If TV had an all-time commuter award, Kenan Thompsom might be … well, a solid second place.
The top prize goes to David Frost, who did weekly commutes from London to New York – a jet across the Atlantic, then a helicopter to his office.
But Thompson comes close: He filmed his comedy – “Kenan,” which starts its second season at 8 and 8:30 p.m. Jan. 3 on NBC – in Los Angeles, then flew to New York for each “Saturday Night Live.”
In LA, the emphasis was on COVID safety, he said. “We were to ourselves, in our own little bubble.” But it’s not really a bubble if one guy keeps flying in packed planes; Thompson needed private ones.
“I’ve only taken one or two commercial (flights). I’ve been burning through my savings, so I can go from job to job in a safe manner,” he told the Television Critics Association in a virtual conference.
And he’s not going to let much get in the way of this. “We’ve been building toward something.”
It’s been a slow build. At the “Kennedy Center Honors,” Thompson praised “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels: “He took a kid from the south side of Atlanta and turned him into the longest-running sketch performer on the greatest show on television.”
The “longest-running” part isn’t even close: Thompson, 43, is in his 18th season; the only others in double-figures were Darrell Hammond (14), Seth Meyers (13), and Fred Armisen and Al Franken (11).
But there were a lot of steps before that. At 15, Thompson was filming the “Mighty Ducks” sequel with Emilio Estevez, whom he’s seen (in “Young Guns” and “Breakfast Club”) in movies. “It was just like, ‘Oh wow, I’m standing next to a famous person.’”
Also at 15, he was one of the original stars of “All That,” the Nickelodeon sketch show. At 18, he starred in “Kenan and Kel” with Kel Mitchell, his “All That” colleague; they also made the “Good Burger” movie and, much later, produced an “All That” reboot.
But it’s been on “SNL” that he found fame, playing everyone from the uber-optimistic Willie to baseball’s David Ortiz and a string of gameshow hosts. He’s also tried to launch his own show.
“This is the third (try),” Thompson said. “And in this cycle, it’s been a couple of years before we got the first season on the air.”
In “Kenan,” he plays a show-biz guy (with an Atlanta morning show) with two daughters. That’s sort of like real life, except in real life Thompson has been married for a decade; in the show, he’s widowed.
That gives more room for plots. On Jan. 3, we see the character flounder with the dating scene – something his brother (played by Chris Redd) masters. “We’re diving deeper into characters and relationships” this season, said producer Lisa Muse Bryant.
Playing the father of Kenan’s late wife is Don Johnson. This won’t match his “Miami Vice” duties, but he seems happy to be there.
TV, Johnson said, keeps getting “smarter and better and more inclusive and diverse and spicy, you know? …. I think television is the greatest thing we have in America.”
Or maybe the greatest things are jets that can whisk a guy between bubbles on both coasts.