Tag Archives: David Letterman

An Earlier ‘Late Night’

Q: When is a sitdown a standup? 

A: When Seth Meyers premieres as host of Late Night and takes his act out from behind the “Weekend Update” desk and moves it to center stage. 

Seth Meyers Late NightIt was a much less of an auspicious debut for Late Night with Seth Meyers than Jimmy Fallon’s maiden Tonight Show voyage, even with a visit from Vice President “Crazy” Joe Biden (indeed, maybe the most notable part of the evening came from Amy Poehler, who utilized the opportunity to announce a second season renewal for Comedy Central’s Broad City). However, that it was a low-key evening was not a surprise, it was probably by design. In fact, whereas Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night distinguished itself for being the late night show for millennials, the first one crafted with YouTube and Twitter in mind, this iteration of Late Night might stand out for being something quite the opposite. And if it’s balance that Lorne Michaels’ late night lineup is after, then Meyers’ hour might bring it.

It’s foolhardy to judge the long-term success of a program based off of one show, or the first week of shows, or even the first moth, maybe even the first year. Conan O’Brien famously took some time to adjust, and Meyer’s predecessor Fallon slowly settled into his groove, and even after his promotion he still struggles mightily as an interviewer. So it was both no surprise and no cause for alarm that Meyers’ first outing left much room for improvement. His monologue, something that likewise remains a weak spot in Fallon’s arsenal, felt awkward, unnatural, and Meyers seemed uncomfortable finding his mark on the studio floor instead of behind a newsdesk. Indeed, leading up the premiere, we wondered if Meyers should dispense with the traditional stand-up monologue all together and just do it all from the desk, Daily Show style. However, after seeing what we feel is a beautiful, vibrant studio with distinctive sliding doors in place of curtains, we’re rethinking that sentiment; the setting is right, it’s just the style, subject and delivery that needs some work. More topical, pop-culture and current event setups, less obscure, strange-but-true stories. Similarly, his first desk piece, “Venn Diagrams,” had promise, but quickly lost momentum, and had little to separate itself from a Buzzfeed slideshow. We applaud the concept, but it needs more. Or less, like some cheap, low-concept Late Show segments. But, unfortunately, it was caught between a throwaway sight gag and entertaining, clever wordplay. What it maybe missed most was more of Meyers himself.

Which is where the show might need to go to find its sweet-spot. Meyers’ strength, as opposed to Fallon, is interviewing, is engaging with his guests in a way that’s neither fanboy nor sycophant. It was for precisely that skill that he was considered as a replacement for Regis Philbin on Live!, and it’s that ability he needs to exploit, even if, in the current talk show landscape, traditional interviewing is something that seems to be reserved for Charlie Rose. Perhaps, then, it is not any of Meyers’ Late Night forebears that he should strive to emulate, but Tom Snyder, whose Tomorrow Show was the precursor to Late Night with David Letterman. While we’re far from suggesting that Meyers dispense with the live audience, only interview one guest per show and take up smoking, emphasizing a more straightforward format – interesting, revealing interviews that allow for both Meyers’ and his guest’s personalities to shine through – might make the most sense, might allow Late Night with Seth Meyers to find its own voice. In fact, the new Late Night set itself – a sparse, almost teacher-like desk, and 70s style chairs instead of a plush couch – evokes the feeling of The Dick Cavett Show, another early talker that stressed insightful interviews over bits and punchlines. If Jimmy Fallon is the cutting-edge, high-energy, internet-savvy model at 11:30pm, then Meyers can be the more relaxed, subtler throwback at 12:30pm. He might need to go back, if he wants to stay late.

And, if Meyers focuses on those things, then he can leave the fun stuff to Fred Armisen.

 

 

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Tonight is Just a State of Mind – On the First Week of Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show’

It was just over four years ago that much digital ink was spilled on this blog over the Game of Thrones-like* maneuvering in the kingdom of late night. We talked about the principled, heroic path that Conan O’Brien chose, or, arguably, forged. We also suggested that, perhaps, Jay Leno wasn’t the malevolent Machiavelli we all assumed him to be. We also stressed that David Letterman, his house untouched, remained the King of Late Night, the walls of his castle fortified and impenetrable, and he was likely watching, with glee, as his competitors warred around him.** Like with many blogs and media outlets at the time, the post-11:30pm drama dominated the conversation on this site. And now, nearly half a decade later, Leno has been dethroned*** once again, but this is first we’ve written about it. Why? Because this time Leno was replaced in a bloodless coup, a gracious transfer of power, with the young, affable Jimmy Fallon ascending to The Tonight Show desk in grand, but still humble and respectful fashion. 

In fact, four episodes into Fallon’s Tonight Show and the only real notable shift from Late Night is that the former program has returned to New York, where it began so many years ago. And that geographical stasis might explain why Fallon’s Tonight does not stray very far at all from his Late Night, save for a new, gorgeous coliseum-like theater, more space for the thirty-four members of The Roots and an opening sequence directed by Spike Lee (whatever that entails). Nearly through his first week as the guy, Fallon has already trotted out Late Night favorites like “The Evolution of_____,” the Ragtime Gals barbershop quartet, the #Hashtag sketch, and charades (a segment that, no doubt, inspired NBC to develop my parent’s new favorite show, Celebrity Game Night). What is actually most interesting and telling to us, even if it is a fluke of the schedule, a footnote due to the Olympic programming, is that Fallon’s Tonight Show actually debuted at midnight, a concept that Conan O’Brien found so sacrilege that it became the keystone of his argument for parting ways with NBC.

But with Fallon, so attuned to the world of DVRs and YouTube, time slots are meaningless, just some listing in TV guide, historical minutiae. His show would not be measured by the number of viewers during a certain hour. It wouldn’t even be measured with +7 ratings or YouTube. It would be measured by laughs, it would be judged by the barometer of fun. What Fallon’s Tonight Show has demonstrated thus far, and supported by his temporarily delayed time slot, is that it’s the “Show” part that matters, not the “Tonight” part. If he can make people laugh, especially an A-list celebrity or legendary music group, or Steve Higgins or his own parents, or you at home or your own parents, then he’s happy. Then he’s doing the show that he wants. Unlike Conan, Fallon cedes the floor to his guests. And, unlike Conan, Fallon is willing to cede his time slot to network partners, just happy to be a part of the team. Which, again, is less of a magnanimous, unselfish gesture and more the necessities of prime-time Olympic programming. Still, it feels fitting that even when nice guy Jimmy Fallon got the call to the big show, he was bumped thirty minute to accommodate replays of Ice Dancing. And, we feel safe in saying, he couldn’t be happier about it. 

*Fascinating that four years ago, when we wrote all those posts, we didn’t know that Game of Thrones was a thing that existed. 
**Get it? It’s a whole Game of Thrones motif. 
***Okay, we’ll stop. 

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Don’t Drink the Water, There’s Blood vs. Water – New ‘Survivor’ Cast Revealed

Survivor Blood vs. Water

Well, folks, with less than month to go until Survivor: Blood vs. Water premieres (assuming that CBS and Time Warner resolve their who-is-more-horrible-and-greedy-and-out-of-touch-and-only-serving-to-destroy-their-own industry-off), the much-anticipated cast list, featuring returning favorites with their loved ones, has been revealed! And we have to say, as opposed to last season’s casting missteps (The Devil’s Brandon Hantz, Shamar, Sandra Bullock), this is a pretty solid roster with only a few complaints. If Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites 2 Legit 2 Quit was successful despite its bevy of either unbearable or barely there players, then we have high hopes for Blood vs. Water: No Matter Who Wins, We Also Win. Let’s dig a little deeper (in bullet form!)

Read on: Who’s back! Who’s missing? (

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A Jumped the Snark Shorty: Dave, Lindsay & Alec

Yesterday we talked about how greatly Dave Letterman is revered, how, despite Leno winning the ratings battle, Letterman has clearly won the Late Night war. Part of his appeal, admittedly,  has been his aloofness, his refusal to play by the rules and pander to either the audience or the guests. His rough edge is what, ironically, has made him endearing for three decades. But there are times, rare but documented, when Dave abandons his cranky side, however briefly  and shows true compassion. It is that sensitive, caring, paternal part of Dave that is the flip side to his default curmudgeon state, the yin to his prickly yang that has made him so beloved and appreciated. And it was precisely that element of Dave that was on display when Lindsay Lohan appeared on The Late Show to, ostensibly, promote her appearances with Charlie Sheen in Scary Movie 5 and on Anger Management. However, with Lindsay due to enter court mandated rehab in May, and with Dave’s history of engaging troubled starlets, including Lohan, Letterman not surprisingly steered the conversation towards off-camera matters, boldly confronting Lohan about her personal problems. It was awkward and sad and kind of hard to watch, and certainly not something you’d see from Jay Leno, but it was also classic Dave. And, despite Lohan’s obvious discomfort you can see that she appreciates Dave’s concern, and, conversely, it is plain that Dave’s concern is genuine.

[full interview here]

You can argue that Dave was wrong to drudge up her personal life – clearly Lohan is not in the right state of mind to address these things on-camera – but despite whatever sensationalist motive Dave might have had, you can’t argue that Dave does not care about Lohan. He’s a lot of things, but disingenuous it not one.

In other late night news, reports are indicating that Alec Baldwin is interested in hosting a late night talk show, potentially taking over the 1:35am slot currently (still, somewhat shockingly) occupied by Last Call with Carson Daly,* and that NBC is likewise interested in continuing their relationship with Baldwin. This show would most likely take on the form of an intimate one-on-one interview, something like a television version of Baldwin’s WNYC podcast Here’s the Thing. It would also be akin to Tom Snyder’s Late Late Show, which we discussed in yesterday’s post. As opposed to the possibility of Seth Meyers taking over for Jimmy Fallon on Late Night,  which we explained might be an ill-advised choice, we think this makes more sense. Baldwin is already in the Lorne Michaels/Broadway Video family, having just finished his career redefining stint on the Michael’s produced 30 Rock and having become the definitive SNL host (non-Justin Timberlake category). He’s arguably as popular as ever, and, as his podcast interview with Billy Joel showed, he can be simultaneously intelligent and well-read while still just feeling like a regular guy from Long Island. It’s that easy-going charisma that would make Baldwin a successful interviewer, and it’s not absurd to think that people would enjoy tuning in to see him chat with other actors, writers, musicians for an hour. In fact, it has so much promise, and is so different from what Jimmy Fallon does, it might actually make for a better companion directly after The Tonight Show, whether under the banner of Late Night or as something entirely new. With Fallon’s show being so frantic, so silly, so irreverent, it might be nice to pair it with something more old-fashioned and slower-paced, even if it’s just a Baldwin hosted show one night a week. And Baldwin can do it as long as he wants, until either he or Lorne is ready to for someone or something else. Worst case scenario, it can’t be as bad as The Chevy Chase Show.

*While this post was being written Deadline reported that Last Call with Carson Daly has been renewed for another (13th!) season, so all those words might have been for naught. Still, this might not affect the Baldwin situation, or, perhaps, indicate that he would, in fact, be considered for the Late Night slot.

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What About Dave? The Forgotten Late Night War

David Letterman BeardAbsent, or maybe just ignored, among all the words committed to The Tonight Show plan for succession has been a discussion about what will happen to The Late Show with David Letterman and its lead-out The Late Late Show. Like Jay Leno, Dave has been at this game a long, long time. Unlike Jay, Dave seems to not care about ratings (possibly because he knows he’s likely to lose), does not appear to be that concerned with being well-liked (which has worked to his advantage, and has paradoxically made him more revered) and is not in any imminent danger of being forced out by the network brass, basically been given carte blanche by CBS to stay as long as he wants and, essentially, to do what he wants. When one jump-starts a late night franchise from scratch, we guess he’s granted some amount of immunity. But, unlike Jay, Dave doesn’t have a younger, hipper, potential replacement nipping at his heels, which makes the future of The Late Show even murkier.

While Craig Ferguson has built up a small but very loyal, impassioned following, and has received rave reviews for years from critics, we don’t have the sense that he’s long for his job, or at least eying the 11:35pm slot. In that small studio (we’ve been there) in CBS Television City, without a house band or announcer, Ferguson can deliver long, meandering monologues (verging on soliloquies) straight to camera, as if the audience and the viewing public wasn’t there, and engage in extended, intimate irreverent conversations with a diverse pool of guests. The Late Late Show interviews occupy that space between the celebrity shilling meant for the masses that one can observe on most late night talk shows and the quiet, introspective, one-on-one interviews conducted without a studio audience on past programs like Tom Synder’s Late Late Show. Sometimes it feels like The Late Late Show is performed for the studio audience, and then broadcast to millions of homes as an afterthought. Which isn’t to say that Ferguson couldn’t do a more traditional, more accessible late night show if he were bumped up to the main slot, we’re just not sure he wants to. Signed through 2014, when Letterman’s current contract runs through, it feels in some ways like he’s only there as long as Dave is, his relaxed, low-key, mischievous Scottish wit a complement Dave’s acerbic bitterness. 

But if not Ferguson, then who?

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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.

More: History should repeat itself, but not exactly…

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Watch the Throne: NBC & the Future of ‘The Tonight Show’

Jimmy Fallon Thank You NotesHere we are again, NBC looking ahead to replace Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show with a hipper, younger host, and a hipper, younger brand. This time, in place of the loose-limbed bean pole with the shock of untamable red locks as successor, we have the shaggy-haired giggle monster and impression impresario as Tonight Show usurper. So what makes NBC think that Jimmy Fallon is the right man for the job – only three years after Conan abdicated – and, perhaps more importantly, why now?

We actually take a somewhat different view from many television critics and media pundits, who believe this is history repeating itself, with the buffoons at NBC either incapable or unwilling to learn from their mistakes. Yes, if you look at the raw data, this move perhaps makes even less sense than the promotion of Conan to the Tonight Show desk in the summer of 2009. Leno, after returning to the late night centerpiece in February 2010, has held his own, even gaining viewers while NBC’s ratings have plummeted. Fallon, only four years and nineteen days removed from his maiden voyage on Late Night, is perhaps not quite ready yet to ascend, whether that be because he needs to further polish and refine his skills, or because he has not yet established enough of a viewership to command a promotion to Johnny Carson’s old spot. Is Jimmy Fallon, who just a decade ago was the  goofball on SNL who couldn’t keep a straight face, ready to tuck in the nation’s older viewers and Slow Jam the News them to bed? And what’s to stop Jay Leno from jumping ship to another network and sticking it to NBC, a possibility  was such a concern four years ago that the Peacock gave Jay a 10pm show, an unequivocal unmitigated disaster.

As Bill Carter reports,* this seems to be all but a done deal, with relations between Jay and the network sinking to an all-time low, bitter invective being spewed on each side. Leno, we can assume, is offended by the lack of respect and credit; after all, he’s still winning his slot while the network crumbles, he’s been a good soldier and has gotten nothing but grief for it. But here’s what’s important, and what makes this different from the Conan situation: as Wired argues in their latest issue, the Nielsen Family is dead and the traditional television model is obsolete. Installing Fallon as Tonight Show host – as reports say will happen by the end of 2014 – is not as much about challenging the upstart and Fallon contemporary Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, as it is about trying a new model, attempting to break out of the box. Fallon has built up a rabid fan base with silly sketches and fun games and brilliant taped pieces, all of which have appealed to the web’s viral culture. Certainly, a popular YouTube video – even one as popular as Justin Timberlake delivering an cappella version of “SexyBack” – doesn’t goose ratings, and it doesn’t do much to affect the bottom line. However, it is indicative of Fallon’s place at the vanguard of new media, of new viewing habits, and at the changing of the guard. Will Fallon alienate some of Leno’s longtime loyal viewers, sending them to Letterman or Kimmel or maybe just to bed early? Sure. But does it really matter, in this current television climate? We’re not so sure.

Also, it’s important to remember that NBC is a moribund enterprise right now. And while that may initially lead one to think that they should keep the one thing that seems to be working, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, we think the opposite is true. So much is dysfunctional at NBC right now that it might be worth it to blow the whole thing up. When you’re routinely getting smacked around by the likes of Univision and AMC and USA (NBC’s own less glamorous, but often more successful cable cousin), why not cut off your perfectly fine nose to spite your brutally beaten face? In a television landscape where numbers mean less and less, NBC, more than any other of the big four networks needs to get creative and change the paradigm. Putting Jay on at 10pm four years ago was changing the game the other way, backward thinking in trying to keep old viewers while embracing new, trying to maximize value under the old model. Moving Fallon to the big chair is looking the other way, trying to stay head of the curve. Why be a slave to the old design, why cling to some antiquated rule that The Tonight Show needs to be in Los Angeles and why keep struggling against the Leno albatross? In a television world where late night talk shows are increasingly irrelevant, why not take a shot a true irreverence? Really, what does NBC have to lose?

Some light background reading:

Conan: Barbarian or Adventurer?

In Defense of Jay Leno/How He Might Screw This All Up AKA More Thoughts on Late Shift 2: Dave’s Revenge

The One in Which We Compare Conan O’Brien to Barack Obama

*Really, what does Bill Carter report on other than late night talk show behind-the-scenes machinations? Can we get his job if and when he retires? We don’t even mind signing a contract stipulating that we will inherit his position in five years or else be paid a steep pay or play penalty).

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Filed under Analysis, Be careful what you wish for, Count Bleh, Flashback!, Must Flee TV, Other people's stuff, Talkies