Series / Late Night

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"There's been three hosts of Late Night: David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, and me. And if there's one thing I've learned from Dave and Conan, it's that hosting this show is a one-way ticket to not hosting The Tonight Show."

Late Night is a NBC late-night (specifically, 12:35-1:35 AM) Talk Show franchise and (as the above quote will tell you) training ground for other networks' 11:35 hosts. Began in 1973 as The Tomorrow Show hosted by Tom Snyder, but replaced in 1982 due to lower ratings and stations dropping it for Reruns with the current format. Originally hosted by David Letterman in the 1980s and early '90s. When Johnny Carson stepped down in 1992, Letterman expected to inherit The Tonight Show. Instead, NBC gave it to Jay Leno, previously a regular guest host, and Letterman jumped ship to CBS, taking the show lock, stock and barrel with him. That is, aside from the title "Late Night", which was owned by NBC. Letterman's new show, The Late Show with David Letterman, was placed opposite Leno's Tonight Show. NBC initially wanted Saturday Night Live alumnus Dana Carvey to fill Letterman's old post; when that didn't happen, they gave the job (for reasons nobody was quite sure of at the time) to an unknown writer for SNL and The Simpsons named Conan O'Brien.

O'Brien was largely not expected to last much longer than a week, and indeed was on the verge of cancellation for years, with the fact that there was nobody to replace him the only saving factor. (The critical consensus, O'Brien included, is that the show was terrible for its first three years.) However, O'Brien grew into the role and ended up hosting for nearly sixteen years. NBC made darn sure not to lose another Late Night host to a rival network and plans were drawn up as early as 2004 for him to take over The Tonight Show. After O'Brien did inherit The Tonight Show in 2009, Late Night went to former SNL cast member Jimmy Fallon (who if he's smart had alternate names for all his characters and routines memorized or on undated handwritten papers kept strictly in his home, even though they turned out not to be needed. Yet.)

In 2010, The Tonight Show and The Jay Leno Show touched off what the media (and many viewers) termed the 'Late-Night War'; basically, Conan O'Brien made a lateral move to host The Tonight Show, and Leno moved up to an earlier timeslot to helm The Jay Leno Show.

After the switch, Leno and O'Brien's ratings began a serious decline; NBC's response was to shorten The Jay Leno Show to thirty minutes and move it from its 10:00 timeslot to 11:35, and move Tonight from 11:35 to a new 12:05 timeslot.

The new schedule didn't sit well with O'Brien, who refused to participate in what he called the wholesale destruction of The Tonight Show, which would also bump other programs back by thirty minutes (and possibly remove one from the late-night roster altogether). NBC reportedly gave him the option to accept the timeslot or leave the network; faced with the choice-that-was-not, O'Brien negotiated with NBC for a forty-five million dollar 'walk away' deal, and left NBC entirely, later signing with TBS.

Unlike many late night hosts during the conflict, Jimmy Fallon largely resisted jumping into the fray, as he considers both Leno and O'Brien good friends. Fallon took over The Tonight Show in early 2014 when Leno re-retired and was replaced at Late Night by Seth Meyers, also an SNL alum.

Specific series who have their respective pages:

Tropes for the show include:

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     In General 
  • Irony: Late Night originally was intended to be the grooming ground for The Tonight Show's future hosts, but as the controversies that both Dave and Conan had to face against NBC and Jay Leno would tell you, Late Night hosts seem to be destined to eventually host other networks’ 11:35 slots instead. Fallon during the Conan situation even remarked that "if there's one thing I've learned from Dave and Conan, it's that hosting this show is a one-way ticket to not hosting The Tonight Show." Four years after the Conan-Leno fiasco however, Leno retired from The Tonight Show once more, and Fallon took over The Tonight Show in 2014.
  • Long Runner: It's been running continuously since 1982.
  • Long-Runner Cast Turnover: Has had four hosts - five if you count its predecessor, Tomorrow with Tom Snyder.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Technically, it airs in the early morning.
  • Something Completely Different: A staple of both the Letterman and O'Brien eras was their brand of "anti-humor" and off-the-wall comedy in juxtaposition with the more laid-back style of comedy expected of late-night talk shows.
  • Talk Show
  • The Talk Show with Host Name: All incarnations of the show are known as "Late Nigth with" followed by the host's name.

     David Letterman era (1982–93) 
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Letterman constantly took shots at NBC and their parent company, General Electric.
  • The Bus Came Back: Dave made a number of guest appearances on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, complementing Conan on being able to successfully put his own spin on the Late Night set and formula. During his Letterman tribute on the episode of Conan that aired opposite the final The Late Show with David Letterman, O'Brien recalled being a "national punchline at 30" during the disastrous first months of his Late Night, and credited Letterman's return appearance and verbal approval of all the changes they made for turning things around for his career.
  • Don't Try This at Home: Warning disclaimer for many Late Night stunts in the 1980s. Occasionally subverted by Letterman with the addendum "Go to a friend's house instead."
  • Expy: Letterman has always credited his "Suit of Alka-Seltzer" spot as being an expy of Steve Allen's Suit of Teabags on The Tonight Show.
  • Fourth-Wall Mail Slot: "Viewer Mail", in which he will answer questions from viewers.
  • Greeting Gesture Confusion: The infamous "GE Corporate Handshake". In 1986, after General Electric bought NBC, Letterman tried to start his relationship with his new employers on the right foot by delivering a fruit basket to GE's corporate headquarters. Security told him he needed official approval to enter the building. After getting tired of waiting he walked into the lobby, where he was confronted by a manager who told him to turn his camera off. When Dave and director Hal Gurnee both tried to shake the manager's hand, the manager held out his hand, then quickly pulled it away.
  • Impossibly Cool Clothes: For a while in the 80s David had a number of special suits. Sitting in a giant bowl he was doused with barrels of milk while wearing a Suit of Rice Krispies; Hoisted by a crane he was placed in a giant glass of water wearing a Suit of Alka-Seltzer; And perhaps most famous of all - he jumped off a trampoline on to a wall while wearing a Suit of Velcro to see if he'd stick. He did. As Letterman himself freely admitted, these were inspired by Steve Allen, who during his run as host of The Tonight Show, once sat in a giant tea cup with warm water and 200 lemon wedges while wearing a Suit of Teabags.
  • Orphaned Punch Line: A 1985 episode has guest Johnny Carson delivering the punchline to a joke that he'd started on The Tonight Show earlier that night: "And the man says to Mrs. O'Hara, 'I'm not so sure about that, he got out three times to go to the bathroom'."note 
  • Serious Business: Taking something dumb and treating it with deadpan seriousness was an early staple of Letterman's comedy.
  • Shout-Out: His first episode as host of Late Night in 1982 opened with Larry "Bud" Melman delivering a slightly reworded version of the famous opening monologue from Frankenstein (1931).
  • Something Completely Different: Late Night would sometimes stage an entire episode in a bizarre, novel way.
    • One night, he pretended it was The Morning Show with Dave & Tawny (perhaps a statement on his ill-fated eponymous 1980 series)...and actually seemed like a pretty decent idea. Apparently Dave himself was very impressed with this episode. Generally when he would announce that the next night's episode was a repeat, he'd say it's "Just a lousy re-run, don't bother tuning in". But when announcing "The Morning Show" episode's re-showing, he suggested people giving it another viewing.
    • On another occasion, he let the audience vote via applause for a "custom-built show". The resulting episode featured the theme from Gilligan's Island, Dave and his guests sitting in lawn chairs, Larry "Bud" Melman walking through 30 Rock in a bear suit, and closing credits with the names of the members of that night's studio audience
    • Still another episode was an "upside-down show" where the camera rotated 360 degrees throughout the course of the hour.
    • Not to mention the 4 AM show, which was taped at, you guessed it, 4 in the morning. The show featured an introduction from Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dave entering on a horse, rat catching in the streets of Manhattan, and a guided tour of one of the guest's neighbourhood.
  • Stealth Pun: He often wore a letterman jacket during his taped segments.
  • Straw Fan: Predominantly used by Letterman to mock his audience in the "Viewer Mail" segments.
  • Swivel-Chair Antics: Dave and Paul have raced down the halls of NBC on fire extinguisher powered office chairs.
  • Very Special Episode: Memorably parodied in They Took My Show Away, supposedly an Afterschool Special episode starring Dave where he helps a young boy cope with the cancellation of Voyagers!

     Jimmy Fallon era (2009–14) 
  • Audience Participation: One of the few American late night shows that use this. Audience members often participate in quirky games between the monologue and when the guests come out.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of everything from Lost to Jersey Shore. The elaborate taped parodies of popular TV shows, all set within the Late Night universe, have become a hallmark of Fallon's run on the show.
  • Calvinball: The "Wheel of Carpet Samples" game. Even worse, the "losers" get $300 Apple Store gift cards, while the "winner" gets a carpet sample.
    • Taken further with "Wheel of Game Shows", where the joke is that everyone loses because of an Unexpectedly Obscure Answer, or Fallon not explaining the rules for a game at all (i.e. "Brownie Points", where he only hands out plates of brownies and expects the contestants to know what to do next).
  • Crosscast Role: The "Real Wives of Late Night" have the cast of the show playing their wives. Lampshaded when the Indianapolis Colts' wives (the players also in drag) come over for a party and Higgins wife offhandedly mentions they look like dudes.
  • Oh, the Humanity!: Directly parodied with the "Who Cares Hindenburg". After bringing up some useless news stories, usually celebrity gossip, Fallon declares that all those stories are going into the "Who Cares Hindenburg". Then we see Stock Footage of the Hindenburg exploding while an announcer sarcastically mourns the loss of all those stories, ending with "Oh, the humanity! WHO CARES?!"
  • Precious Puppies: From "If Puppies Could Vote" (Gary Frick, you stop it!) to their 2011 Emmy nomination reel, which featured a puppy dressed up as each member of the writing staff, this incarnation certainly loves a puppy gag.
  • Homemade Sweater from Hell: During the twelve days before the show takes its Christmas break, Fallon gives them away to members of their audience.
  • Muppet Cameo: There have been quite a few Sesame Street characters coming to visit.
    • In his very last scene on Late Night, he accompanied the Muppets on drums as they sang "The Weight" by The Band, and then he left the stage and walked down a hallway(with the camera following) to the set of The Tonight Show.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The "Head Swap" segment.
  • The Show Must Go On: The show was taped without an audience while New York City was battening down the hatches for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. (David Letterman did a Sandy show in a similar manner.)
  • Spit Take: There's a game centered around it on the show.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Jimmy Fallon used this in a joke while hosting the 2010 Primetime Emmys:
    Jimmy Fallon: NBC asking the host of Late Night to come to Los Angeles to host a different show, what could possibly go wrong?
    [camera cuts to Conan O'Brien, who had done exactly that for his infamously short tenure as host of The Tonight Show in the audience]
  • Zonk: Some of the contestant games involve these. In "Doll Posin'", the losers get a doll-sized "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" T-Shirt. In the Spit Take game, the losers get moist towelettes.

     Seth Meyers era (2014–present) 
  • Affectionate Parody: Seth's very first opening featured him writing a "Thank You" note (a Jimmy Fallon skit) of his own:
    Seth: Thank you, Jimmy Fallon, for taking over The Tonight Show at 11:30 so I could take over Late Night at 12:30. I promise to treat it with respect and dignity, and to only use it to do completely original comedy pieces... starting now.
  • Audience Participation: He seems to have taken after Fallon, since one of his first episodes featured a game called "Fake or Florida".
  • Blatant Lies: A frequent theme with "Fred Talks" is Fred Armisten talking about how he had done something that either is suspiciously similar to some event that happened recently at the time (e.g. after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had a public altercation with a man during a sports game, Fred said that he had an altercation with Christie too) or something that either it's highly improbable or flat-out impossible (e.g. saying that he would host a BBQ in the sky).
  • Brick Joke: Almost every segment will have a clip or funny observation set up near the start or during the middle, which gets brought again as the very last joke of the segment. This is especially prevalent in the "A Closer Look" segments.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: Frequently subverts this. If a joke clearly falls flat with the live audience, Seth would follow it up by explaining it, and that actually tends to end up getting a good reaction from the audience.
  • Foreshadowing: One of Seth's first ever "A Closer Look" segments was on Donald Trump announcing his presidential campaign. After being elected President, Trump and his presidency's actions became the main focus of the "A Closer Look" segments.
  • Homage: As a tribute to David Letterman, the night before his last show, Late Night recreated the original 1982 opening sequence.
  • N-Word Privileges: The segment "Jokes Seth Can't Tell" attempts to circumvent this via Loophole Abuse, bringing out two female writers — Amber Ruffin, who's black, and Jenny Hagel, who's gay — to deliver the punchlines of jokes that would seem inappropriate coming from a straight white man.note  The sketch always ends with Amber and Jenny encouraging Seth to tell one of the jokes himself, getting deeply offended by it when he does, and the whole thing devolving into a shouting match. The final dialogue is always the same, and is always hilariously over-the-top:
    Amber: [trying very hard to look outraged but usually corpsing] HOW DARE YOU!
    Seth: What? You told me it would be okay!
    Jenny: [looking more convincingly offended than Amber] You should be ashamed of yourself!
    Seth: You told me it would be okay! BLACK WOMEN AND LESBIANS ARE LIARRRRRS!
  • Once an Episode: A mug with a logo from an NBC affiliate is on his desk nightly.
  • Only in Florida: "Fake or Florida?", where audience contestants have to guess if a sample newspiece is an actual story from Florida or a fake story.
  • Retool: In mid-2015, the program began to shift towards a news comedy-oriented format not unlike The Daily Show (even more notable is the fact that this happened right around the time that Jon Stewart was preparing for his final episode), with longer segments focused on political stories. In September, Meyers' set was also redesigned, seeing him perform his monologue entirely from his desk rather than standing. Meyers explained that he had originally used a more traditional format so that viewers wouldn't view it as simply a continuation of Weekend Update, but began to tweak the format over time to ease his writers into topical content.
  • Running Gag: Eric Trump (and sometimes Tiffany) getting treated as The Unfavorite of the President's children, which, while a staple of other late-night comedians as well, is punctuated by Seth by always giving Eric a Simpleton Voice.
    Seth!Eric: Father, NOOOOO!!!
  • Simpleton Voice: Seth's go-to when he is doing an impression either of Trump's sons, particularly Eric.
  • So Unfunny, It's Funny: Seth tends to find it really amusing when one of his jokes doesn't go over well with the audience. The meta-commentary he provides when this happens is often a lot funnier than the joke itself.
  • Take That!: The "Ya Burnt!" segment exists simply so that Seth can deliver a rapid-fire round of insults to various people, places, and things that annoy him.
  • Thanksgiving Episode: While mostly in his standard format, every Thanksgiving as of the end of 2016, Seth has had his parents, Larry and Hilary Meyers, and his brother Josh as his guests.
  • Unacceptable Targets: Invoked and played with in "Ya Burnt!", which is a rundown of Take Thats to various people, places, and things Seth that feels like making fun of, done under a time limit. The last item on the list will always be something like "Blind Orphans" or "Single Moms Just Doing Their Best", where it seems like any joke Seth could possibly make about them would be in poor taste, and that's conveniently when he runs out of time, narrowly saving them from being burnt.

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