The run-up to Kerry Washington’s Nov. 2 appearance on Saturday Night Live was buzz-worthy for a reason that had little to do with the actress’ potential as a host: just days before it was announced that Washington would anchor the episode, with musical guest Eminem, SNL cast member Kenan Thompson reignited a long-running debate over the lack of diversity on the show. In discussing his decision to no longer play female characters in sketches — a decision that, coupled with his colleague Jay Pharaoh’s similar feelings, meant that there would be no black female characters in any SNL gags — Thompson said that there weren’t black female comedians auditioning for the show who were “ready” for the gig; predictably, the many funny African-American women in the business (and their fans) were not happy about that.
To some, the announcement about Washington’s forthcoming appearance on the show smacked of an attempt to put out the fire. Then, during the show’s first sketch this weekend, the show addressed the controversy by having Washington play Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Beyoncé (with costume changes!) in the span of three minutes.
But whether or not Washington’s Saturday appearance satisfied any of the show’s critics, it did accomplish one thing: the network has announced that the episode hit a ratings high for the season among metered-market viewing households, with the most viewers tuning in since Justin Timberlake’s appearance on the show in March. (In markets with Local People Meters — a newer TV-tracking device used in the 25 top markets — Miley Cyrus’ October appearance drew slightly more eyeballs.)
Given the success of Cyrus’ and Washington’s episode, the show has proved something Washington already knows: a little scandal can pay off.