NBC is in the midst of the first full week of its brand new late night schedule, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon followed by Late Night With Seth Meyers. Fallon’s start has been tremendous, as he’s slid comfortably into what appears to be a sleeker and, for lack of a better term, bigger-budgeted version of his old show. Seth Meyers, however, doesn’t have that luxury, as the former Saturday Night Live writer and Weekend Update anchor wades into the waters of Late Night. And while Meyers is clearly still feeling things out, his first couple of shows hint that NBC may have found the perfect person to anchor the backend of their late night schedule.
Not surprisingly, the first episode of Late Night With Seth Meyers was a little stilted. Meyers was one of the best Weekend Update anchors in SNL history and he seemed extremely comfortable and confident in his monologue, which had several laugh-out-loud jokes. But his former SNL castmate Fred Armisen seems an odd choice to lead the indie-flavored 8G Band and in the first couple of episodes, his role seems too limited for a performer of his talents. Amy Poehler was a logical choice as his first guest, but she somewhat overpowered Meyers and acted as mother hen/ cost-host for his interview with Vice President Joe Biden. Meyers seems like a smart and politically-engaged person, but his interview with one of the most powerful men in America was facile and uncomfortable. Biden was a poor choice as one of his first guests, but not as bad as musical guest A Great Big World, whose singer vamped emotively through the overwrought ballad “Say Something,” a song that’s indefensible in the context of what should be a fun and celebratory premiere episode.
Meyers’ second show was much, much better. The “dissatisfied audience members” sketch was clever and dry, which seems to be the tone Armisen is striking as well. Meyers was very poised in his interview with Kanye West, who has been known to act, shall we say, unpredictably in his live television appearances. Their mutual admiration was most apparent in the hilarious unaired SNL sketch “Kanye interrupts a pumpkin-judging contest,” and Meyers’ question about his sense of humor touched on the single most overlooked aspect of the rapper’s persona. Meyers capably shifted-gears for his interview with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, which was also funny and revealing. Kanye closed out the episode with an electrifying medley of his hits, a much more fitting show-capper than the previous night’s musical guest.
Even with the kinks, it was a solid two opening episodes for Late Night With Seth Meyers. The show has seen strong ratings as well, with USA Today reporting that Meyers’ debut pulled in 3.4 million viewers, “the biggest audience for a Monday Late Night in nine years” and significantly more than Fallon drew with his debut in 2009. While it takes time for talk show hosts to develop their style and find their audience, Meyers initially appears to be a worthy successor to David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Fallon. More importantly, the brass at struggling NBC have to be feeling good about the start of their new era in late night.