The End of Seth Meyers’ Band Is the Funeral Dirge for Late Night as We Know It

Fred Armisen needs a new place to drum
The End of Seth Meyers’ Band Is the Funeral Dirge for Late Night as We Know It

Be very afraid, Jimmys. 

The late-night comedy talk show, a format that Johnny Carson ruled and every network embraced in the 2000s, is showing troubling signs of collapse. The latest red flag? NBC has given the pink slip to Seth Meyers’ Late Night band, according to Variety, a budget-cutting move that should send shivers down the spines of any host heading into contract negotiations. 

Hey, it could have been worse. Meyers’ version of Late Night is well-liked, but there have been whispers in recent months that NBC could yank it off the air entirely. Moving a stripped-down version to Peacock, as rumored, would have been the ultimate indignity — how could Meyers show his face at Strike Force Five reunions? 

The show got renewed in May, but the booting of the band proves networks are no longer writing blank checks to late-night royalty. No wonder — ad revenue for the late shows dropped 41 percent from 2018 to 2022

That means Jimmy Fallon ($16 million a year), Stephen Colbert ($15 million) and Jimmy Kimmel ($15 million) are likely in for a haircut. How can networks justify the eight-figure salaries when no one is tuning in to the ad-supported shows? Viewers today are more likely to catch a buzzy clip on TikTok the next morning than stay up to watch a commercial-interrupted version of the same. Kimmel, who keeps threatening to retire when his contract expires in two years, might have the decision made for him, especially if he demands the kind of money he’s used to. 

Meyers’ butchered band is the latest sign that late night as we know it is crumbling, but it’s not the only one. Here’s more proof:

  • After James Corden mercifully ended his Late Late Show, CBS opted not to replace the expensive talk show. Instead, it rebooted a cheap, long-canceled Comedy Central show as After Midnight. Its rotating panel of sure-I’d-like-to-be-on-TV! comics is significantly less expensive than Carpool Karaoke or plane stunts with Tom Cruise. 
  • John Oliver fired his agents recently when they couldn’t land him a raise for Last Week Tonight. Considering he makes in the neighborhood of $30 million a year from HBO, you’d think Oliver would be buying them Lamborghinis. 
  • Comedy Central revived Daily Show ratings by rehiring Jon Stewart. At one night a week, however, he’s definitely not pulling in the reported $25 million a year he got during the show’s peak years. One reason Comedy Central committed so hard to those rotating hosts after Trevor Noah left (along with his $16 million salary)? The correspondents aren’t making anywhere near that kind of change.

Where does all this leave Fred Armisen? The enigmatic comic and sometimes leader of Meyers’ band was a sporadic presence on Late Night, but he’s definitely out of a job now. Over the next five years, here’s betting that Armisen won’t be the only one looking for work. Late-night comedy shows will continue, but likely in a stripped-down format designed for chopping into social media clips. 

And that mournful sound you hear off in the distance? That’s the Late Night band playing “Taps” for late night. 


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