and, of course, the current anchors Colin Jost and Cecily Strong, who have almost made it into the “Weekend Update” canon, with eight segments and counting. Maybe next year!

Following his legendary performance as Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap, Guest joined SNL along with Harry Shearer, Billy Crystal, and Martin Short for Ebersol’s final season. Many of the hosts led the “Saturday Night News” segments, with Guest anchoring intermittently before riding out the season as the forgettable regular. Too deadpan and detached to benefit the desk, Guest’s talents were far better utilized making legendary pre-shot bits like the men’s synchronized swimming sketch. NBC ended the tenth season early and threatened to cancel the show unless Michaels returned. He did, jettisoned Guest and nearly everyone else involved at that point, and reinstating “Weekend Update” as the news portion of the show with new cast member Dennis Miller as anchor. Photo: NBC
Quinn had the unenviable task of replacing his friend Norm Macdonald on the show’s first episode of 1998 after Macdonald had been removed from the news desk. As an icebreaker, Quinn started his first segment with a routine about going to your favorite pub, only to find that the regular bartender, Jeff, was gone, and you had to deal with the new idiot bartender, Steve, who was trained by Jeff and was sad to see him to go. “Well, I’m Steve. What can I get you?” he said at the end. While Quinn did have the luck of anchoring during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and his blunt, blue-collar tone had its charm, overall his tenure is stained by his uneven delivery, which frequently derailed decent jokes. Photo: NBC
Prior to season six, Lorne Michaels and the remaining original cast members left the show; Jean Doumanian took over and hired an entire new roster of actors, including Rocket, who had previously worked as a real news anchor. Billed as a cross between Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, Rocket was serviceable enough as “Weekend Update” anchor, especially in his man-on-the-street bits, but he never hit his groove, and was fired shortly after he accidentally said “fuck” on the air as the cast said goodnight. After SNL, he went on to have some success in TV (as Bruce Willis’ brother on Moonlighting) and movies (playing the villain in Dumb and Dumber), but committed suicide in 2005, slitting his own throat in a field outside his Connecticut home at the age of 56. Photo: NBC
Following the impressive run of Dennis Miller, Nealon seemed to be playing one of his excellent dry-goof characters, not the straight-shooting newsman style of his predecessor. That affectation aided him when sitting next to Adam Sandler’s weirdo characters and other guest commentators, but it grated during the news-reading portions, and he never got beyond his infuriating tendency to mangle jokes by misreading the teleprompter. Photo: NBC
In one of the biggest cast upheavals in years, SNL lost Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, and Jason Sudeikis in one fell swoop at the end of the 2013 season, and also announced that Seth Meyers would be leaving the following year to take over as the host of Late Night. After much speculation, Cecily Strong, having just finished her first season as a featured player, was brought on as the co-anchor spot next to Meyers. Knowing he was on his way out, Meyers made a visible effort to help Strong along, but they never developed the chemistry enjoyed by the three pairings preceeding them (Fallon/Fey, Fey/Poehler, and Poehler/Meyers).
With Dick Ebersol taking the reins as the SNL producer, “Weekend Update” became “SNL NewsBreak,” with Brian Doyle-Murray taking over the seat previously held by his little brother, Bill. It was Doyle-Murray’s third job on the show, after being a featured player in the ‘79-’80 season and a writer in ‘80-’81. His stint – during which he was occasionally joined by Mary Gross and Christine Ebersole as co-anchor – was largely unremarkable. One of his better bits was the media-spoofing “How do you spell Kadaffi?” (“My personal favorite is from the comic book publishers, Kadaffy Duck.”), but it was his 1982 announcement of John Belushi’s death that remains an important part of the show’s history. Doyle-Murray recalled the time when Belushi saved his life by pushing him out of the way of a truck, only to get hit himself, bounce up into the air, and somehow not have any injuries. “Speaking for the current cast, the band, the staff backstage, and the crew here in the studio, hundreds of people who knew and worked with John, we mourn his death and we miss him very much,” he said, followed by a moment of silence. Photo: NBC
Following the brief tenure of Brian Doyle-Murray, Hall’s stint as anchor found him leaning towards Dick Ebersol’s less-nuanced, younger-demographic-pandering humor. As odd as it is to think today, SNL barely covered the 1984 election in any meaningful way, and with only seven other cast members, recurring guest commentators weren’t a saving grace. During his second season behind the desk, Hall was removed and an interregnum found each week’s guest host filling in for the fake news. Hall left the show following the 1983-84 season, and in 1987 married his SNL co-star Julie-Louis Dreyfus, whom he met when they were undergrads at Northwestern. They’re still together and have two sons. Photo: NBC
Rather than fill Amy Poehler’s shoes when she left for Parks and Recreation, SNL returned to the solo anchor format with Meyers, relying on the cast and guest stars to spice up the segment. The best moments of Meyers’ tenure were in his interplay with characters like Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy, Drunk Uncle, the Devil, Garth and Kat, Jebidiah Atkinson, and, of course, Stefon. On his own, Meyers was by-the-books, adept at delivering jokes, whether politically pointed or some sort of sexual pun, but it always felt a little too safe. Meyers and Bill Hader broke the traditional “Weekend Update” format for Hader’s last episode, with a cinematic skit featuring Meyers interrupting Stefon’s wedding to Anderson Cooper, proposing, and then marrying Stefon back in studio 8H. But we have to give it up for Meyers for his sheer staying power: At 154 episodes, he is by far the longest-tenured “Update” host (Tina Fey comes in a distant second, with 117). Photo: NBC
When Chase missed several episodes due to an injury, Curtin stepped in to become the second “Weekend Update” anchor, and she took over the role full-time once he left after the October 30, 1976 show. Her strong showing is even more impressive given the fact that she replaced Chase, the show’s first emerging star, in the misogynistic early years of the show. In a 2011 interview with Oprah along side Fey, Chase, and other former cast members, she said that John Belushi was particularly difficult to deal with, often refusing to put effort into skits written by women. In retrospect, it looks as if that antagonism galvanized her for this prominent position. Photo: NBC/Getty
Poehler and Meyers’ teaming had two great things going for it: The recurring “Really!?! With Seth and Amy” and the zaniness of the 2008 election, mostly thanks to the gift of Sarah Palin. The best moment of their tenure came when Palin herself showed up and Poehler, who was about to leave the show to give birth to her first child, performed a gangsta rap parody about the then-hopeful Vice President. Palin gamely danced along as Poehler shouted out lines like “In Wasilla we just chill baby chilla / but when I see oil let’s drill baby drill” and fired imaginary gunshots at a “mother-humpin moose.” Meyers recently called it his favorite moment during his time at SNL. Photo: Dana Edelson/NBC
After Dan Aykroyd was “promoted” to be the “Weekend Update” Station Manager, Murray took over as Curtin’s co-anchor. His strong personality and comedic presence didn’t always mesh well with Curtin’s business-like dedication — but it was still Jane Curtin and Bill Murray yukking it up for ten or so minutes every week. Aykroyd and Curtin continuted doing their Point/Counterpoint segments, which grew even stronger, and this era also brought Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna into play, a highlight of Weekend Update bits of that era, and every era, for that matter. Photo: NBC
On top of usually getting to say “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” at the beginning of every episode during the first season, Chase was also given the honor of hosting “Weekend Update” beginning in the inaugural episode. The anchor gig, which he almost always began with the catchphrase “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not,” helped make him SNL’s first big star, and his sign-off, “That’s the news. Goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow,” was used by his successor, Jane Curtin and, later, Tina Fey. Despite being generally considered to be one of the most unpopular cast members in the show’s history, Chase set the mold for “Weekend Update” anchors by establishing the sarcastic, sometimes bizarre tone of the segment, so he will always deserve his legendary status. Photo: NBC
Following 15 years of solo male anchors with stand-up bents, Fey and Fallon stirred things up with their improv backgrounds, playing up her refined political savvy with his goofball song parodies and knack for impressions. While Fallon had that annoying predilection of laughing too much at their own material, the pairing reinvigorated “Update” after the Colin Quinn era by mixing hard news and an offbeat silliness, which Fey would later show off on 30 Rock and Fallon attempts every weeknight on The Tonight Show. Photo: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC
Curtin and Aykroyd were the first co-anchors in SNL history, introducing the kind of repartee that has often saved “Weekend Update” segments from getting dull. Curtin’s unflappable ability to play the straight role was best exemplified by the duo’s running Point/Counterpoint segment, which featured insult-fueled debates on the times’ biggest news stories. Aykroyd’s “Jane, you ignorant slut,” remains one of SNL’s greatest catchphrases. Photo: NBC
By far the most bitingly sarcastic “Weekend Update” host ever, Norm is responsible for most of SNL’s most controversial, non-Sinead moments. He incessantly ripped on O.J. Simpson, a friend of NBC exec Don Ohlmeyer, during the former NFL star’s murder trial. After Simpson’s acquittal, Macdonald opened “Weekend Update” with the line, “Well, it’s official: murder is legal in the state of California.” His other controversial jokes included calling Michael Jackson a homosexual pedophile and, in a quip that only made it to dress rehearsal, showing the infamous photo of a Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack with the line, “Woody Allen is dating again.” Still, Norm’s aggressively irreverent attitude and random whimsy — in particular, the “note to self” pauses, and recurring pop-culture targeting (e.g. “Germans love David Hasselhoff,” “You guessed it, Frank Stallone”) — made him a hit, and this was on top of the killer Bob Dole, Larry King, and Burt Reynolds impressions he did in other sketches. Sadly, Norm was fired as anchor in the middle of the ‘97-98 season at the insistence of Ohlmeyer, who said he wasn’t funny. Michaels, who opposed the demotion, later said that it was due to the fact that Macdonald wasn’t always prepared or open to direction, and all three agreed that it didn’t have anything to do with the O.J. jokes. Norm last appeared on “Update” on December 13, 1997, five days before the death of Chris Farley, and returned as a host in 1999, saying, “The bad news is: I’m still not funny. The good news is: The show blows!” Photo: NBC
Following Jimmy Fallon’s departure from SNL to pursue a film career, Tina Fey tapped longtime friend Amy Poehler to join her on “Update,” making them the first and only all-female team in the show’s history. Their chemistry was palpable, with the duo thriving when it came to discussing women’s issues in politics and the media, like their mentoring bit with Lindsey Lohan. Whereas Fallon had played the goofball to Fey’s more intelligent partner, Poehler added a sprightly, mischievous presence, and together they proved themselves to be the most formidable duo in nearly 40 years of “Update.” When Fey left for 30 Rock, the show not only lost a major piece driving its 2000s resurgence but also left viewers wanting more Poehler/Fey. Occasionally we’ve gotten it, through cameo SNL reunions, movie team-ups, and their dominating Golden Globes hosting gigs, but none of that trumps weekly Poehler/Fey. Photo: Dana Edelson/NBC
When Lorne Michaels returned to SNL in 1985 after a five-year absence, he brought in a new cast and reinstated “Weekend Update” as the name of the show’s news segment. He originally wanted Jon Lovitz to be its anchor, but the actor was too busy with sketch work, so he gave the job to Dennis Miller instead. It was a good decision. The show was entering some of its best years, thanks to Lovitz, Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks, and Mike Myers, but Miller centered SNL every week through his satirical and passionate riffs on topics that favored cutting proclamations over one-liners. He also had a uniquely wry way of addressing the audience and guests, yet never lost his playful knack for laughing giddily when a guest commentator did something silly. His hairdo, idiosyncratic side-to-side head shaking, and distinctive wisenheimer manner of speaking made him fodder for a recurring impression by castmate Dana Carvey (and, once, Tom Hanks), and he laughed at those every time, too. His post-SNL foray into the choppy waters of political commentary and Monday Night Football color work often overshadow the brilliant work he put in on “Weekend Update,” and that’s a shame considering that the show has yet to find another anchor as versatile or essential as Miller proved to be. Photo: NBC
SNL ‘Weekend Update’ Anchors, Ranked