Seth Meyers' show will put a heavier emphasis on sports and politics, two areas barely touched on broadcast TV's other late shows. (Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images)
It was a familiar scene: Seth Meyers sitting in the anchor chair, his right arm propped up on the news desk, reading jokes off a Teleprompter. But Meyers was far from the confines of “Saturday Night Live,” operating instead from the studio of a Minneapolis TV station.
It was part of a promotional tour for “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” which will fill the slot left by Jimmy Fallon when he takes over “The Tonight Show” on Monday.
As Meyers posed for pictures with giddy employees and glad-handed advertisers, it came across as a more subdued version of the tour Conan O’Brien went on in 2009 in support of his inheritance of “The Tonight Show,” a gig that ended after less than eight months in a public feud between O’Brien and NBC that played out like a Kardashian divorce.
That could never happen again. Right?
“Look, anything can happen again,” said Meyers. “I could absolutely guarantee it would happen again if I said it couldn’t.”
In the world of late-night, patience isn’t just a virtue; it’s a necessity. Even David Letterman and Jay Leno might look back at footage from their first few months and cringe. Meyers has a head start, thanks to a 12-year run on “SNL” and a likability factor that could bust through the roof of a skyscraper. But he’s also well aware that shows like “Late Night” are a work in progress.
“I’m certainly prepared for the fact that these things take time,” he said. “But the thing I also have to prepare for is that, after the first show, everyone will sound off on what they think the show will be. It’s a bit like sportswriters covering baseball. If your team loses 3-2 on the first day, people are like, ‘OK, let’s pack it up. It’s over.’ ”
If there are early footfalls, Meyers has an elite support group at 30 Rock Center in New York to prop him up.
Fellow “SNL” alum Fallon will be just a couple of floors away. Meyers’ executive producer, Michael Shoemaker, helped Fallon launch his show. “SNL” shoots next door. And then there’s the omnipresent force of head honcho Lorne Michaels, who could challenge Johnny Carson for the title of King of Late Night.
“Obviously, he gets older and the cast is constantly refreshed, but he’s maintained the ability to know what people think is funny,” said Meyers, 39, who will continue to do “Weekend Update” for Michaels for a couple more months. “There’s no better way to stay young than to keep working at ‘SNL.’ You’re surrounded by people who are tirelessly working, burning the candle at both ends. If you’re listening to people you hire, you stay in touch.”
Meyers also is getting support from the competition. Expect early pop-by visits from Fallon, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, all of whom shoot in New York. His first non-talk show guest will be Vice President Joe Biden, Meyers announced last week.
“With Jimmy (Fallon), we always made a point of getting to know all the other guys,” Shoemaker said. “I don’t think they want that late-night-war atmosphere, which is certainly more attractive from the outside than the inside.”
For all we know, Meyers might start a book club with his fellow hosts, but he’s still going to have to distinguish himself amid the crowd. Shoemaker said he’ll put a heavier emphasis on sports and politics, two areas barely grazed on broadcast TV’s other late shows.
“I can’t wait to put him on with a sports figure or sports reporter and hear them talk at a higher level that I probably won’t understand,” Shoemaker said.
Meyers’ interest in those areas were certainly reflected in his visit to the Minneapolis station. He chatted at length about the disappointing football season for his alma mater Northwestern, and the thrill of his beloved Boston Red Sox winning the World Series.
“Unfortunately, due to the ‘SNL’ schedule, I couldn’t get to any games, but if there had been a conflict when they won in 2004, I would have just not showed up for work,” he said. “I got a little cured by 2004,” when the Sox won their first championship in 88 years. “I can now be a human fan.”
Meyers is also savvy about music, although he’s leaning against having a house band, a la Fallon and the Roots. He raved about the new Arcade Fire album as well as Eminem’s recent performance on “SNL.” If there’s anything Meyers might miss about his days as head writer on “SNL,” it’s the chance to eavesdrop on the musical guest’s Thursday-night sound check.
“The window in the writers’ room looks out over the stage, so you’re listening to some of the best musicians out there rehearsing, while at the same time, you’re trying to rewrite sketches,” he said as he prepared to fly to Indianapolis for his next meet-and-greet. “The coolest thing is happening, but you want to say, ‘Hey, keep it down, Eminem. We’re trying to work here.’ You’re like the 80-year-old in the neighborhood who’s no fun at all.”
Asked if he’s ready, Meyers says, “You can only do so much before you start. It’s not about what you write in advance, it’s about the 23-hour turnaround. The writers have started pitching what we would do today, as distinct from banking ideas.
His plan, he says, is to have a really strong, classic monologue. “I’ve always succeeded mostly by doing material off the news,” Meyers says. “But I’m not going to turn my nose up at a really funny joke. If people think I’m smart but not funny, I won’t be on the air very long.
“I love playing the straight man to the people who have the jokes. We don’t want to deconstruct the model of the talk show, but there also is no reason to be safe when you are on at 11:30 p.m. See? I converted it to Central Time for you.”
And like hosts before him — think Johnny Carson — Meyers hopes to have recurring fictional characters. “I’ve long identified myself as a sketch writer,” he says, “and I don’t want to run from that world now.”
In addition to the traditional, Hollywood guest, Meyers says he wants to add a twist.
“We also want to build a stable of weird, quirky people you associate with the show. People you might learn something from. People who do not have that sense of junket-exhaustion about them.” It would be fun to get a Toronto reporter, say, to explain what anybody ever saw in Rob Ford.”
As for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his former deputy Bridget Anne Kelly? Meyers says he’d absolutely invite them. “And we’ll have bands and stand-ups,” he says. “It’s all about being funny and good.”
'Late Night with Seth Meyers'
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