The State of Late Night Talk Shows

The musical chairs of late night tv show hosts has already begun.
The musical chairs of late night tv show hosts has already begun.

By Stephen Elliott

Well we are less than a month away from two more late-night television shows having new faces. After Jon Stewart hosts his final show on Aug. 6, Trevor Noah steps in as the new host of The Daily Show with another Comedy Central late-night show host, Stephen Colbert, filling in for the recently-retired David Letterman on The Late Show.

This marks major change to late-night television as the changing and replacing starts to feel like musical chairs and the vibe is changing too.

Say Goodbye to Viewer Rivalries
The network shows’ viewer ratings are all down from a year ago with Jimmy Fallon and the Tonight Show leading, but does that even matter anymore? For the top executives at each network, sure their egos grow to a self-righteous state as each quarter shows their name at the top of the list. For Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien and the rest of the hosts, they don’t care about who-beats-who. The days of “leader of the viewers,” mocked so elegantly by Ron Burgundy and friends, have vanished with the departures of rival artists of the craft Letterman and Jay Leno. Even Colbert addressed the question of rivalry with Fallon on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld.

“I think nothing would be more boring than a late-night war,” Colbert said. “He (Fallon) and I went and had drinks and talked about it actually.”

That’s fine. These guys don’t have to hate or dislike each other. Just as long as the deep-throat, edge-cutting jokes that resonated from Letterman remain prominent in their comedy.

A big draw from NBC, CBS, and ABC executives hiring these new hosts is the appeal to the younger crowd, and social media contributes to that.

Hosts, Get Familiar with Segment Watching
The attention span of the newly-targeted audience of 20-to-30 year olds is short and quickly distracted. The networks feel the 50 + still are watching and always will, so the battle for new viewers starts with the YouTubers. Nobody actually knows what matriculates from Fallon’s seven million plus YouTube subscribers, or what TeamCoCo’s channel consisting of the popular “Clueless Gamer” segments contributes to his show. Fallon would like to think it makes him more relatable and likeable, while Conan just wants more viewers and guests to keep his show treading above water over on TBS.

It’s an advertisement. All social media platforms can be if used correctly. It’s a way to promote yourself to your fans and it’s turning late-night shows into day-after viewing. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. As far as I know it’s not contributing to real income, but it was important in the hiring process for these hosts. Colbert is very active on Twitter and YouTube, publishing about 10 tweets a week and occasionally posting satire-filled videos on YouTube.

For the people bothered by change, your late night viewing may be over. The new even flow of late-night has vastly changed over the year and with Letterman retiring, late-night talk shows are losing their edge.

The Good Guys Always Win
Who would’ve thought being nice to everyone would make you the most popular late-night comic? Well it’s working for Fallon. The days of Letterman asking Paris Hilton about prison when her public relations people specifically said NOT to are out the window. The book on Fallon involves being nice and respectful to all guests. It works for Fallon. He’s hosting one of the biggest, most sought-after jobs in entertainment and is leading the pack. Don’t fix what ain’t broke right?

If you’re looking for edgy comedy, tune into The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Sept. 8. He won’t have the same sarcastic, satire right-wing Republican persona he had on the Colbert Report, but he will have his same wit. This is a man who had Republican officials on his show just jab sarcastic and backhanded compliments making them uncomfortable and unaware of the mockery being made.

Colbert is not Letterman, but he is a qualified replacement. He’ll upset presidential candidates (as you see he already has with his Donald Trump mockery video). He’ll attack dying stars in the entertainment field and he’ll issue uncomfortably politically incorrect humor. The only thing Colbert won’t do apparently is attack the other guys on the other networks.

That’s It for the Show, Goodnight Everybody!
The landscape of late-night television is in uncharted waters. Three heads on the Mount Rushmore of comedy are gone in two years. Hits to the respected networks that will take time to overcome and with the resurgence of online streaming and cable television shows, its glory days seem to be behind them. Conan and Kimmel are left as the veterans of the pack, but their shows will not be strong enough to carry the legacy left by Leno and Letterman. Some of it will have to be carried by the new guys.