Last Call's Carson Daly

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Talk show host Carson Daly

Last Call's Carson Daly, who will host NBC's New Year's Eve broadcast, spoke to TIME's Rebecca Winters Keegan to explain why he became the first late-night host to return to TV during the writers' strike. He also argues that the Times Square ball-drop is TiVo-proof and talks about what happens now that user-generated content is "sort of over."

TIME: You got a lot of criticism for being the first late-night host to resume production during the writers' strike. How do you feel now that some of the other late-night hosts are returning?
This strike is brutal. It's been so destructive to so many people's lives. My decision to come back was based on the ultimatum that was put in front of me to either return on December 3 or 75 of my friends, my staff and crew who have been loyal to me, were gonna get fired. That was the only thing I could be concerned with. These guys coming back to work, nobody's happy to be coming back because there's a terrible situation going on.

Did you feel like you're in a unique situation because you're not a member of the Writers' Guild?
Yeah. We're also predominantly interviews and music. We do a lot less scripted comedy than everybody else. We could come back earlier because it's possible for us to tweak our show. We observed the strike for a month, which I felt great about. I was happy we could honor the strikers for as long as we did. There was pressure for all of the late-night hosts and they came in many different forms and mine just came first.

On your first show back, you said, "We look like a car in the late-night fleet, but believe me when I tell you, under our hood is a 1982 Pinto engine." Please explain.
I was trying to make the point that I wear a tie, I come out and make fun of Britney Spears and President Bush, famous people come and sit next to me — we have the ingredients of a late night show. But a lot of things behind-the-scenes differentiate us. We're the little guy. We're 30 minutes. We're the caboose of the almighty NBC late-night line-up. There's different pressures for different hosts.

You were one of the first people to see YouTube as a talent scouting vehicle. Do you still look at it that way?
I do, but it's shifted. User-generated content is sort of over now. Now it's about semi-pro. Especially when you have a late-night show that doesn't have the money everybody else does or an independent production company, you're forced to look at other ways of doing things. There's these 23-year-olds who grew up with YouTube, Google, Final Cut Pro. They shoot, they produce, they edit, they direct and star. We call them predators.

Predators? Are they threatening?
They can be to the industry. What used to take three people to do, now it's just one.

When is the last time you didn't work on New Year's Eve?
I think it was 2003. I was out of the country and miserable. I was in St. Barts. At midnight Puff Daddy was in all white standing on a table with a bottle of champagne counting down and I was going, "No, I'm not supposed to be here."

At a time when audiences are turning away from broadcast TV to other forms of entertainment, why do New Year's broadcasts still draw decent crowds?
There are fewer and fewer places for destination television. When Seinfeld was on NBC on Thursday nights, you had to go home and watch it. You couldn't get it anywhere else. Now Americans are watching on their iPods, their computers, their DVRs. You're not gonna record the ball drop and watch it later.

Who are those people who get really close to the stage in Times Square?
No New Yorker I've ever met. I'm not sure who those people are but they are very intoxicated.

Do you modify your programming with the understanding that most people watching it will be drunk?
I'm pretty sure most broadcasts I'm in charge of these days, a large percentage of the audience is intoxicated. I named my show Last Call.