Carson Daly On NBC's Shake-Ups, Life After MTV and Reinventing Late Night


Carson Daly is a rarity among late-night hosts. The Santa Monica native broke into the afterhours landscape following a successful career in music, not comedy, and has spent the past eight years peacefully hosting NBC's late-night (or early morning) program Last Call with Carson Daly. When ConanGate threatened the 1:30 A.M. time slot that Daly had civilly occupied since 2002, the host stayed respectfully quiet about his network's late-night war (even as his peers took swings at him) and focused on transforming his program. After stripping away his desk, his tie and his live audience, Daly has finally found a documentary style that suits him. And even better, he can still spotlight the bands he loves and covers on his KAMP-FM morning radio show.

Daly recently phoned Movieline to explain why he holds no ill will toward NBC, how he embraces his early-morning time slot and what bands he was most excited to fight for during his days at MTV.

Hey, Carson.

Hi, Julie. How are you?

I'm well. I'm glad that your show is still on the air.

[Laughs] You and my mother.

Did you have a back-up plan when you heard that NBC was switching up its late night line-up? For a second there, Conan was going to keep the Tonight Show at 12:05.

No, actually we knew we were OK much sooner than everyone else heard. I didn't really have any time to panic, but I am just glad it worked out.

So, you didn't have any plans to start a microbrewery or just change career directions entirely if the late night gig ended?

Julie, [the microbrewery] is a plan regardless of the late night show.

I've been following your Twitter feed for awhile and noticed that when ConanGate was happening, you seemed to be channeling a lot of your energy into making beef jerky. Have you perfected a jerky recipe yet?

No, actually my girlfriend bought me a jerky dehydrator for Christmas. I was so excited to get it because I do love jerky in all of its many, delicious forms. So I made that batch, and I haven't made any since. I need to figure out how to make it less salty, but I am very mad scientist about it. It was actually great. I had no idea what I was doing.

As a late-night fan, it's great to see Last Call taking a leap away from the standard talk-show format.

Thanks. We just sort of just stumbled upon it and we all feel really good about it. I don't know what else to say. I think it's been really exciting.

Are you still in the experimental phase? Will you be trying out new segment ideas?

It's crazy. It's so much fun now because the pressure is off. We've committed to this -- we are not ever going to be the traditional late-night show. I've been on the air now for I don't know how many years now, and I have done the desk thing and there has been an evolution to my show. You can literally see, if you look back, you can sort of see my comfort level shifting as I experimented with desk versus no desk, tie versus no tie, monologue versus no monologue. I have always loved Bob Costas, who does great sit-down interviews. I love Charlie Rose's in-depth interviews, but I am also a fan of the Tonight Show and all of the sorts of traditional late- night shows, so I am really just sort of struggling. It's about finding where I really fit in. When Jimmy Fallon signed on, that is when we really made the commitment to ditch the studio, ditch the audience, ditch the desk and the tie and really just go for it.

We have a very young staff and everyone is really progressive and we just looked at the show and went, "Well, the one thing that we really do well is offer a great discovery of new music. So let's do more of that, shining a spotlight onto up-and-coming acts. Let's tap into what we are best at and let's package that in a documentary-style format. In the last two weeks, I have been having these discussions about my show and the way that we produce the show and it's just been interesting. We do it out of the fact that we don't have much money. And we do it more fully driven on passion. It's like a DIY world right now, I think, in film and that's kind of what we're doing in late night.

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