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'Saturday Night Live' ditches audience, musical performances amid omicron fears

Showing the omicron variant was no joke, Saturday Night Live taped its latest show over the weekend without a live audience, as COVID-19 cases were rising again across the U.S. and experts were warning of another surge of infections.

NBC's live sketch comedy show also had a limited cast and crew for the pared-down broadcast, which featured host Paul Rudd in person.

"I'm extremely disappointed," Rudd said with a smile during the opening monologue. Fellow actors Tom Hanks, Tina Fey and Kenan Thompson were on hand to induct him into the "Five Timers Club" of people who've hosted SNL at least five times.

But the show, as originally planned, did not go on.

The highly transmissible omicron variant has once again upended life in the U.S., as officials warn of a coming spike of infections and people race to get booster shots and coronavirus tests during the winter holiday season.

Although there's still a lot about omicron we don't know, experts say the most dire scenario could produce 500,000 infections per day, overwhelm the healthcare system and lead to a high number of deaths. Rosier projections would still see new infections soar, but hospitalizations and deaths would rise less dramatically.

SNL tweeted that it was following government safety guidelines and a testing protocol, and said it would reach out to people who had won tickets to the show.

The broadcast featured new sketches taped earlier in the week, as well as others from previous episodes.

Also cancelled were the scheduled live performances by musical guest Charli XCX, who tweeted that she was "devastated and heartbroken" to be unable to play.

During the locked-down early months of the pandemic, SNL had its cast members and guests record themselves. But like many TV and film productions, the show had returned to in-person broadcasts before the arrival of the omicron variant.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.