February 25, 2014

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Late Night With Seth Meyers”


Lorne Michaels has controlled the post-Tonight Show slot on NBC for more than 20 years (and with Jimmy Fallon’s ascension, he now has The Tonight Show in his portfolio as well), and for the third consecutive time, he’s pushed a Saturday Night Live veteran through that door with tonight’s debut of LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS, which as with Conan O’Brien and Fallon represents its host’s first talk show gig.

“Mild” was the word for Meyers tonight, in a show that had an oddly low-tech and even low-budget feel.  It was partly the way his desk was set well in front of the studio backdrop, which was relatively plain and not the elaborate city skyline we’ve gotten used to, as well as the single chair seating for his guests (the platform barely had room for two) rather than a luxurious sofa.  Even the newly-formed 8G Band, under the direction of fellow SNL alumnus Fred Armisen, was stripped-down.

Partly the show’s tentative feel was Meyers’ own doing.  He kept the traditional monologue part of his opening relatively brief, and seemed a bit ill at ease, kidding about how he was really shaking things up by starting with a monologue, and then covering some awkwardness when a few lines fell flat with banter about jokes that didn’t get laughs and had to be explained.  The material itself was reminiscent of Meyers’ years on Weekend Update, which is no surprise since Meyers was SNL‘s head writer as well as Update host, with jokes that were pleasantly toothless rather than cutting.

Meyers’ apparent reluctance to do a full-length host monologue meant that he did the equivalent of two desk pieces, which frankly is a long time (almost 20 minutes, all told, with a commercial in the middle) to watch a guy doing jokes from a desk.  The back-and-forth with Armisen was surprisingly awkward given their long association and Armisen’s obviously having the goods to be a comic sidekick as well as a musical director, perhaps just a function of two guys stepping away from their long-accustomed roles.  Both of the major desk pieces went on too long:  Venn diagrams of the intersection between two seemingly different things (“Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Models” and Gravity became “Things George Clooney Has Been In”), and then a collection of Olympics bits that already felt out-of-date, including an routine in which Bob Costas’ case of pink-eye was unaccountably (and unhilariously) supposed to have made him see sports as old-timey footage.  Meyers’ best moments came when he told an anecdote about being embarrassed in front of his wife when some other man had to change his tire, which notably didn’t lean so hard on one-liners.

Meyers seemed to visibly relax when he was able to welcome Amy Poehler, his Update confederate and buddy, as his first guest.  She’s one of the most charming and funny people on the planet, and with his comfort level way up, Meyers seemed far more assured than he’d been to that point.  It was a rather strange decision to have Vice President Joe Biden as the other opening night guest, since it wasn’t as though Meyers was going to ask Jon Stewart-like genuine political questions.  Luckily for all, Biden is a professional good sport, and even though Meyers’ attempts to make some comedy out of a disparaging Biden remark about New York’s LaGuardia Airport went nowhere, Biden remained amiable through it all.

Anyone who remembers the opening days of Conan O’Brien’s tenure knows that it’s unwise to judge a talk show host by his or her first episodes.  Meyers is a smart, likable guy but maybe not a naturally goofy or silly one, and he needs to find his hosting voice, which from the strengths of tonight’s premiere may lie more in a casual, conversational style than in attempts to go for big conventional laughs.  Nobody expects a 12:35AM show to do huge numbers (Craig Ferguson on CBS is virtually his only competition on all of TV), so he’ll certainly have a cushion of time to figure all that out.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."