From SNL To The Brothers Of Late Night:
Jimmy Fallon & Seth Meyers - First Impressions
By Andy Greene
After a long and turbulent process that we all grew tired of, it appears that NBC has finally found its heirs for the Tonight Show and Late Night for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, we can wipe our hands of Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno and the various feuds, and focus on the late night shows themselves, their content, and cheer for two of the nicest guys in entertainment.
The process was ugly, but moving on never is, and I think NBC has found two keepers of their respective desk and couches, until the next Saturday Night Live alums come to take their jobs in 2023. When Jimmy Fallon was chosen to take over for Conan on Late Night, it was met with much skepticism. He hadn’t succeeded at anything since leaving SNL, and didn’t seem as funny as some of the other alums. But his amiable, honest, goofball nature proved a perfect fit, and his immense talents had been severely underrated. Guests wanted to have fun with Jimmy Fallon, and so did his audience.
It appears like viewers are in for more of the same with his stunningly smooth transition into the Tonight Show. It’s essentially Late Night an hour earlier, as Fallon (of course) brought the best band of late night, Questlove and the Roots, along for the ride, and even counted on his most reliable and popular skits to buoy his promotion. Nabbing Will Smith, Bradley Cooper, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig and musical guests like U2 and Lady Gaga on your show is one thing, but making them more than just a promotional tool is entirely different.
He didn’t waste their time. Will Smith gamely and ably joined in on the Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing (succeeding Mom, Dad and End Zone Dancing), killing it in the process.
“Celebrity Charades!” needs to happen every night, if only to revel in how bad celebrities are at that game. While Emma Thompson was a champion, Tim McGraw couldn’t even count the number of words in The Wolf of Wall Street and Bradley Cooper couldn’t do much of anything, bliss for this viewer. Will Ferrell bizarrely dressed up as a butler from Downton Abbey and “skated” for a few minutes. Kristen Wiig arrived as Harry Styles of One Direction for no apparent reason, but it hardly mattered. They turned Brian Williams into a YouTube sensation. It was weird, interesting, and Fallon carried us through it all. Except when Justin Timberlake arrived to share the load, ready to embark on “The History of Rap 5,” and as always, KILLING it. Fallon produced a stunning number of viral videos in just his first week. While it’s an unsustainable pace, it’s clear his producers know what’s working, and will stick with it. Aside from a more posh time slot, the differences between Late Night and Tonight Show practically begin and end with the first word in their titles, and thankfully, Fallon and his team get that.
Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers have enough parallels (nice, honest, white, SNL background, known quantity), where it’s obvious that NBC simply chose Seth Meyers because he reminded them of Jimmy, an (at the time) ho-hum hire that became a phenomenal success. It’s no wonder Seth Meyers spent his cold open thanking Jimmy Fallon personally, because it was Fallon who got him this gig.
But it certainly appears Seth Meyers is up for the task, following his first night. There are certainly wrinkles to iron out, but Meyers was able to weather the storm of poor jokes (aren’t we all tired of Sochi jokes by this point?), or ones that didn’t sell as much as he had anticipated. I could’ve done without him spelling out jokes that didn’t land or get a big enough laugh, but Meyers also never bothered me. He’ll improve at the monologues, but after a decade on SNL co-hosting Weekend Update, he was at home in the chair, chatting it up with his guests.
It certainly helped that his first guest was Weekend Update running mate and bestie Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation, The Golden Globes), providing a nice soft landing for Meyers. She even practiced at being a bad or boring guest for practice (“I just wanna say something racist”), and somehow managed to be funny and supportive at the same time, while also creating imaginary tiffs with the band.
That band would be Fred Armisen and the 8G Band, who are the perfect musical accompaniment. Of course, the band itself hardly ever matters; anyone can do drumrolls and dorky sound effects. It’s their personality and chemistry with the host that people latch onto, and Fred Armisen, another SNL veteran and friend of Seth Meyers, clearly has overflowing amounts of just that with the host.
NBC didn’t mess around in their first week, as the guest list implied. They snared Michelle Obama for Jimmy Fallon, and secured Vice President Joe Biden in Seth Meyers’ FIRST SHOW ever. If Meyers was nervous, he didn’t show it, though Poehler’s presence and chemistry with the Parks & Recreation guest star certainly made it easy. Nothing stood out and made me take notice in Meyers’ debut, but there were enough promising signs to be optimistic going forward, and that is also found in the ratings.
At least thus far, both moves seem like a win for NBC, which has been quite the rarity over the years. The Late Night show’s premiere debuted to 3.4 million viewers and a 1.4 rating in the ever-important 18-49 year old demographic, the best Monday Late Night since January 2005. Seth Meyers’ debut even outdid Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night debut, by 500,000 people. At this rate next year, Seth Meyers will be gunning for his job on the Tonight Show. Jimmy Fallon rode a wave of Sochi Olympics coverage into 8.5 million average viewers over his first week replacing Jay Leno, and kept the good thing going in his second week, retaining 6.26 million viewers, and achieving a 2.1 rating in the 18-49 range for a Monday show. This kind of success is nice to see, as NBC’s loyalty and shepherding of its own talent is paid off, by rewarding and adopting valuable players of Saturday Night Live and grooming them into being America’s companions before going to bed.
Like Fallon, Seth Meyers isn’t the most dynamic funnyman there is, but they are two of the most genuine, nice, likable people in a world that needs that comforting presence. I think, with time, Seth Meyers and his team of writers will push the envelope a bit more (it was a very safe first show in terms of bits and sketches; I mean, Venn Diagrams?), and feel their own way into making Late Night Seth Meyer’s own.