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Mixing it up for NBC’s `Last Call’

Dec 31, 2001  •  Post A Comment

“I don’t know what the hell I’m doing,” said David Friedman, an executive producer of NBC’s “Last Call With Carson Daly,” which launches at 1:35 a.m. (ET) on Monday, Jan. 7.
Mr. Friedman is joking.
He’s also giving a little graveyard whistle as he lays the groundwork for Mr. Daly, best known for being surrounded by screaming teen-agers on MTV’s “Total Request Live,” to put his own stake in the late-night half-hour. The time period was hallowed when occupied by the eccentric Tom Snyder, the smooth Bob Costas and the big-screen-bound Greg Kinnear and fallow during the past few years, as a parade of wannabe late-night fixtures and “SCTV” reruns failed to click.
During the last two weeks of the year, while the rest of us were making merry, Mr. Friedman and his crew were “living on adrenaline” and testing “Last Call,” as well as its 28-year-old host and its new set before studio audiences were recruited to fill 75 seats in Studio 8-H, which “Last Call” will share with “Saturday Night Live.” Mr. Friedman learned a lot in those two weeks, when the guinea-pig guests included Janeane Garofalo, rising singer-songwriter Ben Kweller, “South Park” co-creator Matt Stone, and Conan O’Brien, whose “Late Night” will be Mr. Daly’s lead-in.
“I’ve learned that Carson is a bigger talent than we thought,” Mr. Friedman said. “You’re going to be surprised how he’s going to dive into an interview.”
Each night, Mr. Daly will do just that. After a 20-second taped opening and percussive riff music that’s less theme song than “kind of a driving beat that says, `Hey, here comes that show at 1:30 in the morning,”’ the spotlight will go straight to Mr. Daly. His guests will be seated on a set designed by Andy McDowell, a pal of Mr. Daly who has designed numerous MTV sets.
The look, Mr. Friedman said, is of “an abandoned loft or a rehearsal space-slash-warehouse.” While he sums it up as “beautiful,” Mr. Friedman is working to “warm it up” a bit.
It’s a big set that has to be “flipped” twice a week to get it out of the way of “SNL.” “It’s a lot of flipping and a lot of money,” Mr. Friedman said.
“Last Call,” which will air Monday through Thursday, will tape two shows on each Monday and Wednesday night. The schedule allows Mr. Daly to continue to do “TRL” and his morning radio shows daily as well as other projects.
It also will let fresh air into conversations that will never be more than a day old when they first air.
That propensity for topicality plays to the 32-year-old Mr. Friedman’s upbringing as the son of ABC News executive Paul Friedman and to his time working on “Today.”
Booked for the first week are singer-songwriter-musician Alicia Keys (Jan. 7), actress Gwyneth Paltrow (Jan. 8), ex-con and rap mogul Suge Knight (Jan. 9) and “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, who, like Mr. Daly, got his national break on MTV.
“People want to do the show,” Mr. Friedman said. “We’ve got great bookings.”
Later in January, Puff Daddy, “Ed’s” Julie Bowen and young movie hunk Josh Hartnett are booked. The mix ultimately will include authors, directors and politicians. -Invitations are out to outgoing New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his successor, Michael Bloomberg, as well as former President Bill Clinton.
“Whatever works, we’re going to do,” Mr. Friedman said.
That will include “scaled-down” music as warranted by guests, who can relish the acoustics in 8-H (“There’s no better studio for music,” Mr. Friedman said) but not the “SNL” band’s instruments. “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels “would kill us. Lorne would kill our power,” said Mr. Friedman, whose co-executive producers are Lisa Leingang, an executive producer on NBC’s “Late Friday,” and Maverick Records co-founder Guy Oseary.
Mr. Oseary is based on the West Coast, where Mr. Friedman spent six months after being beckoned by Jeff Zucker, his executive producer at “Today” and now NBC Entertainment president, to develop unscripted entertainment.
“I loved L.A.,” said Mr. Friedman, a New Yorker for whom a “huge house” and the space to keep two cars were only part of the charm.
There was also the office.
“I worked in news,” Mr. Friedman said. “I had a cubicle my whole career.”
Now he’s stepping up to a much bigger plate with what is, for television, little fanfare. The band No Doubt taped a funny “Last Call” promotional spot while they were in the building for a recent “SNL” appearance. If you weren’t already watching NBC late-night, you probably haven’t seen it.
Nor will the nation’s TV critics when they assemble in Pasadena, Calif., in January for their preview of midseason programming.
“We wanted a low-key rollout,” Mr. Friedman said, adding that there will be no “Last Call” session and no satellite hookup with Mr. Daly at the press tour.
“We don’t trust you guys.”
Again, he’s joking. And whistling.