I have written before about how nothing spontaneous happens on late-night TV talk shows, because every guest is pre-interviewed, the host knows what they’re supposed to ask to set up a certain story, and the guest knows they’re supposed to tell that story, introduce a clip from their movie, and move on. There’s no actual conversation — most of the time. That’s not to say that the format doesn’t offer some entertainment, but if a star is making the rounds, it’s not unusual to see or hear the same stories told in the same way, just in different venues.
Jerry Seinfeld just did an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, in which he touched on this problem, and compared it to his web series, “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee,” which is not about the promotion of anyone’s next project, but rather a conversation between a couple of funny people. It’s the same casual discussion you find on many podcasts (e.g. Marc Maron’s “WTF” or Kevin Pollak’s “Chat Show”) — but not on any of the late-night TV shows. I find it ironic that in many TV markets (including St. Louis) reruns of “Seinfeld,” which have done very well in the ratings, will lose their slot after the late-local-news on many Fox affiliates (and other independent stations) because of the return of yet another high-energy pre-interview no-conversation promotion engine, “The Arsenio Hall Show.”
The Hollywood Reporter: Before you get in the car with Sarah Silverman or Mel Brooks, what’s your preparation process?
Jerry Seinfeld: There are no notes. I like the stuff that just comes up because I’m really curious. David Letterman loved that I asked Alec Baldwin, “Who do you think has worked harder to get where we are?” Now if you can imagine that conversation happening on a talk show in front of an audience, it stops right there. All of a sudden there’s a “Whoa!” And I don’t want to deal with that. I felt like the talk show needs its next iteration, and I don’t know if this was it. This was a personal experiment of mine. Talk shows as we know them are performances, and so I wanted to try to do one without an audience, clips and something to promote.
THR: Can this ever be something that translates to TV?
Seinfeld: I’ve heard some conversations about that. I have not really participated in those conversations.
THR: Do you watch the late-night talk shows? Do you have any thoughts on the landscape?
Seinfeld: I have to say that most talk shows leave me with a sad feeling, and I don’t think that’s the goal. When I was a comic in the 1980s, I was on the road somewhere every day, and I’d get back to the hotel and it was Carson and Letterman, and I looked forward to that all day. Those shows made me happy. I’m not quite sure what happened. It’s probably just proliferation and fragmentation.
THR: Is there a way to do another kind of late-night show where you can have a more in-depth conversation with guests the way you do on Comedians in Cars?
Seinfeld: I don’t think so. You need the audience and the band for the energy, and people want to show their clips. These shows are promotional vehicles for the industry. They’re not talk shows, per se, they’re kind of setup talk shows. “I’m gonna ask you this, then you say that.” The shows are pretty cheap, too, so until it becomes an unworkable business model, I don’t think you’ll see change. Same as the movie business. Until this thing implodes from within, which feels like it’s not too far off
The entire Seinfeld interview is here.