Seth Meyers Is Perfect for Late Night

An amusing, vanilla guy is what TV audiences want.

My eyes lit up when I read that NBC was replacing Jimmy Fallon with Seth Meyers on the Late Night show. I only started watching Saturday Night Live in earnest (i.e., not only on YouTube) this past year, but immediately got hooked on “Weekend Update” and Seth’s twinkle-eyed delivery.

I don’t follow entertainment politics very closely, though, and soon, a cavalcade of Twitter eye-rolls savagely undercut my excitement about Meyers’ move. Salon was one of the earliest to chime in: “Seth Meyers pick: Why must late late be so white and male?” The Washington Post piped up, too. Mary Curtis wrote a piece for them headlined, “Seth Meyers to replace Jimmy Fallon as late-night white-guy beat goes on.”

I’m missing the bigger picture it seems, because I honestly thought it was precisely that formula—10 minutes of wise-cracking before a sampler of celebrity interviews—that we all kind of liked about late-night TV. It was the perfect bedtime regimen: funny dude with sauntering charm stirs up audience chuckles, lobbies softballs at guest stars, cues band. Night over.

Yeah, I know. Curtis does have a point. It’s an old, tired format, to be sure, and there’s no arguing the white dude epidemic on late-night. But for all the corny ribbing Letterman, Leno and Conan have done over the years, American TV-watchers have a kind of collective nostalgia for these old clowns. If you are alive and watching TV in 2013, whether you grew up with Conan or Carson, late-night TV banter is probably yammering on in the background of your TV memories, amusing you to sleep. It was never challenging or novel, really, but it was there, and it was kinda funny.

I didn’t watch Late Night, but when I was a kid, my mom would fall asleep watching Leno, far past my bedtime. I would sneak out of bed and crawl, guerilla-style, to the foot of my parents’ bed to watch Leno rapid-fire zingers that I didn’t understand. But it didn’t matter; it was grown-up TV. At that age, it was like alcohol—I didn’t understand the appeal (it smelled awful), but there was something alluring about how all the adults in my life considered it fashionable. If nothing else, it was soothing to watch, night after night, the same schtick.

And that’s the beauty of late-night TV, really—it’s the limerick of network programming. Predictable and contained, in many ways, but still classic. It delivers the punch lines with soothing, rhythmic familiarity. That networks could stand to diversify their line-up of hosts is completely valid, but I’m not convinced the late-night model will ever stand up to much more “new energy” than a few fresh jokes. (Arsenio Hall, for instance, will be back on the late-night circuit after a long sabbatical this fall, but there’s no evidence to suggest his show, also in the late-night talk vein, will push the comedy envelope much further than Meyers might.)

While NBC could—and maybe should—have gone a different direction than they did for their Late Night pick, I’m not sure I wanted anyone much different than Meyers: a reliable performer who, from the couch, in the midnight glow of your TV, is as easy on the eyes as he is on the mind. At that hour of the night, I think that’s what most of us have the energy for.