Seth Meyers is not taking being back in the studio for granted.
The host of NBC’s Late Night has been back in 30 Rock since September and although he had to leave the Sea Captain behind, he no longer has to fix his own iPad teleprompter.
The former SNL-er has been revelling in the fact that there is no studio audience – and he tells Deadline that there’s unlikely to be a crowd in to see the show being made until September “at the earliest” – particularly during his freewheeling A Closer Look segments.
The political comedy segment, which can run north of 15 minutes, is one of Meyers’ signature bits and the success of it during the pandemic and the dying days of the Trump Presidency are a big part of why he is being talked up for one of the five slots in the main Emmy late-night category.
There is obviously tough competition – it feels like Last Week Tonight, The Late Show, The Daily Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live! are a lock for four of the spots and Meyers will be fighting it out with Samantha Bee, James Corden and newcomers Desus & Mero for the final spot.
Meyers is evidently enjoying the gig, cemented by the fact that he recently renewed his deal with NBC through 2025, which will take him to around 1,800 episodes.
The comedian talks with Deadline about that deal, the genre in general, making a nightly show in 2021 as well as the discovery of Jeff Wright, a new talent who started making TikTok videos and is now making some of Late Night’s funniest sketches.
DEADLINE: You’ve been back in the studio for nine months. Has the novelty worn off yet?
SETH MEYERS: The novelty hasn’t worn off; it’s so nice to be back in the studio, having done the show out of the studio that every day you are acutely aware of how much harder the job could be without being surrounded by this really talented staff. Tonight, was only our third or fourth show where both guests were in the studio and that’s great. Really, I still feel as though, and sadly the more you do it, the better you get at doing a Zoom interview, that was a lot harder a tear ago, but nothing got easy about doing the tech myself and not having to worry about that and being able to focus on writing and performance, is such a gift.
DEADLINE: You’ve had plenty of guests return to in-studio interviews. How has that felt?
MEYERS: The upside to Zoom is that the guest is talking to the audience, they’re looking into the camera and the downside is you still can’t quite tell when you’re supposed to jump in. It’s really hard so I think it’s even a bit better if the guest is telling a great story and it’s not about you as a host needing to be there to banter with them, that’s a real positive to how Zoom works. But you’re always just on your toes trying to figure out what you should be doing, which a lot easier when you have a guest in studio.
The people who show up are so happy to be there. David Harbour, who is always a delight to talk to, you could tell that was a guy who wanted to put his best suit on and go somewhere so that’s really nice too.
DEADLINE: You’ll be back day drinking with celebrities any day now, right?
MEYERS: I’m not going to lie to you, we’ve got one on the books this summer and it’s the only time where my wife will tolerate getting hammered in the afternoon and I try to do them as often as possible, while keeping in mind that as a man of my advanced age that it’s very hard to recover from them. I will say if you’re only going to do it once a year, try to do it with Rihanna.
DEADLINE: The Tonight Show, The Late Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live! have all returned with a live audience. Are you jealous?
MEYERS: I’m a guest on Jimmy’s show tomorrow [June 16] and it will be fascinating to see what it’s like to be in front of a talk show audience again, I feel like I’ve forgotten. I’m worried that the first time they make a noise, I’m going to turn on them and scream ‘We’re trying to have a conversation’. We’re not rushing back, we’re going to wait until September at the earliest to bring audiences back but it will be interesting to see it from the other side on The Tonight Show.
DEADLINE: I imagine once you do have an audience back, it’s going to take a beat to feel normal, right?
MEYERS: There’s no way it won’t be jarring because we’ve adjusted [to no audience]. I do keep pointing out that it’s been longer than we thought so there will be a weird mourning period of this time is ending while having been through it for deeply awful reasons has forced us to make some creative choices that we’ve come to enjoy and rely on.
DEADLINE: Last time I spoke you before the election, you promised more silliness and frivolity if Joe Biden was elected President. How have you felt making the show under the Biden administration?
MEYERS: I think people who tune in every night will say I’ve kept my promise for frivolity. There are a lot of hard right turns and tangents going on in A Closer Look right now that we’re taking advantage of the now-available real estate that the post-Trump Presidency has provided us.
DEADLINE: I’m surprised you haven’t invited Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson on the show [given your recent impressions].
MEYERS: I can’t tell if that’s them being offended by the impressions or them accepting that the impressions are so good that if they were there, it would seem redundant.
DEADLINE: You’ve got a nice line of inside jokes going right now like your take on Mike Lindell with Da Bears.
MEYERS: I don’t watch the clips when we’re writing it – Sal writes the first draft – and I read what Mike Lindell says when I’m writing jokes on it but I think the first reference to the bears was just watching it while we were recording it and making the observation internally that that’s what he reminded me of.
I think there’s another part of not having a studio audience that has an upside – the inside jokes. They’re not inside jokes with me and the crew, they’re inside jokes with the audience, because studio audiences, a good amount of them have watched the show and are fans of the show, but they might not watch it every night and people who watch at home, there’s a higher likelihood that it’s part of their routine so it’s not that I’m going to say an inside joke to make my crew laugh, I’m hoping it that’s peering over to people at home. I feel so much closer to the at home audience because there’s not an inbetween audience that is blocking the supply chain, so to speak.
DEADLINE: That seems particularly noticeable during the A Closer Look segments.
MEYERS: A surface perusal of our YouTube numbers would tell you that we probably double our audience for A Closer Look specifically. We’re aware that there are people whose morning routine is to watch A Closer Look online and another half our audience watches at night when it airs. We’re all in this together so we can call something back and build our own cinematic universe here and see if people dig.
The network discovered early on that it’s not cannibalizing the people who watch it later and there’s different ways to watch so I’m glad because it’s so unique we can get it up early and we’re really happy that there’s people out there who have an appetite for it.
DEADLINE: Do you pay attention to ratings?
MEYERS: We pay attention most any time the network calls to say there’s a problem. We’re very tuned in to the fact that A Closer Look is driving a lot of our online eyeballs, but we don’t approach it any differently because of that. It’s nice that we found the thing that’s as close to a viral hit is part of the show that we care most about. We started doing the show in 2014 so the conventional wisdom was not that people would engage with a longer piece like that so that was nice. The other thing, the reason I’m plugged in to what the audience is thinking, is I made the terrible decision to read the YouTube comments for my incredibly popular Corrections online clip so you really have your finger on the pulse if you’re putting yourself through that.
DEADLINE: NBC says that you over-index among households with an income of more than $100,000+ and in households with four-plus years of college. Does that make you the Mad Men of late-night?
MEYERS: I just try to be more Don Draper than Pete Campbell. I think sometimes in Corrections, a little Campbell might come through.
DEADLINE: You did a primetime A Closer Look special before the election; any plans for more of those?
MEYERS: That under indexed with audiences. It was very funny because I think the original plan was to do three of those and then somehow it became one. It was really exciting to do because A Closer Look live is so much talking and I’m very proud of the fact there wasn’t a stumble or a flub there. Even now, I stumble and flub more without an audience there, weirdly, two or three times a night where I have to go back and pick stuff up. Without the wall of sound that an audience gives you, you have less time to catch your breath and re-center yourself. I feel like the old SNL butterflies came back in a good way to get through that on a live Closer Look. I will say when it was over, the network didn’t call and ask us to do another one.
DEADLINE: One of yours finds of the pandemic was Jeff Wright.
MEYERS: All credit to Shoemaker who saw his TikTok videos and reached out to him. In real life, he’s even more charismatic, which is hard to believe but for a young guy, we are continually blown away by how in touch with what he does well and his ideas just show up fully formed and you can’t believe how good he is and we’re really happy before he has his own Marvel movie, or something like that, we’re happy we get to spend a bit of time with him. When you meet someone who is nice, talented, handsome and hardworking, there are very few things that will derail their path to success.
DEADLINE: Are you still enjoying making the show? Renewing through 2025 makes me assume so.
MEYERS: I kind of can’t believe that the trajectory is that I enjoy it more the longer I do it. I think there probably is a ceiling but we haven’t hit it and, again, such an awful year, but it was made so much easier to swallow by having the show, it’s so cathartic to be able to find a way to do it through the last 15 months. Now to be home and in the studio again, it’s been lovely.
DEADLINE: Was it an easy decision to renew the deal?
MEYERS: It was a very easy decision. It was hard for Hollywood because there was a lot of big movie offers so I had to let them down.
DEADLINE: As part of that agreement, you also signed an overall production deal. You’re exec producing AP Bio and The Amber Ruffin Show as well as a new animated series with your brother. How do you find time to do all of that?
MEYERS: I should say, it’s easy to find time to work with my brother, because it doesn’t feel like work. In the case of AP Bio and The Amber Ruffin Show, if Shoemaker and I have any vision of the kind of producers we want to be, it’s to make room for people who have super strong visions to have shows so we will have to do very little because they are so talented that we’d only get in the way. There are times we hear really good ideas from people and we realize they maybe have a little less experience and would be better served going to a different kind of producer.
DEADLINE: I take it there’s not going to be a Conan vs. Jay Leno style fight between you and Jimmy Fallon for The Tonight Show any time soon?
MEYERS: No. If we’re lucky enough to reup again, the same thing will happen. I love having a 12:30am show, I genuinely do, I’ve always been very lucky to have Jimmy as a lead in and I think we complement each other very well.
DEADLINE: A Little Late with Lilly Singh used to follow you and that show is ending. Do you see a time when we might get a woman or a person of color in one of the main late-night slots?
MEYERS: I certainly hope so and I have to imagine that anyone with an eye for talent would think that Amber [Ruffin] would be a perfect person to fill one of those roles. If she comes and takes my job, I’ll just have to tip my cap and say ‘You’re the Highlander now’.
DEADLINE: We’re talking ostensibly because of the Emmys; how much do you hate campaigning and how do you feel about your name entering the main category conversation?
MEYERS: I don’t like campaigning but I do enjoy talking about my show so at least you get a little of column B with column A. In general, we’ve been lucky and delighted to have our show nominated for writing over the years and that’s part of the show that we take a great amount of pride in so it is a very nice honor that we try not to take too seriously and no matter what happens, I will always have hosted the Emmys. They can’t take that away from me.
Late Night is produced by Universal Television and Broadway Video with Mike Shoemaker as showrunner and Lorne Michaels as exec producer.