Other than cementing the Lorne Michaels/”Saturday Night Live” takeover of latenight at NBC, Seth Meyers has essentially been an afterthought in the whole equation, as the network has gone about the task of trying to give Jimmy Fallon the splashiest possible launch. Meyers’ show also comes across as something of an afterthought, offering the former “Weekend Update” host in an expanded but highly familiar package. “I’m gonna shake stuff up and open this thing with a monologue,” Meyers quipped at the outset, and the line was telling,since virtually nothing about this latest “Late Night” exhibited a whiff of freshness or originality.
If that criticism seems at all unfair, it’s worth noting that the two previous latenight hosts — David Letterman and Conan O’Brien — both experimented and took considerable chances, emboldened by the lower stakes and less demanding strictures of hosting a show at an hour where drifting off to sleep (and perhaps stumbling to the refrigerator for more potato chips) is the most formidable time-period competition.
Meyers, by contrast, approached his premiere as if the goal was simply to create a second hour of Fallon’s version of “The Tonight Show,” with a stock bit involving Venn diagrams that would have been the fourth or fifth best in O’Brien’s former bag of tricks.
On the plus side, Meyers came across as relaxed and loose, riffing on his show’s micro-budget and acknowledging the jokes that fell flat. The writing, however, simply wasn’t that strong — with a preponderance of uninspired Olympic gags — which seems especially weak given the front-loading and extra preparation time that inevitably goes into an opening night for this sort of venture.
Former “Update” partner Amy Poehler didn’t provide much of a test of Meyers’ interviewing skills as his first guest, given the rapport the two share. Of course, that meant holding Vice President Joe Biden second, which allowed Poehler (with whom Biden previously appeared in a “Parks and Recreation” cameo) to practically co-host the show. Too bad she can’t be around tomorrow, when Kanye West drops by.
Meyers certainly has the potential to wear well, but the play-it-safe approach suggests little interest in tinkering with the latenight template — and indeed, what looks like a desire to slavishly replicate it, only with less comfortable chairs.
NBC and Michaels might have decided with all the bets they’re laying down, they’d like to program the risk out of latenight as much as possible. Fair enough, but if the new “Late Night’s” premiere is any guide, they appear in danger of drubbing the edge and fun out of it as well.