Let’s Help NBC Pick a New Host to Replace Jimmy Fallon on Late Night
By now we all know that Jimmy Fallon is taking the Tonight Show to New York, and that Jay Leno, at least temporarily without a desk to call home, is facing down the prospect of spending more quality time organizing his airplane hangar full of antique steam cars and pressed denim shirts. But NBC’s sudden re-reshuffling of its talk-show roster has, however momentarily, left a void at the 12:35 a.m. time slot. Yes, there have been rumors that the gig is “Weekend Update”‘s Seth Meyers’s to lose, but rumors are just that until a contract materializes, so the Grantland staff has taken it upon itself to give NBC a little much-needed assistance in choosing its Fallon replacement.
Bill Simmons: I’m rooting for a show called “The White Man’s Perspective With Doug Gottlieb,” but the odds aren’t looking great right now. OK, so what does NBC do? Everyone is already making Seth Meyers the 12:30 favorite while forgetting the following rules of 12:30: Don’t pick someone who might be better at hosting a late-night show than your 11:30 guy (and Seth might be better); don’t pick someone who would potentially threaten your 11:30 guy (and Seth might); don’t pick someone who overlaps with your 11:30 guy (and Seth comes from the Lorne Michaels/SNL machine, has many of the same talent/celebrity connections, and trusts all of the same people); don’t pick someone who’s the same age as your 11:30 guy (and Seth is one year older than Jimmy); and for a second time, DON’T PICK SOMEONE FOR 12:30 WHO MIGHT BE BETTER THAN YOUR 11:30 GUY. Because that could potentially be awkward.
Important note: I’m a big Seth fan (he’s a pantheon B.S. Report guest) and believe he’s destined to have a very good late-night show for someone. But this looks too easy to me. See, the consensus favorite never gets the 12:30 gig — history says they always go outside the box with someone who makes you say, “WTF????” Which is why I’m stealing an idea from my friend Connor Schell (someone who’s stolen plenty of ideas from me over the years, so I don’t feel bad) and submitting the following choice: Alec Baldwin.
That’s right … Alec Baldwin. He turned 55 years old yesterday, so he’s not a threat to steal Fallon’s job. He’s part of the Lorne Michaels family thanks to 30 Rock and his frequent SNL gigs. He loves interviewing people, as evidenced by the fact that he launched a podcast last year even though he’s way too rich and successful to have a podcast. He has some legit comedy chops and can play different characters, something that would add a fun wrinkle to that time slot. He’s a blowhard who would love having a live audience for five hours a week. He’d tap into a different generation of connections/guests — Older Hollywood, basically — which would make him feel more like a complement to Fallon than a threat. He needs a steady gig since 30 Rock just went off the air. He’d have a show that felt much different than Fallon’s show (a crucial wrinkle). And most important, everyone would hear that Alec Baldwin is getting 12:35 and scream, “ALEC BALDWIN? WHAT THE FUCK???????” That’s why Alec Baldwin is getting Late Night. I’m glad I thought of this idea.
Andy Greenwald: What are the central complaints about late-night television in 2013? It’s too staid, too formulaic. It’s deeply conservative and terrified of change; a blizzard of snow-white hosts cracking wise about Congress and blandly soft-shoeing for a crowd of drowsy olds. I think Seth Meyers is fantastic, but pairing him with Jimmy Fallon is like serving chicken for dinner, then offering chicken for dessert. NBC has barely learned how not to repeat its mistakes in late night. The last thing it ought to do is repeat its lone success.
So how about turning to one of the all-time late-night guests for help? Tracy Morgan is a living, breathing, belly-baring DVR alert. Handing him the keys to Late Night would most likely end with all of us in a ditch. But what a ride! Still, in order to maintain some semblance of order, why not pair him with a straight man, a genial normal there to play the role that Conan always played so well during previous 12:30 tangos. I’d suggest Conan himself but he’s apparently busy, at least for a couple more years. So why not Morgan’s old 30 Rock playmate Jack McBrayer? Hell, as long as the show’s staying in New York, why not try to get the whole band back together? Judah Friedlander, Grizz Chapman, Katrina Bowden, Lutz for the ladies — you know Lonny Ross is available. Turning the cartoon mania of an already missed sitcom into reality would be a meta wink even Liz Lemon could be proud of. I know I’d watch. EGOT here we come!
Steven Hyden: The smartest idea I’ve heard for 12:35 (11:35 for us Midwesterners) came from Ken Tucker, who suggested a format taken from Tom Snyder’s old Tomorrow Show: “keep the set dark; don’t allow a studio audience; engage with one guest at extended length.” Tucker was referring to a possible show hosted by Howard Stern, but I’d rather see a guy who’s presently the 21st-century Johnny Carson of 21st-century talk shows: podcast kingpin and WTF host Marc Maron. Over the course of more than 300 episodes, Maron has demonstrated an uncommon ability — certainly among his late-night televised counterparts — to engage famous and semi-famous comedians, actors, and musicians in conversations that sound like actual conversations, with their spontaneous twists and turns toward insight and humor (and the occasional dead end). Perhaps an actual set would be too high-tech; best to keep it simple at the Cat Ranch, with minimal production lest the intimate vibe be disturbed. It could be shot like a web video, since that’s how most of us experience these late-night shows anyway. The traditional talk show — the thing with the desk and the band and the lineup of secondary actors from midrate sitcoms — is an old-fashioned prestige institution that’s out of step with current technology, like an impeccably recorded double album with ornate cover art that is then parceled up on iTunes and played on iPhones. A Marc Maron talk show could be the first late-night program designed for the next morning’s commute, which not only sounds more entertaining than the status quo but also more utilitarian.
Mark Lisanti: I hesitate to call Robert Smigel an unsung genius of late-night comedy, because among people who care about such things, his genius is appropriately heralded, even if his name is hardly a household one. He’s the guy who’s given us Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, SNL‘s “TV Funhouse,” and shaped the direction of Conan’s brilliant run at 12:30 as that Late Night incarnation’s first head writer. The Ambiguously Gay Duo sprung from his head, a foul-mouthed rubber Doberman puppet from his loins, and his lips have animated a thousand unwilling Clutch Cargo guests. That bit you loved? Yeah, he probably came up with it.
So maybe it’s time for him to step out from behind the scenes and see what he might do behind the desk. The 12:30 slot has always been a place for experimentation, for anarchy. A place for talented unknowns and semi-knowns to become known.
A place for him to poop on. Again.
Jay Caspian Kang: This will never, ever happen for every reason out there, but I would love to see Hannibal Buress because I sometimes like to imagine that we’d be best friends, but also because he’s the only guy who could go weird enough to make the 12:30 show something other than the retread area for second-tier stars.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler
Rembert Browne: Yes, a tag-team hosting spot is unconventional, but this gig is the perfect place for experimentation (see: Fallon + the Roots). This proven combo, so successful at the Golden Globes, would not only dominate with regard to their product, but everyone would be fighting to be on the show. And people like me, who never stay up and watch late-night television, would never miss an episode.
Tina and Amy. This needs to happen. Please?
Emily Yoshida: Before I make the perhaps more difficult cultural case for this pick, let’s just talk business: Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live, which started as a rinky-dink filler show to keep the post-Housewives audience from turning off their televisions on Sunday nights, is currently pulling about the same numbers as Fallon and Ferguson (around 1.6 million total viewers). The show was so successful they expanded it to weekdays in early 2012, and it’s been growing steadily ever since. There is also the not-insignificant detail that Andy Cohen and Bravo are already a part of the NBCU family; he wouldn’t even have to fill out a new tax form.
If you’ve never seen it, in many ways it resembles a drunk, late-night Ellen: Cohen sits in his shoebox “clubhouse” studio and swills Maker’s Mark with the kind of people you want to see if you’re watching Bravo at 11 p.m.: Kristen Johnston, George Takei, the New Kids on the Block. There are games that seem all but made up on the spot; Cohen can often bring out the kinds of moments from his guests that are a publicist’s worst nightmare. Did I mention there was a lot of alcohol? Plus, Cohen is one of the few media personalities out there who knows how to use in-show social media effectively, if not a little obnoxiously. Late Night With Andy Cohen wouldn’t be for everyone, but it could inspire a Conan-like cult following, and probably Conan-superior ratings. Helming a network late-night show would probably mean he’d have to step away from his duties as Bravo’s VP of Development and Talent (yup, that’s still his full-time job!), but I’m sure there are plenty of like-minded tipsy underlings ready to take his place.
The Case for Jon Benjamin and Jon Glaser
Sean Fennessey: So the Jons Benjamin and Glaser are not likely choices, I am willing to concede that. They’re not conventionally handsome, they seem slightly aggrieved, and they have no pedigree hosting anything. I can’t imagine Jennifer Aniston wants to talk to them about her new movie. Glaser is best known as Parks and Recreation‘s gloriously evil Councilman Jeremy Jamm, D.D.S. (“You just got Jammed!”), and the face-hidden star of Adult Swim’s deceased Delocated, while Benjamin is, of course, the stentorian voice box of the leads in Archer and Bob’s Burgers. Their peers love them. Of course they do — they are amazing comic minds, logging time on such hailed comedy nerd factories as Late Night With Conan O’Brien, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Home Movies, P&R, and other stuff that people seem to really like but also isn’t really all that popular.
But that’s the point. The 12:30 slot is about weird guys, whether unknown or fallen from great heights. Pat Sajak didn’t work — too handsome, too faux-genial, circling the wheel of his own fortune. But Conan, a galoof of a writer with no public profile and a Fruit Roll-Up of red hair? He worked. Or Fallon, the giggling SNL sketch ruiner who couldn’t find a movie career inside Brad Pitt’s bathroom? He worked. Even Letterman, a weatherman with a failed morning show on his résumé and an aggressive gap in his teeth? He worked. You gotta go weird at 12:30 — it leaves the Tonight Show host unthreatened (until they’re inevitably threatened) and gives your network some cred with people who are awake at 1 a.m. on a Tuesday looking for comedy. Benjamin and Glaser already subverted that terrain on Adult Swim and elsewhere. Just look at how good they are together in the above clip from Kimmel. Late night could use a little angry energy. Let these two weirdos give it to us.
Alex Pappademas: Nicest Dude In Rock title-holder for more than two decades. Surprisingly good in a weeklong stint as guest host of Chelsea Lately. Surprisingly willing to do things like guest-host Chelsea Lately for a week. Almost certainly a little tired of playing “Learn to Fly” in arenas 50 times a year. Since Fallon will undoubtedly take Questlove and the Roots with him to 11:30, Grohl would ensure that the show retains its rep as a quality hang for cool young bands and Sir Paul–level elder gods alike; at this point Dave probably has more famous musicians in his phone than most talk-show music bookers have in their Rolodexes. He’d probably have to be talked out of hiring King Diamond from Mercyful Fate as his bandleader, but we’ll burn that church when we come to it.
The Archer Team
Dan Fierman: It’s time to blow it up. Can we all admit that now? That we have the final two great talents of traditional late night in Fallon and Kimmel? Can anyone possibly imagine someone else coming down the line, doing a monologue, sitting behind that desk, chortling with sidekicks, and fawning over celebrities? Network late night is the pickup truck of American television. Your bootleg Calvin cartoon may piss on Ford or Chevy, but the basic structure of things has persisted for too long. It’s time to start thinking rocket-packs and hovercrafts; where we’re going, we won’t need roads.
So here’s what we do: Take the funniest show on television. Take the best character on that show. Turn him into a talk-show host. Four nights a week, you have Jon Benjamin as Sterling Archer interviewing guests that range from politicians to actors to general cultural weirdos. He’s animated. They’re not. (The vibe is very “Between Two Ferns”–y.) You mix it up with bits from the universe of ISIS — with Jessica Walters & Crew functioning as sidekicks — and transplant the office comedy of that show to the late-night space.
Twenty-two minutes. Every night. Dare every young person in America NOT to tune in.
(There is precedent for this. It can work — as any super-stoned fan of Space Ghost Coast to Coast can tell you.)
(Speaking of which, is Zorak available? Maybe we cast him too.)
Failing that, just give Dick Cavett a call. He’s tanned, rested, and ready.
Juliet Litman: Kevin Hart would be perfect. Let’s start with his résumé. He’s a box office success: Think Like a Man grossed $91.5 million at the box office on a $12 million budget. He has the comedy bona fides: He already has three stand-up movies with a fourth one planned, and Laugh at My Pain‘s album went platinum five times over. He has the TV experience: He created, produces, and stars in the reality satire show Real Husbands of Hollywood. In fact, after looking at this list, Hart’s biggest obstacle may be that he’s too big already. But nonetheless, he has the friends (Steve Harvey, Judd Apatow, the NBA) to pull in guests (note: I have no idea how guest booking on late-night shows occurs). Most importantly, Hart would break up the white-man monotony that currently dominates late night. Last year the New York Times‘s profile of Hart discussed his commitment to using his childhood with a cocaine-addicted father to fuel his comedy and his career. Even if the superficial format of a Kevin Hart late-night show resembles The Tonight Show, it’s hard to imagine that the direction would be the same if he continues to propel himself forward in this way. In the Times article, he is on record with aspirations to host the Oscars. An NBC late-night show would be a strong step in that direction.
Amos Barshad: In order to begin to accept even the remotest of possibility of Shia LaBeouf as Late Night host, you have to know one thing. In this scenario, we are very much not talking about Late Night as the precursor to an inevitable sit-down in the Tonight Show seat (Letterman almost, Conan for real, now Jimmy). We’re talking about Late Night as what it was before it was a precursor. And that is, the most reliable wee-hours home for comedy so strange it bordered on the abstract. Dave did it with daggers, Conan gave Late Night a self-deprecating absurdism — and then Jimmy came around and cleaned it all up. In this month’s GQ, Fallon once again breaks down his credo of inclusiveness. “On Late Night, it’s like we’re all in on the joke,” he says. “I’m not doing something sneaky. Inside jokes, I don’t like those.” Fair enough: He’s a naturally cheery guy, and it’s exactly that cheeriness that’s catapulting him over to Tonight in just under five years. But that’s the thing: Fallon was almost always more of a Tonight Show guy than he was a Late Night guy. Because Late Night is supposed to be weird and mean and sometimes ugly.
Which brings us to Mr. LaBeouf. Right now Shia exists in some constant form of near-meltdown. There aren’t personal problems, per se, and his career is actually humming right along (he’s got Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep up next). But check out his latest stylistic choice, the closely shorn scalp with woolly soup-interrupting beard. And know that — after being fired from his Broadway play Orphans and then tweeting out a bunch of personal e-mails as to why and then having his erstwhile costar Alec Baldwin slap him around in the media a bit — Shia showed up to the play’s first preview performance and sat in the front row, applauding like crazy, “at one point slamming the stage with his hand.“
OK, see, this kind of unhinged mania is exactly what Late Night needs. Right now, it seems like Shia LaBeouf is incapable of having a conversation without someone’s soul getting bared: Every celebrity interview will be a brutal confessional; every pretaped comedy bit will end with a quiet, tidy suburban home on fire.