Amy Poehler and Vice President Joe Biden join Seth Meyers on his NBC "Late Night" premiere.
(Photo: Peter Kramer, NBC via USA TODAY)
(USA TODAY) And that's that.
For now at least NBC's late-night lineup is set and in place. Jay Leno is gone. Jimmy Fallon has taken over The Tonight Show. And as of Monday's last-piece-of-the-puzzle launch, Seth Meyers is ensconced as host of Late Night - the fourth host in a line that includes Fallon, Conan O'Brien and David Letterman.
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That's an awfully wide range of personality types, stretching from the nice-guy breeziness that is Fallon to the blend of acid and goofy that is O'Brien to the exposed nerve that is Letterman, which is fairly good evidence of how adaptable the format is. It's also a low-wattage format, one that allows its host to develop without the intense media focus that follows the star of Tonight. Fallon and O'Brien both got off to rough starts, O'Brien legendarily so, and both did fine.
To judge from Monday's low-key, pretty much fault-free debut, so will Meyers.
Already, you can see him shifting the show to suit his talents. Fallon's strengths are games, sketches, impersonations and musical stunts, and that's what his version of Late Night stressed. Meyers seems intent on returning to the more traditional talk show virtues of monologues and interviews - which is what you might expect from a writer whose most famous performance was as the anchor on Saturday Night Live's faux newscast.
Fittingly enough, he opened the show Monday night (12:37 a.m. ET/PT) sitting at the desk, writing to Fallon in a nod to his predecessor's trademark "thank you note" bit. He then moved into a funny monologue that was close to a Weekend Update clone, just delivered standing rather than sitting.
Big build-ups are not Meyers' style. You get a lot of jokes per minute from Meyers, and on Monday at least, most of them worked. That kind of average will stand him in good stead.
From there, it was on to a fake interview with his new band leader, Fred Armisen, about a show that doesn't exist - a twist on his Weekend Update interviews with fictional characters. But he then did something new: He dropped the jokes to tell an amusing, self-deprecating anecdote about himself, his wife, and the flat tire someone else had to change for him, while he held the family dog. As he explained, "It's very hard to feel macho when you're holding a tiny dog while another man changes your wife's tire."
He delivered a few more jokes from the desk, including Olympic highlights shown through "Costas Vision," before moving on to his first guest - his former SNL co-anchor Amy Poehler. Yes, that's a lot of Update call-backs, but when you're starting a new show, it's not a bad idea to start in your lane. And when that also means you're starting with a dependably charming, well-liked star in the chair next to you, that counts as a bonus.
But it wasn't just old friends for Meyers' first night. His second guest was Vice President Joe Biden, and while Meyers didn't exactly press him on big political issues, he did hold what seemed to be an actual conversation with him - rather than just moving from scripted point to point.
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Anyone searching for signs of nerves, or perhaps of excess adrenaline, could probably find it in the wide grin that seldom seemed to leave Meyers' face. But the expression will settle, as will the host. Time of course will tell, but Late Night once again seems to be in good hands.
And that's all NBC could wish.
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
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