Late Night Hosts Make Statements Onscreen With Home Libraries

Talk Show Hosts Libraries Screen shots SPLITS- H 2020
Screen Grabs/The Tonight Show; The Late Show; The Daily Show; Late Night

Filming from home spotlights the book collections of talent from Stephen Colbert to Trevor Noah, with some recently trading literary classics for social justice books and novels by Black authors.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down production, talk shows were forced to adapt to filming from home. Hosts took various approaches to setting their at-home studios: John Oliver chose a monochromatic background, while Samantha Bee has been filming from her backyard. Most have leaned toward backgrounds that feature books, whether on a bookcase, decorative shelves or a side table, with some libraries appearing to be quite consciously curated for viewers' eyes. From these makeshift sets, hosts present news and interview guests, albeit virtually. Sometimes, the books behind them become a reflection of the times: When Black Lives Matter protests erupted around the country, some hosts traded literary classics for social justice books and novels by Black authors.

Jimmy Fallon, The Tonight Show

With perhaps the most decorated home set, Fallon is filming from a corner of his home with the help of his wife and children. His background features trinkets, antique boxes, a leather briefcase and, of course, books. Fallon's onscreen titles are mostly art books, including The End of the Game by late photographer Peter Beard, Rock Seen by photographer Bob Gruen, Weather in the West by Bette Roda Anderson, Young Children and Their Drawings by Joseph H. Di Leo, plus tomes on subjects such as flight and tree houses. Fallon himself took note of how many books are on display when the famous do interviews from home in a May comedy bit titled "Show Us Your Books," which began, "So you're going on TV and you want to look smart. You can stand in front of walls or maybe some art, but that is not the vibe, that is not the right look. What you really need behind you is a shelf full of books."

Trevor Noah, The Daily Show

Noah originally set up in front of a wall-length bookcase, carefully decorated with art, flowers and books. Viewers could clearly spot art and photography books such as Obama by Peter Baker and National Geographic's Wild Beautiful Places. However, when the national protests started, Noah moved to a new corner of his apartment, where his shelves feature Ta-Nehisi Coates' We Were Eight Years in Power, Democracy in Black by Eddie S. Glaude Jr., and Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond.

Seth Meyers, Late Night

After a two-month bit involving Colleen McCullough's 1977 novel The Thorn Birds — "There's just something really funny about [it] because I do think it's a book that everyone had," the host has said — Meyers took a break from the gag in early June to spotlight novels by Black authors, including Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing, Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad and Zadie Smith's White Teeth. McCullough's book returned recently. "The coronavirus is like my copy of The Thorn Birds," said Meyers. "It was just off camera, and now it's back."

Stephen Colbert, The Late Show

Since late March, Colbert has filmed in front of a wooden chest of drawers and a large bookcase. The set features dozens of books, including The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World by Daniel Yergin and Ike's Bluff by Evan Thomas, who was on Colbert's show back in 2012 to discuss his book on Dwight Eisenhower. "It was the longest five minutes of my life," Thomas says, "but I really enjoyed it." On June 17, Colbert read excerpts from former National Security Adviser John Bolton's new book, The Room Where It Happened.

This story first appeared in the June 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.