Late night TV as we know it is being mined before our eyes and while it may seem like we’ve been here before, this is different. The first thing to note is that the biggest challenge for the Jimmy Fallon/Jimmy Kimmel/Stephen Colbert prototype doesn’t come from streaming services or an online innovation. It comes from Fox News, where the chat show Gutfeld! performs surprisingly well in the ratings.
There’s so much going on that it’s hard to find a pattern. The cancellation of Full frontal with Samantha Bee was the attention-grabbing maneuver and yet it’s unclear what it means. While cable channel TBS says it’s simply changing its programming strategy, almost all coverage pointed out that Bee was one of the few women with a voice in the late-night arena. Bee himself hasn’t said anything unusual.
One thing is reasonably clear: the template of white male presenter, monologue, studio audience, house band and showbiz guests is now antiquated. That’s good and overdue. A signal for the future is speculation about what will happen to her The Late Late Show on CBS when James Corden departs next year. According to Variety magazine, CBS is considering abandoning the traditional format and replacing it with a panel show with rotating hosts.
The history of Late Late is a sobering reminder of how limited this format was. Since its inception in 1995, it has been hosted by Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn, Craig Ferguson and Corden. All male and white. Corden probably had the biggest impact on the slot by making it pure entertainment, as the carpool karaoke segments became his defining feature.
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Attempts to make the late-night space more diverse and inclusive have certainly been made, but nothing has really been successful. Recent shifts in the space included the announcement that Desus & Mero, a weekly show, would not return to Showtime. (It streamed on Crave in Canada.) The cult hit never had much of an impact here, being a decidedly urban-American take on late-night comedy, black and Latino humor, and pop culture. It wasn’t canceled because it had no viewers or status. The two hosts, Daniel “Desus Nice” Baker and Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez, have gone their separate ways.
NBC gave Canadian Lilly Singh a very late slot A little late with Lilly Singh, which aired at 1:30 p.m. It was a hugely important step to have a South Asian woman host her own show. Then it was canceled after two seasons. Singh has attributed the cancellation to the time slot, budget and lack of resources for the show. NBC would probably reply that the show had two seasons and tried numerous formats, but it never clicked and Singh just couldn’t translate her online popularity to nighttime TV. And NBC would be right.
Meanwhile, NBC identified Amber Ruffin, a black writer and performer Late Night with Seth Meyers, her own show. In Canada, you can only watch online clips of Ruffin’s show as it streams on Peacock. While it’s clear that Ruffin is a formidable character and very, very funny, a weekly show on a streaming service isn’t exactly a mainstream success. While we’re at it, it’s worth noting that Netflix’s attempts at talk shows have failed, regardless of the talent involved. Talk shows hosted by Chelsea Handler, Michelle Wolf and Hasan Minhaj received praise, but not much else. All have been cancelled.
The current shift is happening in part because two trends are merging. First, the appetite for satirical comedy that was piquant at the start of the Trump era is now waning. When comedy is overlaid with real events, confusion turns to weariness. Second, the audience, who enjoyed characters like David Letterman or Jon Stewart The daily NewsShe’s developed a form of fatigue of her own — she doesn’t put up with TV ads that interrupt late-night shows because she’s now used to ad-free streaming services.
Trevor Noah was on it consistently The daily News, but the show no longer has the impact it once had. Neither does Jon Stewart, his show on AppleTV+ is less than significant. Stephen Colbert’s CBS show is the ratings champion, but what can’t be ignored is what Greg Gutfeld does on Fox News most weekdays at 11pm. Armed with vicious right Snark, Gutfeld and his panel win. The show often has more viewers than Jimmy Kimmel’s show and sometimes beats Colbert in the ratings. You can bet everyone else is paying attention to this pattern.
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