NEW YORK - Jay Leno is gone and Jimmy Fallon is settled in at The Tonight Show. Now it's Seth Meyers' turn to complete this month's round of late-night musical chairs at NBC.
On Monday, Meyers takes over as the fourth host of Late Night (12:37 a.m. ET/PT), following in the footsteps of David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Fallon, all of whom eventually moved out of the insomniac time slot.
Like they were, Meyers, 40, is largely untested as a talk-show host. Sure, he's been Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update anchor since 2006, where he "interviewed" made-up characters such as Stefon and Drunk Uncle. And in 2012, he tried out on air to succeed Regis Philbin as Kelly Ripa's morning companion.
So what motivated him when SNL, Late Night (and now Tonight Show) producer Lorne Michaels called? Simple.
"I wanted to find something after SNL that wouldn't be boring," he says in his spartan office at Rockefeller Center. "I was always worried that SNL was the most interesting and exciting job you could possibly have. And this seemed to be the one that might not be boring."
The difference between Meyers and many of his late-night counterparts: He's a writer first, who later became a performer.
While likening Fallon and pal Justin Timberlake (who appears on Friday's Tonight) to a Bob Hope-Bing Crosby road movie, "Seth is much more about his wit, his approach, his intelligence, and the vastness of his curiosity," which will make him a good host, Michaels says. "There's no topic, from the NFL Premiere League to the White House, that he's not interested in."
Amy Poehler, his former Update co-anchor (and Monday's first guest), calls Meyers "the best combination of precise and loose. He knows what he is good at and likes to bring good things out in other people," she says in an e-mail. "Also, like (former New York mayor Michael) Bloomberg, he is independently wealthy and will sink his own billions into this project if needed."
Meyers is far more modest about his skills as a performer, admitting that a highlight reel of his sketch appearances assembled for his Feb. 1 SNL farewell proved "impossible to watch. I just look like a guy in a wig. When I'm talking, I'm really good if I have good jokes. And then, if it requires performance and skill and the ability to be a character, I'm best when I'm next to someone who's doing that."
Instead, "my favorite part of SNL was the writers' room, to have a group of funny people who were trying to come up with stuff in a very short period of time, and this (new show) has that as well." (Minus the part where he stays up all night, an "outstanding" change for the newly married comedian.)
So what will Meyers' Late Night look like? An opening monologue (of course), a guest or two and interviews with newly made-up characters, unless Bill Hader or Kristen Wiig stop by.
As a Northwestern student when O'Brien, a former Simpsons writer, started on Late Night, "I liked how Conan used his writing staff to play different people," he says. "We have a writing staff that has a lot of that range," including former Update writer Alex Baze. "They're great writers, but they're also really funny performers. We are going to try to use them as often as we can. In a weird way, the closest thing I'll have to a sidekick is my writing staff and the people they'll play."
After much debate, he'll also be joined by a band named after his studio, 8G, with an unexpected leader in former SNL star Fred Armisen, who started his career as a drummer and was recruited by Michaels for the new gig.
"I want it to look and have the framework of the classic late-night model," Meyers says of the show. "But this is real estate where you can try out everything. Coming on at 12:37 at night, you have a little more rope to try that stuff. I had a chance to try a lot of things at SNL before I ended up at Weekend Update, and that was the first time I sort of felt comfortable and at home."
NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt agrees the show won't be "a shocking unveiling of something you've never seen before," but says Meyers will "carry over some of that topical observational humor he does very well. Jay was the political-monologue kind of guy, which I don't think Jimmy does, so it's interesting to have Seth come in and do some of that."
Was Meyers the unanimous choice to replace Fallon at NBC? "The only one who was ambivalent was me," Michaels says. "I was losing my (SNL) head writer, and the guy was brilliant on Weekend Update."
Meyers, who will do five new shows a week for the first month, then switch to Monday through Thursday, is looking for his own joke franchises, like Fallon's thank-you note segments. And he won't mind being fourth in line for talent bookings in a more crowded New York talk-show market.
"Mostly I'm excited to find out how good or bad I am" at interviewing real people, he says. "What if it turned out to be the thing I really liked?" He'll be happy to have celebrities, of course, but also politicians, athletes and experts on topics in the news, even a local reporter covering the Chris Christie scandal.
Friends urged him to be patient. "You get a job like this based on the way you've executed comedy for awhile, and so the worst thing you can do is sort of over-course-correct based on a couple of shows or a couple of weeks," he says. Michaels "knows me to be an over-thinker ... he would have said, 'Stop telling people you're going to have local reporters on,' " Meyers says. "The thing Lorne keeps saying is, 'Give yourself six months to figure out what the show is.' I hope that's true."