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From Saturday Night to Late Night

Late-Night-with-Seth-Meyers-ImagesA quick game of late-night musical chairs finds 40-year-old funnyman Seth Meyers behind a new desk at 12:30 every weeknight. In a fairly ho-hum transfer of power, Meyers took over the Late Night chair from Jimmy Fallon, another Saturday Night Live alum.

As Fallon’s “Thank You Notes” music played, the new host started the show with a cold open spoof of his predecessor’s segment, writing “Thank you, Jimmy Fallon, for taking over The Tonight Show at 11:30, so I could take over Late Night at 12:30. I promise to treat it with respect and dignity, and to only use it to do completely original comedy pieces…starting now.”

Meyers had rather big shoes to fill during his debut last Monday, and all week for that matter. Meyers had to prove that Fallon’s reign wasn’t a fluke, that late night really can be a home for the friendly and good-natured hosts, and that the brand of humor he displayed for over 12 years on SNL translates to the late-night talk show format.

Maybe it is the insistence on compartmentalizing the people in our lives, but seeing Meyers on a weeknight was just plain weird. Meyers, for many of us, is still firmly in that “Saturday night and bummed because we don’t have better plans than to watch SNL half-asleep while a eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s” compartment.

And, did you know he actually has legs? Legs! It is rather disorienting to watch a guy you have seen behind a desk for years walk onto the stage and deliver his monologue. This could take some getting used to.

It is no surprise that Meyers’ nightly monologue style will just be his SNL “Weekend Update” routine, only delivered while standing up—“Weeknight Upright?” Delivered with the same sly effortlessness he used on SNL, Meyers’ opening monologues were full of rapid-fire one-liners about the day’s headlines. Fast, funny, and just newsy enough to challenge the viewer to keep up. “Well the Winter Olympics in Sochi came to an end last night, so for the next four years if you go skiing with a rifle on your back, you’re just a crazy person.” Solid, almost expected jokes.

His attempts at the ever important bits/skits/segments stemmed from clever ideas—“Fake or Florida,” “Venn Diagram,” or one where sports like basketball and wrestling were narrated using figure skating’s soft-spoken, omnipotent color commentators. But they all suffered from one fatal flaw: they all garnered a similar “oh, this segment is still going on…” reaction—proof that they lacked the pizzazz and overall fun of those brilliant Fallon segments that so frequently blow up the internet.

The only part of the gig that’s somewhat new to Meyers is interviewing (real) guests. Opening with friend and SNL cohort Amy Poehler put him at ease, and later in the week Meyers showed that he is a more-than-capable interviewer (i.e. drawing more out of the often serious Kanye West). Although, I do wish that Stefon had shown up instead of Joe Biden.

And because every great late night show needs a band, backing up Meyers will be The 8G Band, named after the NBC studio where Late Night is filmed. Bandleader Fred Armisen’s presence introduced yet another dose of the SNL familiarity that permeates the newest version of Late Night. Armisen brings unequaled improv skills to the table, and his little banter with Meyers every night has already proven one of the more reliably funny skits.

Late Night With Seth Meyers already shows promise. The first episode averaged 3.4 million viewers and a 1.4 rating among adults 18-49. In the key demo, that’s the best Monday Late Night in almost a decade—since January 2005. Meyers’ debut came in only behind Fallon’s farewell week. Late Night finished out its first week with an average of 2.67 million viewers and 1.0 rating in the adults 18-49 demo. That marked the show’s highest weekly numbers since January 2007, when Conan O’Brien was still at the helm.

Meyers’ version of Late Night isn’t designed to reinvent late-night television. Monologue, skits, guests, and musical guest—rinse and repeat every weeknight.

However, Meyers’ Late Night debut was both puzzling and a little disappointing. The whole thing seemed to be pitched at a deliberately low level of energy, with no song and dance, no bells or whistles. That might make strategic sense—Meyers has to establish his own platform and find a balance with Fallon’s show—and that may reflect Meyers’ basic sensibility. But the result seemed to be wavering between modesty and caution, leaning more towards the latter.

Unlike Fallon, Meyers doesn’t generate the excitement of a born performer, nor does he appear to require it like oxygen to breathe. But he’s still likeable. He’s charming with a certain ‘aw shucks’ demeanor that doesn’t seem forced. Meyers has a dry sense of humor, and his delivery is casual and amusingly self-conscious. He wears his intelligence lightly. And he sounds very much like David Spade. All of that is good.

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