'Damning' new book claims SNL has a 'toxic' and 'silencing' culture

Damning new book claims to expose Saturday Night Live’s ‘toxic’ and ‘silencing’ culture – as Jane Doe who accused Horatio Sanz of sexual assault slams cast members for not intervening

  • ‘Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, And A Call For Change In Hollywood’ by Maureen Ryan raises new concerns about Saturday Night Live
  • The book, released June 6, includes an excerpt that sexual misconduct allegations made by a 17-year-old Jane Doe against Horatio Sanz in a 2021
  • ‘None of the people who were at SNL at the time have had one word to say,’ Doe said. ‘Not one person has said, ‘Oh, I remember that — that was wrong.’ 

A damning new book claims to expose the toxic environment at NBC’s Emmy-winning late-night comedy show, Saturday Night Live, under creator Lorne Michaels. 

‘Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, And A Call For Change In Hollywood’ by writer and reporter Maureen Ryan raises new concerns about the show, its culture and leadership, in a brutal behind-the-scenes take. 

Ryan describes SNL as having a decade-long workplace environment where ‘abuse and toxicity are not just permitted but often celebrated.’ 

The explosive book, released on June 6, includes the sexual misconduct allegations made by a 17-year-old Jane Doe against Horatio Sanz in a lawsuit that was settled last fall.

The lawsuit claimed Sanz groomed and sexually assaulted her at multiple SNL after parties and attempted to include Jimmy Fallon, Tracy Morgan and Michaels but both sides agreed to dismiss the case in November  2022.

Ryan interviewed Jane Doe in May 2022 for her book which details an alleged event two decades ago.

‘Burn It Down’ by Maureen Ryan, released June 6, raises new concerns about SNL’s culture and leadership, among other toxic work cultures behind the scenes.

‘Burn it Down’ author Maureen Ryan (May 30, 2023) describes SNL as having a decade-long workplace environment where ‘abuse and toxicity are not just permitted but often celebrated’

The woman was allegedly groped by Sanz ‘in full view of several SNL cast members’ ,according to the book, though Sanz denies the claims. 

‘My control top pantyhose did more to keep me safe than any of those people that I idolized,’ she said in an excerpt published by The Hollywood Reporter on Monday.

Doe revealed in the book how she often attended the show’s after-parties when she was between the ages of 15 and 17 and claimed that not only did the other cast members not intervene on her behalf, but claimed they never raised the issue to higher-ups either.

‘I just know that as an adult now in her thirties, if I saw a colleague fingering or getting a minor drunk, getting a fan drunk, and I saw that clearly unbalanced power dynamic. Sanz was clearly pursuing me, physically pursuing me across years of these parties,’ she said.

‘If I saw my colleague doing that with a teenage fan, I would absolutely intervene or I would go up the chain of command and I would want something to be done. I would want it to be handled. And I don’t think that that happened.

‘And I don’t know if that was because no one said anything at all.’

Doe blamed the show’s culture for fostering an environment that allowed staff to misbehave. 

‘And I don’t know if that’s because, maybe, Saturday Night Live selects employees who happen to be funny and also happen to be the type of people that aren’t going to say anything when bad things happen to people — they’re just going to keep their mouth closed. I don’t know if Lorne just has such a stronghold on everyone,’ she said.

Ryan interviewed a former SNL writer from the 90’s, who goes by ‘Grant’, and said his time working for the show gave him such bad anxiety he had to go to therapy. 

He described joining the team as being thrown into the lion’s den. 

‘Nobody told you how to do the job. You either figured out how to do the job, or you washed out,’ he said.

‘And because of that, the environment could be incredibly unwelcoming, even for a straight white dude. Even for me, it was an incredibly unwelcoming and unkind place to work.’

Grant claimed his coworkers were working against him largely due to the stronghold  Michaels had on them.  

‘It’s completely and utterly Darwinian,’ he said. ‘It has no institutional interest in helping the people who work there be better at the job.;

‘You just get thrown into this pit and you kind of have to fight your way out. I was living in a sort of Mad Max: Fury Road-style sink-or-swim environment that was utterly unconcerned with my wellbeing and my happiness and my sense of safety and just general holistic health,’ he added. 

Horatio Sanz during an SNL after party (2003)  where he is allegedly said to have physically pursued a 15-year-old girl while staff watched and laughed 

A former SNL writer said the environment was stressful due largely to the stronghold Michaels had on them 

Grant said SNL leadership has gone too long free of criticism or punishmen. 

‘Any institution that’s been around as long as it has and has the power that it has — and has had intermittently, but somewhat consistently — for 50 years deserves scrutiny,’ he said. ‘There’s no question.’  

Other former employees emphasized the dog-eat-dog work conditions and the ‘incredibly unwelcoming and unkind’ environment in 30 Rock. 

While Ryan’s new book provided some of the most revealing glimpses into the reality of working at the comedy show, this isn’t the first time SNL received such accusations. It has a long reputation for this toxic work culture.

A former employee reported a similar environment in a 2015 Guardian article. 

‘Most of my time at SNL, I lived in mortal terror that I would screw something up and be fired,’ Steven Thrasher, who worked at SNL as a 25-year-old in 1998 wrote.  

‘The whole process pitted everyone against each other,’ he said. 

A group of former female staffers also spoke anonymously to Business Insider in 2022 and claimed SNL enabled an environment that was ‘routinely uncomfortable, incredibly sexist, and at times unsafe.’ 

The women, who worked at the sketch comedy show in the 1990’s, said the widespread culture went unchecked as there was an implicit understanding there would be nowhere to turn, and thus the staffers were afraid to go to HR. 

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