Deja View: Why Seth Meyers Would be the Wrong Choice as ‘Late Night’ Heir

The plot keeps thickening with the NBC late night situation, and it continued today with the buzz  that Lorne Michaels would like to anoint current “Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers as successor to Jimmy Fallon on Late Night, just as Meyers followed Fallon behind the Update desk (albeit, with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in the interregnum). However, we think, in this case, Lorne might be making a poor decision.

With sources reporting that Jimmy Fallon will take over The Tonight Show in 2014 it’s only natural to start speculating who will replace him at 12:35am. And, similarly, it’s only natural to start speculating who Lorne Michaels will nominate for that position, as the show is produced his Broadway Video and it was he who plucked Conan O’Brien out of relative obscurity to launch the program in 1993 and who rescued Fallon from near-irrelevance to grab the reins in 2009. So whomever the next tenant of Studio 6B is will probably be chosen by Michaels and will likely come out of his comedy stable. However, while Meyers fits that bill, a longtime writer and cast member on SNL, he might be the wrong guy at the wrong time. He’s just too much in the Fallon mold, and the show would be wise to move in another direction.

When Late Night with Conan O’Brien premiered, O’Brien was a mostly unknown writer, who brought a bizarre and offbeat sensibility to the program, something very different from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and even from his idol, David Letterman. His almost lack of on-camera experience and presence played against type, and helped establish a goofiness that O’Brien eventually grew into and embraced. Meanwhile, the show excelled at weird bits cooked up by a talented but eccentric writing staff, a talent pool that included Robert Smigel, Louis C.K., Dino Stamatopoulos and Jon Glaser.  Fallon, on the other hand, brought an entirely different set of skills to the show, being an entertainer first and foremost, and an incisive and relaxed interviewer probably last.  Owing to Fallon’s strengths, his Late Night has specialized in silly games, web-friendly musical numbers, incredible impressions and genre-bending video parodies. It’s the most adventurous, innovative show in late night today, and much of that is owed to Fallon’s tremendous on-screen talents, and the whimsical, let’s just have fun nature that he and his writing staff bring to the show.

To then follow Fallon with Meyers, a fellow Weekend Update anchor, seems like cutting too much from the same cloth. What made Conan great is that he brought something different to the table from everyone else, and what has made Fallon great is that he’s brought something different still . With a Meyers helmed Late Night, we’re not sure there would be much of a variation. It may feel like Fallon’s Late Night, just with less giggling and more smirking, less fun parody and more serious satire. Fallon followed by Fallon Light. 

Even more, with reports that Comcast is building a new Tonight Show stage at 30 Rock, it might be a mistake to have Meyers host a show in New York right after Fallon, (assuming a Late Night with Seth Meyers would originate from Studio 6B, which we are). It seems to make more sense, if The Tonight Show is going to come back east, then Late Night should perhaps be shipped out west. If both shows broadcast out of 30 Rock, then they’ll be cannibalizing guests. Or, more likely, most of the SNL talent and local comedy favorites will continue to frequent Fallon, as they have so wonderfully these last four years, leaving the new Late Night starving for appealing, demographic-friendly guests. There are only so many late night NBC shows that Tina Fey can visit. But by moving Late Night to LA, you could exploit the ever-increasing wealth of acting and writing talent out there (as suggested by Andy Greenwald on Grantland). The UCB in LA has been increasing in prominence in recent years, its alums proving to be just as successful as their NYC counterparts. Just look at the cast of Childrens Hospital or Burning Love or The Kroll Show, or the consistently excellent work put out by Funny or Die. Not that we’re proposing anyone from these projects as a host (not that we’re not, either), but certainly there’s an abundance of comic genius out there to be mined and utilized, comics whose sensibilities do not or have not fit with Leno or Craig Ferguson or even Jimmy Kimmel, but certainly do match up with Fallon and most likely whomever becomes his successor.

So Fallon can keep New York and all the immense treasures it has to offer, and the next host of Late Night can finally take advantage of the burgeoning comedy scene in Los Angeles.  And then we’re all winners.

Except for Jay, we guess.

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Filed under Analysis, Local Flavor, Saturday Night Live, Talkies

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