Now that we know Jimmy Fallon is going to take over for Jay Leno, my column in the new print TIME magazine (subscription required) looks at who might replace Fallon. Or rather, what might replace him:
Let’s be blunt: the problem is the desk. Late night is saturated with the guy behind a desk, giving a monologue, doing comedy bits and interviewing actors with movies to plug. That desk feels more and more like an antique.
As I say in the column, there is already a diversity problem in late night, which I wrote about the last time we had a late-night shuffle: “there’s one field the ‘mancession’ has not touched: late-night comedy, still (with exceptions like Chelsea Handler) a preserve of silverbacks. We spent much of this year wondering whether TV could make room for that one white guy who lost his show to that other white guy, in a field in which red hair counts as diversity.”
That looks unlike to change radically, soon. Press reports give Seth Meyers–funny guy, but the most Fallon-like option imaginable–the inside track for Late Night, and this week NBC was reported to be in talks with Alec Baldwin for a very-late-show. (He won’t get Carson Daly’s slot, though; Last Call was just renewed for another season.)
But there’s also a diversity problem when it comes to the show’s formats. It’s no more necessary that late-night be dominated by the monologue-desk-interview format than that it be dominated by white guys.
And as I write in the column, cable talk is proof of both. Besides Stewart and Colbert (who essentially do ironic takes on the desk-of-power setup), there’s the political humor of W. Kamau Bell, the pop-culture chat of Andy Cohen and MTV’s Nikki and Sara, the geek obsessions of Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist and Talking Dead.
You could argue that network late-night shows need to be more generalist, offering something for everyone. But that’s chasing a vanishing model of TV–audiences are more and more drawn to the specific.
I don’t expect NBC to put a full-out cable-style talk show at 12:35, but the time seems perfect to acknowledge the changes in broadcasting and experiment a little. If NBC and Lorne Michaels really want to sign Meyers, for instance, maybe the Weekend Update anchor could do a news-oriented talk show more along the lines of The Daily Show than Late Night. (Though, nothing against him, there are actually comics besides white guys who can do that kind of TV as well.)
After all, 12:35 should be a time slot where the networks feel freer to mix things up than the prime 11:35 slot. Take a chance, NBC! It would be a lot more exciting than merely rearranging the desk chairs.