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Shuffling the cast at ‘Saturday Night’

Times Staff Writer

NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” will return for its 32nd season next month minus several familiar faces.

Longtime cast members Chris Parnell, Horatio Sanz and Kenan Thompson will likely exit the late-night comedy staple, according to a source close to the show. Still inconclusive are talks to bring back Darrell Hammond, famed for his impersonations of Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and other celebrities. Hammond joined the cast in 1995 and has had the longest tenure of any performer in the show’s history.

Meanwhile, “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels is expected to hand the reins of the signature fake-news segment “Weekend Update” -- recently co-hosted by writer-performer Tina Fey and Amy Poehler -- to a newer cast member, Jason Sudeikis.

An NBC spokesman declined to comment Tuesday.

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The cast shuffle comes in the wake of some previously announced departures. Fey is leaving along with cast member Rachel Dratch; the pair will work on Fey’s NBC comedy “30 Rock,” a parody of an “SNL"-style show.

“SNL” could be headed for one of its biggest makeovers in years -- and not by choice. During a press conference last month in Pasadena, Michaels told reporters that the late-night fixture is facing massive budget cuts from NBC. Cast members are typically signed to multiyear deals that pay about $8,000 per episode, agents say. Many former cast members, such as Eddie Murphy and Will Ferrell, have gone on to movie stardom.

Fox’s fast break scores, sort of

Fox got a jump on the 2006-07 TV season Monday, with decent if unspectacular ratings for early premieres of the returning action series “Prison Break” and the new (and poorly reviewed) drama “Vanished.”

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Facing competition that consisted mainly of repeats, “Prison Break” won the 8 p.m. hour with an average of 9.3 million total viewers (3.7 rating/12 share among adults ages 18 to 49), according to early data from Nielsen Media Research.

“Vanished” likewise took the 9 p.m. slot, with 8.7 million total viewers. But the new series performed sluggishly among younger viewers, retaining just 81% of the “Prison Break” lead-in.

“We would have liked ‘Vanished’ to be stronger,” Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori said in an interview. But he noted that the network was getting a very early jump on the fall season and many TV viewers had still not shifted their attention to new shows. “For the summer, this was pretty good.”

Channel Island is a blog about the television industry. For the latest posting, go to latimes.com/channelisland. Contact reporter Scott Collins at channelisland@latimes.com.

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