So many channels seem to want their own late-night talk/variety show right now because those types of shows allow for more creative experimentation and often result in viral sensations which raise awareness of the overall brand. Also, just as importantly, a late-night talk/variety show is cheap to make. To the budget-conscious executive, “success for less” will always be tantalizing. For example, every network jumped in the reality TV game after the debut of Survivor, and now there are entire cable channels devoted strictly to cheap reality programming.
What’s happening right now with late-night TV isn’t nearly on the same scale as the post-Survivor reality explosion, but we’re definitely in a boom period.
The Old Guard
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS
Jimmy Kimmel Live! on ABC
Conan on TBS
–Conan is a shadow of his former self while Colbert and Kimmel are in a consistent fight for second-place well behind the ratings monster that is Fallon. That’s even after Colbert’s post-Super Bowl bump. However, as viral sensations go Conan has “Clueless Gamer” and Kimmel has “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” while Fallon has so many that one of them became it’s own spin-off (Lip Sync Battle).
The Late, Late Show with James Corden on CBS
-Carpool karaoke is the type of viral hit all talk shows would kill for, but it hasn’t helped Corden much in the ratings against Meyers, who is the subject of regular thinkpeices arguing he is the true heir to Jon Stewart. Speaking of which…
The Daily Show Family Tree
The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore on Comedy Central
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS
–The Daily Show and Colbert Report are still around in spirit, but Noah has shed 30% of Jon Stewart’s audience and Wilmore has alarmingly hemorrhaged 55% of Colbert’s. There was obviously going to be a drop-off and both hosts are still finding their way into things, but at this point their shows are simply things which happen to be on the air as opposed to essential viewing options, a significant letdown from their predecessors.
John Oliver favors quality over quantity, sticking to a one-episode-a-week schedule to better pick out the most important news of the week before then launching into a meticulously researched takedown of a single, pressing topic, often one which the other talk shows are overlooking. The classic talk show meekly asks “Did you guys hear about this?” before launching into a generic punchline whereas Oliver forcefully insists, “You need to know about this because it is seriously fucked up that we allow to this happen as a society.” Those parts of his episodes all go straight to YouTube. HBO seems happy, viewing Last Week Tonight as a perfect companion to the long-running Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.
Samantha Bee is just over 10 days into her tenure, and since Turner broadcast her debut episode across all of its stations (TBS, TNT, TruTV, Adult Swim) she has the odd distinction of actually earning higher ratings from a different network (AdultSwim) than the one she calls home (TBS). Regardless of all that, she’s already making a name for herself by echoing John Oliver’s signature frankness just from a female point of view. Her one-episode-a-week schedule on top of the full year she spent developing the show in the first place means she has the freedom to air field reports, e.g., visiting a Syrian refugee camp, which clearly required the type of time her competition doesn’t have.
Now The History Channel, of all places, is making a big push into late night. Join or Die, Craig Ferguson’s new talk show, debuted last week, and the network just announced a new comedy block called Night Class which will debut next week as a companion to Join or Die.
Not to be left out, TruTV will debut Late Night Snack at 11 PM Thursday, March 3, and AMC has already announced its order for Geeking Out, a Kevin Smith and Greg Gunberg co-hosted late-night talk show that “will look at pop culture through a fanboy lens.”
Wait, wait…hold on. Join or Die, Night Class, Late Night Snack, Geeking Out? A little help here:
Join or Die
A collection of three different original short-form shows, including Great Minds with Dan Harmon (history’s greatest minds will travel to us via time machine and be played by some of Harmon’s buddies in comedy, like his very own Drunk History) and How to Lose the Presidency (a showcase for embarrassing moments and mistakes in White House runs).
Late Night Snack
A “carousel of half-hour segments curated by and premiering on the network” including Alec Baldwin’s Love Ride (relationship advice delivered by the actor in his limo) and Benjamin the Cat (based on a cat mascot previously known through truTV’s Impractical Jokers).
Full Frontal and Join or Die‘s premieres came in consecutive weeks, and Night Class and Late Night Snack were announced to the press within hours of each other. As such, Deadline wondered what was behind all of this, and they were told:
Networks Want More Young Male Viewers
“They are creating content to attract a new [translation: young, male] audience … from the one the network attracts in primetime,” one industry pundit noted.
Networks Crave Viral Content
According to one anonymous network executive, “It’s important for any content provider, because that’s how younger viewers are consuming. For your brand to succeed, you can’t just live in a linear world.” Essentially, just throw something out there and hope it goes viral. Great Minds with Dan Harmon and Alec Baldwin’s Love Ride both sound like web shows anyway. In fact, the latter already is. It’s actually been around for over a year now.
Because Viral Content Broadens Their Brand
“It all points back to the brand. If you’re watching a shortform late-night piece like Great Minds with Dan Harmon, you’re watching in that digital world, but it’s History branded, and can drive people back to the network … it’s a way to get new eyeballs,” said one anonymous executive.
And It’s Super Cheap
The anonymous pundit said, “This is a way to expand your empire. All these [cable] networks have concentrated on primetime, and late-night is the next logical place to concentrate and expand. These networks are getting more ambitious in programming but, largely, late-night shows are not expensive. It’s a pretty elastic program type compared to trying to produce, say, the next The Walking Dead. It’s a place where people see opportunity and not a lot of cost, compared to what some other genres cost.”
So, basically, don’t worry about a single one of these new shows because if they’re good they’ll end up on your Twitter feed, re-posted on your favorite blog or pop culture site, passed around on Facebook, etc. That’s what they’re being designed for.
Isn’t that how we watch all late night talk shows, anyway? For example, I have yet to see a single episode of Seth Meyers’ show, but I watched the heck out of his recent viral clip imagining what Game of Thrones’ Melisandre would be like at a baby shower: