Late Night with Seth Meyers: The Safe Choice
As my username might suggest, I’m one of the people that still believes the Late Night Comedy genre still has a chance on Television….for now, anyhow.
I believe in the major, underlying message of the medium that Johnny Carson strove for night after night: After the stress of a long day at work, or school, and after the fucking horror-show that is the local, evening news, everyone deserves a little laughter before going to bed.
Eventually, it grew into something more, thanks to a man named David Letterman. There’s no denying that right now, Dave is the leader in the Late Night genre, and has transformed himself into the elder statesman of the 11:30 time-slot. But, once upon a time, Dave turned the stodgy, stuffy medium of Late Night (even back then, people were sick of it) and used it as a platform to create unorthodox, zany and wacky experimental comedy. And people took notice; Late Night with David Letterman garnered 10 consecutive Primetime Emmy nominations, won 5 of those Emmys, and even received a Peabody Award, a feat that had never been accomplished by a Late Night show at the time. The Peabody Committee had this to say:
Once a television wasteland, late night has become a daypart of increased interest to programmers, performers, and viewers. In the past ten years, one show has moved to the position of the leader in late night television in creativity, humor, and innovation. That program is Late Night With David Letterman. […] Together, the Late Night team manages to take one of TV's most conventional and least inventive forms—the talk show—and infuse it with freshness and imagination.
Dave turned the medium upside-down…literally. (In one notable episode, the camera rotated 360 degrees). He jumped into a tank of water wearing a suit of alka-seltzer tablets, donned a suit of Velcro and stuck to a Velcro wall, strapped cameras to the backs of monkeys, and countless other stunts. Along the way, he launched the careers of many writers and comedians, including Chris Elliot, Louis C.K. and Will Forte, and inspired hundreds more.
Before you start thinking that this is a Love Letter to David Letterman, let’s talk about his Late Night successor, Conan O’Brien. After committing the “original sin,” namely picking Leno to host the Tonight Show, NBC was faced with the question: “Who will replace Dave at 12:30?” Late Night was an $10-$20 million a year franchise, with a lock on the extremely coveted college-age male demographic. NBC suggested certain names: Dana Carvey, Gary Shandling. Lorne Michaels, the long-time Executive Producer and creator of SNL, had a different idea: Conan O’Brien, an unknown writer on SNL and The Simpsons. NBC took a chance and, despite mediocre reviews and the constant looming threat of cancellation, Conan soared, capturing the attention of college students. His unique brand of wacky, non-sequitur comedy made him a natural successor of the Late Night mantle. Conan became a household name and a critical darling, garnering numerous Emmy nominations, and actually won one in 2007.
After the debacle that was the 2009 Tonight Show Conflict, Conan got a 7-month stint as host of the Tonight Show, and was axed in favor of Leno, forcing Conan to the “vast wasteland” of Basic Cable. Conan, while funny as ever, seems to be languishing on his eponymous show at TBS. Personally, I believe that he will one day come back and save us all… a man can dream, right?
But what of his Late Night successor, Jimmy Fallon? Jimmy is actually turning the genre on his head in his own way, being the first host of a late night television show to fully embrace the internet and social media. Just look at your Facebook newsfeed. Odds are you’ll find a video of Fallon singing “Ho Hey” with Blake Shelton and Nick Offerman, dressed like chickens. Maybe you’ll find “Slow Jam the News” with President Obama, or “Call Me Maybe” with one-hit-wonder/smokeshow Carly Rae Jepsen, played on classroom instruments by Jimmy and The Roots. Jimmy has pulled off a feat that his predecessors could not; he managed to turn the genre on its ear, once again, offending virtually no one, creating zero controversy, and gaining nearly universal appeal. Also, your girlfriend probably wants to fuck him. Why else would she be watching late night TV?
So, now we come to the inevitable question on everyone’s lips: Why Seth Meyers?
First of all, Conan O’Brien must have the patience of a saint. If I were him, and I saw NBC not only sending Jay Leno to the unemployment line, but also building a secret studio in 30 Rock and moving the entire Tonight Show operation from its long-time headquarters in Burbank, CA, back to NYC, I would probably be on some kind of warpath. He must have something up his sleeve… stay tuned for the Wrath of Conan, folks.
Secondly, I wouldn’t be surprised if, when this was announced, Lorne Michaels started shooting lightning out of his hands, shouting “ULTIMATE POWER!!!” Lorne was always the ultimate king-maker in Late Night, and now he has the triple-crown. SNL, Tonight and Late Night, all under his thumb. He waited patiently, as each late night generation changed hands, slowly shoring up his power, adding to his exhaustive television empire. Well, now he’s got it. He has a proven track-record for literally shitting gold and creating stars in their own right (There's too many to list. Fucking Google it). It makes sense that NBC would want to keep all of their late night franchises under one roof. Don’t be surprised when they announce Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudekis will be hosting the Today Show in 2014.
Thirdly, Seth Meyers has the whole package. He not only has the youth, charisma and, dare I say it, good looks to host a late night show, he has the experience of having been head writer of Saturday Night Live for the past 7 years, a period that can be considered mostly an “up” period for the show. He’s hosted Weekend Update, a trait he shares with his predecessor, Jimmy Fallon. He absolutely killed at the 2011 White House Correspondent’s Dinner. He’s certainly got the right stuff.
BUT, Fallon and Seth are pretty similar, and have pretty similar mannerisms; they tend to stare right into the camera and burst into laughter after they make a joke, and they have similar backgrounds. However, Seth seems to have a very sharp, wry political wit, whereas Fallon has all the edge of a butter knife.
But is that what television needs at 12:30 PM? We’ve already got two of those guys at 11 and 11:30 on Comedy Central. You’re probably not going to steal viewers away from Stewart and Colbert. Even during Weekend Update, Seth always seems to be apologetic towards the targets that he skewers, as if to say “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just saying what everyone else is thinking.” He needs to grow a sack in order to establish himself as a franchise.
On that same token, we’ve never really seen him do anything other than Saturday Night Live, which bears the question: “What the heck is he going to do on his show?” Even he hasn’t said anything on the topic, though rumor has it, he’s going to bring Weekend Update with him. That sounds like a huge fucking mistake, if you ask me. Bringing an extremely well-established bit from one show to another? That definitely screams originality.
I think one of the worst things that they’re doing is keeping all three of these shows under one roof, with similar casts, characters and production staff. I hope that these shows manage to retain a sense of individuality between them; I fear that we run the risk of having two, very similar late night shows at NBC.
Who would be a better fit for 12:30 on NBC, then? Unfortunately, I’m not sure. Seth Meyers seems like the logical choice, honestly, based on his background and credentials. I don’t want NBC to start thinking that the Late Night slot is simply a feeder to the Tonight Show, like it’s part of an assembly line. Late Night was, and still is, a place to create off-beat comedy, not a place for recycled SNL bits. Late Night deserves more respect than that.
Give it to a Tina Fey or an Amy Poehler; maybe both of them. Give it to a Louis C.K., and let him rip the late night genre to shreds. If I had the unlimited coffers of NBC and a magic wand, I would have Dave Chappelle bringing his brilliance back to television. Maybe Conan could be swayed to move back into his old apartment. Give it to a completely unknown comic that nobody's ever heard of. It worked once before, right?
I just feel like in this extremely diverse world of comedy, they could have gone the non-traditional route,
instead of establishing a line of succession for comedians. For a network that fell into 5th place, behind Univision, the safe, well-established choice was probably the best way to go. Slow and steady wins the race, after all, but I wouldn’t expect anything groundbreaking out of Late Night with Seth Meyers.
I’d still give my left testicle to be a writer on the show.