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TVDesus & Mero Is the Future of Late-Night TVThe show might be hairier, but it must go on. Desus and Mero aren’t the only ones showing up on late-night TV a little more au naturel. The social restrictions necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic make it impossible to bring together the full crews necessary to put on a talk show, let alone assemble a studio audience, so in recent weeks many productions have been experimenting with filming their shows remotely. John Oliver reports from what looks like a vacuum for HBO’s Last Week Tonight. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon has a new camera operator: his wife, Nancy Jovonen. For a brief period early on, Stephen Colbert was doing The Late Show from a bathtub. Adapting Desus & Mero had an added challenge because, as its title suggests, it’s not one guy sitting behind a desk. “The big dilemma: We have two humans,” executive producer Tony Hernandez says. Hernandez watched how other late-night hosts had started shooting remotely and realized it wouldn’t work for his program. “They both needed to talk, to interact with each other.” Producer Julia Young, who guides the show’s flow by teeing up videoclips and making jokes with the hosts, needed to be in the mix as well.
What’s more, the heart of the appeal of Desus & Mero is its goofy, conspiratorial hangout energy, like eavesdropping on the funniest people you know shooting the shit. That mood of intimacy “brings a different quality than other late-night shows have,” says Desus & Mero producer Victor Lopez, who is also the duo’s longtime manager. Re-creating that feeling while its hosts were sequestered separately proved to be a challenge. “A big part of our chemistry is me and Mero being in the same room,” Desus says. Now they’re not even in the same state. Normally filmed in a midtown Manhattan studio with a live audience, Desus & Mero is currently working with two ad hoc sets: Mero’s basement in his New Jersey home and Desus’ “sneaker room” in his New York apartment.
Initially, the desire to stay close-knit had the crew floating other ways to keep the show on before they realized how long this crisis would last. “We were going to just hunker down in the studio with all the staff members,” Desus says. “We were just like, ‘What if we just get a lot of food and everyone just stays in the studio? We could just live here because it used to be the old Al Jazeera studio. So it’s bulletproof, fully protected, and self-contained.’ So in theory, we could have probably stayed there for a couple weeks. But, you know, people have families and kids.” The remote option quickly became the only option.
The hosts are using some of their own equipment, but much of it was either sent over from the studio or, after the studio abruptly closed, ordered online and shipped to their homes. “No matter what limitations we had, the tech team figured it out,” Desus says. “The Showtime tech team virtually went into my MacBook and had the unmitigated audacity to tell me my MacBook was too old to run the streaming software! So I was sitting there in my feelings like, ‘How dare they?!’ But because it’s Showtime, the next day there was a fresh-out-the-box MacBook Pro at my door, and I had to spray it with Lysol and keep it moving.”
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Desus tried to set up his living room as his home office but didn’t like the way his white walls looked, especially after he compared his background to MSNBC anchors and Trevor Noah’s setup. “Everyone has a really nice house. So I was like, 'I have to find the best place in my apartment so people don’t think I’m broke.'” He settled on his sneaker room, a small second bedroom where he keeps his expansive shoe collection. “I'm not going to lie. Every time I look at it on TV, I'm like, 'Wow, that looks cool as hell.'”
Mero, meanwhile, has turned the “weed-smoking basement” in his suburban home into his studio. “I have four kids, so that makes recording anywhere else in the house pretty much impossible,” he says. As all of the children are currently being homeschooled, Mero says being able to lock the door is crucial to avoiding constant cameos from his offspring. Plus, he often writes in the basement, so it feels like a comfortable space to create, especially now that he’s loaded up with gear. “There’s four microphones in a stand, there’s headphones out the wazoo, there’s all types of hard drives. And there’s multiple monitors,” Mero says. “I look like a conspiracy theorist. It’s wild, but it works.”
Jason Parham writes about pop culture for WIRED.Across its mostly terrific eight-episode first season, which concluded Sunday, Levinson introduced explicitly hard-to-swallow themes—drug addiction, domestic abuse, the hazards of online hookups, pedophilia, depression—and didn't hold back with regard to the physical and psychological violence these issues havoced on his characters.
With the crew’s help, the technical elements of producing the show haven’t been as challenging as anticipated. “If I had to do it on my own, forget it, I’d be lost in the sauce,” Mero says. “You know how people say something was a team effort but one guy scored 45 points? Like it’s just the polite thing to say? Well, this really was a team effort.”