PASADENA, Calif. - Taking over the hosting duties on NBC's "Late Night" might not seem to have the same cache of becoming the new "Tonight Show" host, but it has certainly been an important stepping stone in the late-night talk world. David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon have gone from the post-midnight time slot to more high-exposure talk show jobs.
And now, it's "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Seth Meyers taking over the time slot. "Late Night with Seth Meyers" launches Monday (or early Tuesday morning depending on how you look at it).
"It's certainly a big thing to be stepping into. On the same note, though, 'Weekend Update' was a big thing to step into. 'SNL' was a big thing to step into. I think I've found over the years, if you get too hung up on the legacy of what you are taking over, it gets in the way a little bit of doing the work," Meyers tells TV critics. "Our goal is just to try to do the funniest thing we can every night and get better each time out."
And, Meyers is going to try to be funny in his own way.
Letterman had a goofy style, whether talking to guests or doing comedy bits. O'Brien brought a manic energy to everything he did. And Fallon made "Late Night" less of a talk show and more of a variety program.
The memories of late-night talk for Meyers is less Johnny Carson and more Letterman.
"I had an uncle who was one of those weird uncles who sort of always smelled like a Pink Floyd concert, and he kind of hipped us to Letterman. I remember taping it and watching it," Meyers says. "That was a show where you would go to school the next day, and everybody would try to remember as many of the things from the Top 10 list as possible. That was really fun."
The "Late Night" format with Meyers will look a lot like a blend of his days on "Weekend Update" with a more traditional talk show format. Alex Baze, who has been the head writer of "Weekend Update," moved with Meyers to the new show as the head writer.
'"I do feel like the legacy of late night is you get to do weird things. People are a little more patient with it, and that's going to be fun to try to mess around with that," he says.
Putting together the writing staff was a major concern for Meyers. He took a page from O'Brien's playbook and hired a lot of writers who could also be on screen if necessary. He understands such double duty because he always thought of himself more as a writer than an actor during his "SNL" days. It was not unusual for Meyers to not even shave until he was needed for the first run through of the show at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
His biggest fear about taking over "Late Night" is how much time he'll have to spend in hair and makeup - time he would rather spend working on material for the show.
Meyers, a 40-year-old Illinois native, is excited to try a version of "Weekend Update" on a nightly bases. One of the big drawbacks of being on "Saturday Night Live" was that jokes written on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday for that week's show were often stale by the time Saturday night rolled around.
"We are very excited to get out there every night and do jokes about the news, topical jokes. We want to have a really strong monologue. And then, I've hired a lot of writers who are also performers. On 'Weekend Update," we interview people who are fictional. I'd like to continue that in some degree on the new show."
His goal is to set himself apart from other late night hosts.
"We are not trying to deconstruct the model, but certainly, in the desk pieces, in the written sketches, I think that's where you define yourself from other people is in that approach," Meyers says. "We are going to have a monologue. We are going to have, obviously, guests, music, stand-up comedians. I think the biggest way to define yourself is those two or three acts of comedy before the guests stars come out. There's so much real estate to fill, and often I've found at 'SNL' the more real estate you have, the more creative ideas that come out of it."
Guests for his first night reflect the kind of show Meyers wants to do. He will be visited by his former "Weekend Update" co-host Amy Poehler, along with Vice President Joe Biden. The musical guest is A Great Big World. Other guests during the first week include Kanye West, Brad Paisley, Lena Dunham and Patrick Stewart.
When it comes to guests, Meyers plans to continue to make "Late Night" a place for new bands to get some national exposure. As for those who will sit down to chat, Meyers plans to have actors, authors, politicians and athletes. And not only guests who are already known, but people with whom the audience should get to know.
Chatting with guests will be one of the biggest changes for Meyers, who will have to handle interviews without a pre-written net.
"When I watch shows, you realize the biggest difference isn't in the host. It's how you handle different guests. Usually, when I go on a talk show, I put a lot of work into the stories. As a writer and a stand-up, you know where your laughs are. For me, the best hosts are the ones that sort of get out of the way and let you facilitate your own story," Meyers says. "Certainly there are a lot of guests that don't do that and that's the skill that you have to learn of just how to get the best out of someone who's maybe a little bit less used to presenting their own stories in a way that's sort of anecdotal."
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS
12:35 a.m. EST weeknights