Kate stays, Leslie goes.
In a surprise double move, Kate McKinnon will remain on "Saturday Night Live" next season, while Leslie Jones will leave, according to multiple reports on Tuesday. Per Variety, Jones "opted" to leave — the word "opt" obviously a clear indication that showrunner Lorne Michaels himself hadn't "opted" for her departure. A TMZ post corroborated, saying Jones was leaving for other projects, including the "Coming 2 America" sequel in which she'll co-star with Eddie Murphy.
Sea Cliff native McKinnon, meanwhile, had been considered a tossup to leave until now. After seven seasons, she had reached MVP status, but had also begun to establish a significant presence outside the show, most recently in the hit theatrical release "Yesterday." She'll also star as disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes in the Hulu miniseries "The Dropout." Extracurricular stardom at "SNL" doesn't always determine a cast-member's future on the show, but it's certainly been a good indicator in many instances, particularly when the cast member in question has been on seven seasons, a standard contract length in television.
Both Jones and McKinnon are major players on the show. McKinnon, of course, was Hillary Clinton — indeed, "SNL's" de facto Clinton — and more recently a parade of Trump administration officials. Jones too plays a succession of characters — Relationship Expert, Michelle Obama, Omarosa Manigault. Mostly she just plays herself — a screen-grabber who slays whatever sketch she's in.
But over five seasons, she also developed a growing presence outside "SNL." Besides "Coming 2 America," she'll co-star with Chris Rock in "I Am Maurice" (about a Haitian immigrant who comes to America as a boxer). She'll also co-star with Kristen Bell in the movie "Queenpins," about a pair of Phoenix housewives behind a counterfeit coupon scam.
The return of McKinnon meanwhile means "SNL" sidesteps the question it clearly wasn't prepared to answer: What would it do without her? Other than Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump, she's the most important political doppelgänger on the show by a wide margin. With an approaching election, her stature will only grow.
A spokeswoman for "SNL" declined to comment on the reports.
"Saturday Night Live" returns for its 45th season on Sept. 25.