NEW YORK — Last year the comedians Nikki Glaser and Sara Schaefer were preparing to record an installment of their weekly podcast, You Had to Be There, at Schaefers Brooklyn apartment when Glaser got a phone call she had been waiting for.
She had been through several rounds of testing for a talk-show pilot. It was down to two of us, and I thought it was mine, Glaser said. I saw this whole life for myself, where I could afford to buy a computer.
She took the call outside as Schaefer watched, she recalled. Schaefer said, I could tell from her body language something was wrong.
The show was being rethought; the job was off the table. Glaser and Schaefer went ahead with the podcast, but they both cried a little. Then in Schaefers kitchen they made a decision: Weve got to do this on our own, Glaser said.
Seventeen months later, the two women were at Market Table in the West Village with the ultimate trappings of stars out in public: two publicists sitting protectively nearby, tapping on their smartphones. No one in the restaurant came looking for autographs, though, because the comedians Glaser is blond and blue-eyed, with a wide smile; Schaefer is a wry, bespectacled brunette occupy an odd limbo well-known on the city comedy scene but invisible to television viewers, at least until their weekly late-night talk show, Nikki & Sara Live, premieres Jan. 29 on MTV.
In other words, they made good on their promise.
Schaefer, who worked at Late Night With Jimmy Fallon for more than two years, had secretly pictured herself as a talk-show host a million times. But shed tell herself, They only give it to, like, 10 people, so lets be realistic.
Still, they toiled away on a concept that played to their quick-yet-mellow chemistry and pop-culture adoration. Their You Had to Be There podcast, which they will continue to make, typically bounces among personal stories, cultural musings and guest interviews; a recent episode included Glaser talking about her high school reunion (Look at you with your bun, we get it, youre cute and fun, she said of an old frenemy) and Schaefer singing a few bars from Disneys Beauty and the Beast.
Meeting MTV execs
When they landed a meeting with MTV, they timed the release of a video theyd made to the appointment, hoping for an Internet hit. That short, Justin Timberlake, Make Music Again, did indeed go viral. Viewed hundreds of thousands of times, the black-and-white video features the two women and other comedian friends pleading dramatically for Timberlake, the musician turned actor, to return to his roots because, among other things, children are dying probably.
It turns out that MTVs senior vice president for series development, Brent Haynes, was already a fan.
I stop most podcasts partway through, he said recently by phone. I wanted to listen to everything Nikki and Sara said.
Haynes had been at the network nearly four years, and developing something for late night was on his wish list. MTV hasnt had a major show in that space since The Jon Stewart Show went off the air in 1995.
I didnt want to build a show and go find talent, Haynes said. Nikki and Saras dynamic reminds me of Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon on Weekend Update, he added, referring to the Saturday Night Live segment. Its a rapport you cant cast.
Like Haynes, others crucial to the shows development found themselves won over by the podcast.
This is how smart, funny women talk to each other, said MTVs programming president, Susanne Daniels, who noted that the pair tested especially well with female audiences. (Schaefer, 34, and Glaser, 28, were thrilled that focus groups guessed them to be in their early 20s, Schaefer said.)
Their head writer, Brian McCann, didnt expect to be tempted by the job when he went to a meeting about the show.
My initial reaction was that I didnt know if Id be helpful on a show with girls, for girls, said McCann, who had worked on Conan OBriens various series for 17 years. A few months later, after the MTV meeting, he too cued up an episode of You Had to Be There.
Instantly my brain started seeing a thousand ways to make this combination work for television, he said.
The show wont be as personal as the podcast, in which both women talk freely about their lives. Nor will it be as provocative as their stand-up, which tends toward the bawdy. What it will have, though, is a fast-paced format heavy on punch lines and games.
We know what our audiences cues are for old-fashioned late night: the couch, the desk, the long chats plugging your stuff, Haynes said. We want a show where they can tell a lot of jokes.
Built on friendship
The show runner, Kim Gamble, a former Colbert Report producer, is seeking to build a show around their relationship, the history they have; they know each other very well.
That friendship, which started when they met at a party in 2010, grew largely out of a love of pop culture, which will become a major part of the show. Glasers current obsessions include Taylor Swifts album Red, while Schaefer cant say enough about Adam Levines turn in American Horror Story.
Talking about possible celebrity guests quickly turns them star-struck.
If Beyonce came on, I would die, Schaefer said. I would have to get the crying out before, because I cry when Im really happy.
Which means there were also tears the day both women got the call they had been waiting for the good news that their show was going forward. They werent together. Schaefer was waking up in Seattle after a gig. Glaser was in New York, half-dreading the birthday that was 24 hours away, because I always told my parents, Just give me till Im 27 to do comedy, to make it, she said. And I got the news the day before I turned 28. The timing couldnt have been better.