Seth Meyers launched a more understated version of NBC’s “Late Night,” Monday evening, depending less on surprise celebrity skits and an outrageous monologue, and more on his own self-deprecating wit and the antics of guest and cohorts.
Meyers seemed to grow more comfortable as the taping of his initial time at the helm of the program progressed on Monday evening, finding great moments in rapid-fire talk with first guest Amy Poehler or banter with bandleader – and former “Saturday Night Live” compadre – Fred Armisen. “I have watched you for 13 years pretend to listen to people,” said Poehler during her segment, and indeed, Meyers demonstrated a harder-to-find quality among late-night hosts: Someone who is good at interviews, sparking more than canned conversation.
The edited version of the show is slated to air at 12:35 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Many backers have a stake in this show’s success. NBC wants Meyers’ version of “Late Night” to continue the performance it had under previous host Jimmy Fallon, who left the 12:35 a.m. perch to take over “The Tonight Show” an hour earlier. For Lorne Michaels, who produces “Late Night,” a good launch would cement his wee-hours control at the Peacock, where he also supervises “Tonight” and “Saturday Night Live” – nearly the entirety of NBC’s late night schedule.
Meyers opened his show with a nod to Fallon, aping that host’s popular recurring “thank you notes” sketch. The “cold open” allowed Meyers to nod to the show’s previous regime, then make it clear he would veer in a different direction.
His most winning moments came when he appeared to poke his head out from behind the script and the show’s format. Some of his asides about the jokes he told during his monologue were funnier than the one-liners themselves. And a short tale about Meyers and his wife suffering a flat tire in rural Connecticut and the host’s inability to do anything about it was warm and disarming.
In press interviews leading up to this debut, Meyers and producers have taken pains to suggest that while Meyers would be at the center of the action, he might serve more as a master of ceremonies than a one-man band. Indeed, once Poehler found her seat next to his desk, she stayed close at hand, even standing with Meyers when he introduced his musical guest, A Great Big World.
Meyers’ show hearkened back to the earlier history of “Late Night,” when David Letterman and Conan O’Brien were able to develop quirky but disarming styles all their own.
Under Meyers, “Late Night” may have more range, a place where Amy Poehler and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden can sit together and find common ground, as they did Monday evening (Biden was a recent guest star on Poehler’s “Parks & Recreation”). This may not be a place for shtick like making fun of newspaper headlines or outsize moments like U2 playing on the rooftop of a New York skyscraper, but there was a quite charm there for the finding.