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.
Not to be confused with the 2019 film of the same name, although it does revolve around a late-night talk show.
Specific series who have their respective pages:
- Late Night with Conan O'Brien (19932009)
Tropes for the show include:
- 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.
- Award-Bait Song: Parodied with "It's a Late Night World of Love", the show's official "anthem".
- 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.
- Extra-Long Episode: The Grand Finale of Letterman's run ran about 5 minutes longer than usual, ending with Dave Riding Off Into The Sunset on a horse (and implied over to CBS).
- 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.
- No Indoor Voice: His announcer, Joel Godard, had an over-the-top shrill delivery, to the point that on at least some occasions, he was literally screaming the names of the guests.
- 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.
- Stylistic Suck: Quite a few recurring bits are meant as intentional snark fodder, e.g. "Dwight the Troubled Teen," an obvious thirtysomething who spouts tritely angsty lines in a letter jacket.
- 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!
- 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.
- "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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
- In a late 2017 episode, Seth speaks out against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, whom he calls "a lawless theocrat who said that homosexual conduct should be illegal and that a Muslim member of congress shouldnt be seated because of his religion, not to mention the fact that [Moore] dresses like a judge at a chili cook-off!"
- In an early 2018 episode, Seth expressed skepticism at Trump's claiming to have compromising information on Senator John Tester.Seth: What could you possible reveal about John Tester that would make him unelectable? That he called Mexicans rapists, colluded with the Russians, paid hush money to a porn star, mocked a disabled reporter, tried to ban Muslims, confessed to sexual assault, called African nations "shit holes", defended Nazis, and doesnt know how to use an umbrella?
- On the day of Trump's impeachment, Seth opened the "A Closer Look" segment with a list of Trump's illegal and immoral actions as President, lasting over half a minute and ending with "...and drove his golf cart onto the green."
- Audience Participation: He seems to have taken after Fallon, since one of his first episodes featured a game called "Fake or Florida".
- The online exclusive "Corrections" segment is for Seth to address mistakes that viewers point out over the week, usually resulting in weeks long back-and-forth as different commenters weigh in on if his initial correction was correct enough.
- Blatant Lies: A frequent theme with "Fred Talks" is Fred Armisen 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).
- Breakout Character:
- Amber Ruffin, who ended up with her own segment "Amber Says What," and now her own weekly show.
- At some points the jokes in "Jokes Seth Can't Tell" spread out of the range of Amber and Jenny's demographics, so they rope in another writer from their pool, and one of them, the young, dorky Karen Chee, got popular enough to get her own segment "What Does Karen Know".
- 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.
- In one April 2020 segmentnote , Seth dismisses the theory that he uses the tiny attic door behind him to keep his children locked up in there when he's recording. At the end of the segment, the door opens and his two sons run out laughing, while Seth can't keep a straight face as he asks how'd they escape.
- Calling the Old Man Out:
- Many of the "A Closer Look" segments that have aired since Donald Trump became president have done this, regarding behavior exhibited by Trump that is less than becoming of an American president. It is one of the few late-night comedy talkers that has continued to call out Trump's admiration for strongmen in faltering democracies and authoritarian/totalitarian regimes, and possibly the only one that, since he became president, has repeatedly criticized Trump for his own authoritarian behavior (particularly, his threats to the press, his abuses of government power including those involving attempts to investigate political opponents [read: Hillary Clinton] and the frequent reports of his wanting to curtail Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into his campaign's alleged collusion with the Kremlin).
- Seth has also repeatedly called out Congressional Republicans in several of these segments for both failing to rein in Trump, and for their decision to focus on unpopular policies that many outside (and, to some extent, inside) of the right wing would consider a "reverse Robin Hooding" of the middle class and poor to favor the wealthy (specifically, donors such as the Koch Brothers, Robert Mercer, etc.).
- Character Blog: The Sea Captain has a Twitter account, though it is mainly used to gauge his popularity or what storylines he should follow.
- 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.
- Every Episode Ending: The "Jokes Seth Can't Tell" segment *always* ends the exact same way: see N-Word Privileges below. The stock ending may be modified slightly based on whoever else is reading jokes alongside Seth, but otherwise is unchanged.
- Foreshadowing: A retroactive example. 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.
- Funny Background Event: Invoked in the closing of the "A Closer Look" segment regarding Trump firing John Bolton. As Seth summarizes the situation of Donald Trump hiring Bolton in the first place, next to him are a bunch of clips of "Mascot Fails".
- Fun with Acronyms:
- In September 2019, news broke of a whistleblower report about Donald Trump being caught making a call to a foreign leader promising something, without any real details, so Seth discussed a mnemonic memory aid he came up with."Remember, this was a Promise made by the United States President Trump to a certain International leader, but we do not know his Name. Could be anyone. Could be anyone."
- In late 2019, Seth called out the hypocrisy of certain politicians who once supported the USA PATRIOT Act now attacking the FBI and the CIA for investigating Trump."At this rate, theyre gonna have to pass an updated USA PATRIOT Act called the Uniting to Support A Pathetic And Tarnished Red-faced Idiot Otherwise known as Trump Act."
- In September 2019, news broke of a whistleblower report about Donald Trump being caught making a call to a foreign leader promising something, without any real details, so Seth discussed a mnemonic memory aid he came up with.
- Fun with Subtitles: For the "A Closer Look" segment after Trump accused Puerto Rico's mayor of being nasty, Seth handed part of the segment over to Jenny Hagel, one of the show's writers, to demonstrate what it really looks like when an angry Puerto Rican woman gets nasty. At one point, Hagel drops into subtitled Spanish, with parts of the rant being subtitled "[Puerto Rican insult that doesn't really translate. But trust me — it's a good one.]", "[This is also a good insult.]", and "[This is a great one. Google it.]".
- Ham-to-Ham Combat: The ending of the "Jokes Seth Can't Tell" segment is almost always very hammy, which of course just makes it even funnier.
- Homage: As a tribute to David Letterman, the night before his last show, Late Night recreated the original 1982 opening sequence.
- Lame Pun Reaction: Seth calls out his writers like this frequently, in particular in March 2021 when Mike Scollins wrote a string of jokes involving national days: "Today was World Water Day, so shout out to my hose!" Which he followed up a day later with "Today was National Agriculture Day, so shout out to my hoes!"
- Missing Reflection: Suggested by Seth as the only plausible reason Republicans aren't worried about being able to face themselves in the mirror.
- My Parents Are Dead: Milked to the extreme in the sketch "Seth Brings Jon Snow to a Dinner Party". Jon Snow, a hero from Game of Thrones, is unable to make small talk with New Yorkers. Whatever the other guests bring up, Jon has something very bleak to say about himself ("My mother is so and so" — "I'm a bastard, so I never knew my mother." & "Your father sounds like a very impressive guy" — "My father's head was chopped off." & "Do you have any siblings?" — "My brother was stabbed to death at his own wedding." & "You remind me of my first love, Ygritte" — "So tell me bout Ygritte." — "She shot me with three arrows and then a child murdered her in cold blood.")
- 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!
- Obviously Evil:
- Many jokes like this are made at the expense of Trump's policy advisor Stephen Miller, whose appearance, personality, and policies lead to him being compared to a demon, vampire, or Serial Killer.
- Seth also notes that many Trump associates who get indicted in corruption scandals also happen to "look like gangsters in a Tex Avery cartoon."Seth: Corruption in politics used to be K Street lobbyists handing off bribes in parking garages. Now, it's shady ambulance chasers with mob ties funneling money through real estate and taxi medallions. Look at them! They look like they should be playing cards in the back of a butcher shop, waiting for someone to call them and say "It's done." If they weren't aides to the President, they would own competing strip clubs outside Secaucus.
- 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, and Stephen Colbert was preparing for The Late Show on CBS, which would eventually follow suit), with longer segments focused on political stories, with the segment "The Check-In" in particular being compared to a shorter version of the "deep dive" stories in Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. 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 that paints him as The Igor.Seth!Eric: Father, NOOOOO!!!
- Every time he brings up Stephen Miller, a flash of thunder & lighting plays. Seth always jumps.
- The segments recorded at Seth's home during the coronavirus outbreak has several. At first, it was Seth's inability to find a good place to record the episodes, with the room changing almost every episode. Once he finally settled on the attic, many viewers started asking what's up with the small door on the background and why Seth's table keeps piling up with copies of The Thorn Birds. The crew ran with this, Lampshade Hanging ensued, and both are addressed at least Once per Episode. One segment used fake sequels to The Thorn Birds, and subsequent segments used equally fake books with puns on the title.
- Now has a Spiritual Successor in the notecard that Seth reads off that week's Corrections from, where the text on the back is different every week.
- Once he moves into what he dubs "The Captain's Quarters" (a room in his in-laws house), the debate over Seth's controversial new sidekick, a talking painting of a sea captain called the Sea Captain and whether he is a welcome addition or an annoyance.
- A photo of Dr. Anthony Fauci Face Palming during one of Trump's press conferences has also become a Running Gag. The irony of Fauci, an immunologist, touching his face during a pandemic in which people are specifically advised not to touch their faces is sometimes lampshaded, while at the same time giving Fauci a pass, mostly due to the person that causes Fauci to do so.Seth: [imitating Trump] Ahhh Fauci, got you to touch your face!
- 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 that paints him as The Igor.
- Self-Deprecation: During the 2020 coronavirus outbreak, Seth would record the episodes at his home with a webcam. One episode has this gem.Picture-in-picture shows a freeze-frame of Seth.
- 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 Seth has had his parents, Larry and Hilary Meyers, and his brother Josh as his guests.
- Token Trio: Seth is occassionally joined by Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel for the segment "Jokes Seth Can't Tell", allowing the audience to hear jokes by the writers that Seth, being a straight, white male, wouldn't get away with telling, or just wouldn't work coming from him. Both are Token Twofers - Amber is a black woman, Jenny is a gay woman.
- 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.
- Wants a Prize for Basic Decency: Inverted;note Seth notes how often the mainstream media is willing to forgive everything Trump does whenever Trump makes a speech without resorting to his usual anger and invective; even though Trump inevitably relapses back into his usual ways, and the reserved tone of the speeches does not mean that his policy has changed for the best, the media will still praise Trump and claim that he's turning a positive corner.Seth: As we know, Trump has spent the last year and a half lowering the bar when it comes to public speaking, so the fact that Trump managed to sustain a muted tone that, for any other politician, would be considered unremarkable and even a little boring, was itself seen as a huge victory last night — and look, there were plenty of voters who were impressed or reassured by his message as early polls have shown, but as usual, the media obsessed over their favorite topic: his tone. (...) Trumps tone may well have been restrained, but the substance of the speech was as divisive as before — from his rhetoric on cracking down on immigration to his pledge to repeal Obamacare.