The TV world was briefly rocked this week when after the opening credits of “Late Night” rolled across the screen, host Seth Meyers was shown already seated at his desk instead of standing for the monologue.
This small act of sitting down prompted some confusion, because of a well-known fact: If you turn on your TV for a broadcast late-night show, you’re supposed to see the host walk on stage, tracked by a spotlight, then briefly stroll around before delivering some jokes. It’s just how things have always been done. But Meyers went back to his “Saturday Night Live” roots, taking on a “Weekend Update” vibe, complete with the photos that appeared next to his face on screen.
It wasn’t just a one-time thing: Meyers continued this behavior again on Tuesday night, sitting down as he delivered jokes about Donald Trump, Bristol Palin and Hillary Clinton. What do we make of this, flying in the face of a tradition that goes back decades?!
Basically, 18 months into the job, Meyers is ready to shake things up, which is surprising only because this is one area of television that does not handle change well, knowing that when people turn on the television that late, they’re looking for consistency.
Meyers gave a long interview to Vulture about the oddly controversial decision, and explained that now seemed like a good time to experiment with some changes: In the doldrums of August, when viewership is already at a low, before the audience picks up again in the fall.
He explained that since he had just been on SNL, he wanted to initially give the standard late-night traditions a try. “I didn’t want people to think that I was just going to do the exact same thing I’ve been doing for so long at SNL, so that’s sort of what pulled me to do the classic monologue,” he said.
“The other difference is when you’re a 12:30 show and your 11:30 show does a monologue and does it really well, obviously a large amount of your audience has watched that,” Meyers continued. “I don’t know why it took so long to come to the conclusion that doing something different might be a smarter way of going about it.”
The New York Times notes that the late-night standing monologue came into fashion with Jack Parr on “The Tonight Show” in the late 1950s, but it became a “signature platform” for Johnny Carson in his “Tonight Show” days.
Meyers also said that since he wants his late-night show to focus more on politics (especially going into the 2016 presidential election), his new monologue style might work better for those kind of jokes.
“To some degree, the rhythm is a little different when you’re sitting at a desk, but it’s pretty much the same material with a slightly different delivery system” he told Vulture. “Still, there’s something about it that I like. It makes it seem a little more serious. When you’re telling jokes about politics, it probably helps to be sitting down.
There’s only one question left: How will people react when Stephen Colbert’s desk is on the opposite site of the set than David Letterman, which he already confirmed will be the case when his “Late Show” run starts in September? We don’t even want to think about it.