Tuned In

Your New, Very Slightly Different Host of Late Night, Seth Meyers

The Late Night show was once a place for experimentation. Now it seems to be becoming another rung on an established entertainment-corporate ladder.

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Dana Edelson / NBC

Surprising approximately no one, NBC announced today—the day before their upfronts schedule presentation to advertisers—that Seth Meyers will take over for Jimmy Fallon as host of Late Night in 2014. It’s been so expected for such a long time that I wrote a column about it a month ago, and my sentiments are, like NBC’s 12:35 programming choices, essentially unchanged:

[NBC has decided that] Fallon is the guy to lead Tonight into the future–that is, into the time when people don’t so much watch Tonight tonight. So it’s puzzling that for Fallon’s replacement at 12:35, NBC may go the most predictable route. Reports give the inside track to Seth Meyers, who like Fallon hosted Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update and whose Late Night, along with Fallon’s Tonight, would be produced by SNL’s Lorne Michaels.

Really? Really?

Nothing against Meyers, who very likely could be excellent in the job. I like him on SNL. He’s funny, smart, good with topical comedy. He’s as well qualified to host Late Night as Fallon was when he took over. But there’s the thing: he’s practically exactly where and what Fallon was when he took over. Leaving aside the whole dominance of late night by white men, it’s unfortunate that NBC is taking a format already saturated with guys behind desks and making as little change to it as possible—at least as far as personnel are concerned.

In fact, sadly, the fact that Meyers’ appointment promises little change is itself a change for the 12:35 time slot. When David Letterman began entertaining night owls after Johnny Carson, it was a change of tone and style, a shift in what late-night was, from calming, genial humor to surreal, unbalancing comic experimentation. When NBC handed the show off to Conan O’Brien, that too was an experiment, taking a chance on a young Simpsons writer with almost no experience as a public performer.

Now it’s been hosted by one guy who made his bones on the Weekend Update desk, and it will be taken over by another guy who made his bones on the Weekend Update desk. The show Late Night is an institution now. It seems to be becoming another rung on the entertainment-corporate ladder, SNL to 12:35 weekdays to The Big Chair to retirement.

Meyers could still shake things up by doing something truly different with the format—I’d love, for instance, if they drew on his skill for smart topical comedy by making the show more news-based. I just don’t see the evidence that NBC is interested in that. The time after midnight used to be an anarchic spot within network TV for experimentation. Now, after midnight, it’s just another day.