Networking Comedy: SNL through Network Analysis
by Emily Esten07 Dec 2022
One of the key aspects of our definition of an SNL film was that alumni worked on a project together. For me, that’s one of the more interesting aspects of looking at SNL as a franchise. We can certainly talk about the box-office or star power SNL, but few of those successes are necessarily the result of SNL in the long-term. What makes Happy Madison Productions films SNL movies (at least by my line of thought) is not that Adam Sandler is involved, but that numerous SNL alumni - who met because of the show - continue to work together decades after their time in the cast. 30 Rock has SNL DNA not just from Tina Fey’s real-life experiences, but also because of the numerous cameos and casting decisions (not to mention the direct involvement of Lorne Michaels and Broadway Video.)
Looking at the alumni throughout the network, we start to see the importance of a few key alumni - particularly those of the early 2000s - play an important role in how we define “definitive SNL”.
Basic Network Analysis
Using Melanie Walsh’s Introduction to Cultural Analytics and Python1, I created some quick networks visualizations to make sense of collaborations amongst SNL alumni. (These networks removes Saturday Night Live from the dataset, as that would connect everyone in the network.)
In a network of potential SNL media (sans SNL itself), we see a high concentration of alumni in the center. Even zooming in, it’s hard to distinguish individuals within the network - they all start to overlap. Those on the outskirts of this network - Nate Herman, Vanessa Middleton, Melanie Graham, James Eagan, Erik Marino, Allison Gates, Sarah Sherman, Molly Kearney, Aristotle Athari - are too new to the show to have developed significant projects outside it.
In a network of definitive SNL media (sans SNL), the concentration changes only slightly. We still a strong concentration and overlap of individuals at the center, though alums start to appear on the outside of the network.