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An Anton-Ali Pop-Ed: It's Time for a Late-Night Refresh

After the next show, Seth Meyers will be leaving his head writer and "Weekend Update" post at Saturday Night Live and tackling the world of Late Night. Maybe this will be a welcome change for SNL, a show that seems to be struggling in finding ways to make people laugh. Sure, it's challenging for a show like SNL to be funny week after week, but it's getting really tiresome seeing hosts wasted on skits that are supposed to be the best offerings from the writers' room. With the departure of Meyers (and the fact that he's moving on for good), Colin Jost has been named as Meyers' successor. We don't know much about him now, but he does have an impressive résumé, with the Harvard grad racking up seven Emmy nominations during his tenure as an SNL writer. Let's hope we see some changes coming to a show that's in great need of a jumpstart.

Anyway, with Meyers taking on Jimmy Fallon's old post at Late Night, all eyes are on Fallon as he takes the reigns of The Tonight Show. I was unsure when Fallon was announced as the host of Late Night. Having been a fan of Conan O'Brien, I felt Fallon had some some pretty big shoes to fill. Fallon ended up being a pleasant surprise to the world of late night television. Where would we be without The Roots rocking the glockenspiel to some of the past summer's biggest hits? How about the return of Zack Morris and "Zack Attack?" Most importantly, what about "The History of Rap?" Fallon has had some pretty memorable moments during his short term as Late Night host. In this brief period of time, he has been able to take over for O'Brien, a late-night TV veteran, and prove himself as a viable replacement for a big platform like the The Tonight Show.

But we've seen this before. Can Fallon prevent Jay Leno from once again holding onto what has been his show since 1992?

NBC has been trying to dethrone Leno for quite some time. It's not unexpected that NBC would want to move onto someone new and younger. Although Leno has remained on top in terms of late-night ratings forever, I don't know anyone my age that watches the show. Nothing from Leno's version of The Tonight Show goes viral. It's been a regular staple for quite some time, but it's not a show that a lot people really talk about. So it's the duty of NBC to prevent an iconic franchise like The Tonight Show from just being a show that's in the background while people fall asleep at night.

NBC has a history of screwing things up though. O'Brien's blink-and-you-missed-it hosting gig at The Tonight Show was a horrendous black eye for the network. First off, The Jay Leno Show was awful. There was a segment on the show where they would take the one guest they had on the show for the half-hour block and make them drive around a stupid racetrack in a Ford car. Forget about the fact that it was a giant commercial — it was boring. Perhaps the show was so bad it took away from potential viewership that O'Brien could have had over at The Tonight Show. It seems like a simple rule, NBC. Don't lead with something that was clearly dead-on-arrival from the onset. The network should have moved on from Leno and given O'Brien a chance to take the reigns on his own. Instead, O'Brien got a reported $40 million settlement for his play-or-pay contract and Leno came back.

So what's going to happen with Leno? Is he going to find his way back to network TV somehow? Leno has made it clear, the second time around, that he's not really leaving by choice. But it's time, Leno. Maybe this will be a good time to go back to your standup roots and do a little more touring. Take some time to work on your gigantic warehouse of cars. It's a feeling of deja vu as there's rumblings on behalf of NBC on trying to keep him somehow after he's no longer with The Tonight Show. NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt doesn't really specify what this could entail except by saying "comedian specials" or "other ideas." The "other ideas" part scares me. Former NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker is also rumored to be talking to Leno about coming to CNN. If I had to chose, CNN would be OK. It seems far enough from the late-night world that it wouldn't have much of an impact on Fallon. But like what's being done for SNL and Late Night, let's finally give The Tonight Show the refresh it deserves.
An Anton-Ali Pop-Ed: It's Time for a Late-Night Refresh Reviewed by Anton Ali on 1/29/2014 Rating: 5

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