NBC's "Late Night," which in five years with Jimmy Fallon as host became a playground for adventurous musical acts, has fresh marching orders from new host Seth Meyers that are leading it in a less tuneful direction. Industry sources, including several who worked with the show on its first two weeks of bookings (when ratings opened at 2.7 million viewers, then dropped to 2.1 million the second, according to Nielsen), say Meyers is booking fewer performances overall and isn't keen, as Fallon was, on incorporating music into the broadcast.
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Meyers, who started the new gig on Feb. 24 after eight years of serving as head writer on "Saturday Night Live" and hosting the show's satirical news segment "Weekend Update," is a current affairs wonk whose young tenure at "Late Night" has often felt like an expansion of the "Update" formula. Where Fallon's show had music in its DNA, leveraging the cool credibility of house band The Roots for quirky, talked-about skits with the likes of Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus, sources suggest that Meyers' affinities lie more with politicos, authors and the sports world. After premiere-week performances by Kanye West, Brad Paisley and A Great Big World, subsequent weeks of "Late Night" have featured just two music acts. In interviews, artists' representatives said they were told the show is imposing a formal limit of two performances per week.
By comparison, Fallon's version of "Late Night" averaged four musical guests per week, as does ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman." The only other major late-night talk show to book two or fewer music acts per week is "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson," also on CBS.
Meyers, who along with music supervisor and former VH1 producer Jeremiah Silva declined to comment for this story, expressed early ambivalence toward incorporating music into the show in promotional interviews last year. He has recruited "SNL" alum Fred Armisen to write theme music for the program and put a band together.
Labels have expressed hope that Armisen and his 8G Band will be sympathetic ears at "Late Night."