They were those kind of shows that would stand out among thousands in late night. Both “Late Night with David Letterman” and “Late Show with Jimmy Fallon” chose to go on with their shows, shot in the afternoons, on Monday though they closed them to audiences in an effort to comply with requests for people to stay off the streets unless they have an emergency.
Instantly, there was a different feel for each show. Although the house band in each wailed in much the same manner they always do, there was absolute silence when it came to monologues or entrances.
Staffers who helped write the show stood around and clapped a bit. But mostly these seats were empty except for comic effect (Fallon had a whole bit about a weird guy in the seats who did free associations to things the host said; Letterman’s show had guest Denzel Washington and Paul Shafer sitting in the audience in that between-commercial blip late in the show when they usually show the audience cheering.
Some of the adjustments for the storm seemed apocryphal; did the guy who did the titles really not show up, so they had to show the Top 10 List on cardboard cue cards somebody showed beneath Dave’s desk? Certainly Alan Kalter storming in, soaked and late, was all part of a bit.
But that’s the best part of both shows: They were there to comment on the things we were all going through. Because there hadn’t been a lot of reported deaths, they could riff on aspects of the storm that was especially welcome after a day of endless anchor blather.
Though there was a part of the shows that seemed more like the old Uncle Floyd Show or Joe Franklin, where the hosts would go on and on without an audience or any reaction except occasional outbursts from cameramen or producers.
Lack of an audience meant the shows didn’t have the energy they usually have, but many of the jokes held up on their own anyway. And Fallon didn’t have to do any of those participatory game segments with the audience (at the end though, he still went up to high-five the invisible audience members as if they were there).