ON MAY 24, after 2,000 episodes, Carson Daly’s late-night show came to an end, and as you read these words, I wonder if you can remember its name. To be fair, late-night shows tend to have sound-alike titles—Late Night, Late Show, Later, The Late Late Show—and Daly’s entry (let’s kill the suspense: It was called Last Call With Carson Daly) was no exception. So you may be surprised to learn that the show aired for 17 straight years in the same time slot with the same host—the longest such run of any contemporary late-night host.
How? Last Call survived in part by changing its form radically over the years in response to budget cuts, cancellation threats, writers’ strikes, network conciliations to higher-profile hosts, and the general ongoing effort to figure out just what exactly a late-night show starring Carson Daly should look like. Last Call premiered in 2002 as a typical studio- bound talk show with a rotating house band. But the studio and the sidekick band proved to be an ill fit. So the show was reconfigured as a sit-down chat show with longer, more intimate interviews. Finally, after 2013, as Daly shuttled between New York and L.A. to host and produce The Voice and co-anchor Today, Last Call was recast as a series of produced segments, with Daly providing pretaped interstitial commentary. All of this was aired, through three presidents, two wars, and one global recession, five nights a week on NBC in the prime viewing slot of 1:30 in the morning.
Daly claims he couldn’t be happier about the show’s relative obscurity, evincing the kind of tireless agreeability that has kept him on television for two decades now. “If you’d told me, ‘We’ll give you a choice: You’re going to have the biggest talk show in the history of mankind and you’ll have it for six years, or you’ll have a show that probably the majority of people aren’t going to know about but we’ll guarantee it will be on for twice as long,’ I would take the latter every time,” he says. At a lounge in the Regency Hotel in New York, from the same seat where his now-wife, food blogger Siri Pinter, sat six years ago when he proposed (it was a hectic day, they were in town for Today and staying at the hotel, and he just needed to get it done), I ask him whether the end of Last Call feels like a victory lap or an Irish wake.
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