Written by John Rhinemann
In late April, after James Corden announced that he was stepping down Late Late Show The following spring, there were immediate speculations about his replacement.
However, others have reacted differently to recent changes in the late-night TV lineup: who cares?
Ratings have dropped, they point out. The shows can’t overcome their Trump obsession. They represent the old days of television.
But in my view, late night is still important. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, late at night it is “not dead” and may come back. But if it does not want to fall into a cultural path like baseball, it needs to do what national entertainment does not: adapt and evolve.
Target Demographic asks
For nine years, I wrote for two late night shows: Late at night And The Tonight Show, Both were hosted by Jimmy Fallon. I saw firsthand a new show that aired at 12:30 AM, turning out to be a hugely successful show on the coveted 11:30 PM slot. I was also around the beginning of its slide.
When I started teaching Writing for Late Night at Emerson College in 2019, the night was terribly late. At the beginning of a semester, I asked how many people in the class regularly watch a network talk show late at night. Each student watched at least one; Most, two.
By 2021, only half of them said they were tuned in, and most saw it Eric Andre Show In addition to adult swimming Conan On TBS – the second will end in June 2021.
This year, only about 30% of my late-night comedy students considered themselves to be one of the “regular” viewers of any of these shows. When I appreciated their honesty, I thought: This is not good.
So, I’m asking my students, who are part of the late-night major demographics for 18- to 34-year-olds, “How do you change the night?”
Another twist of the news cycle
A few themes came up.
As one student observed, stories that have already made the news are being retold a lot, and it looks like you are seeing more news.
The question then arose: why should the headlines be so intensely covered?
One suggestion from multiple students was to focus more on specific and relative topics in monologues. I found this interesting because it was the style of Joan Rivers and Craig Ferguson – two examples of personalities who avoided quick topics in favor of issues that affect everyday people.
What is the true entertainment value of the six jokes about the extent of debt? What if instead of scary news about gas prices, the economy or COVID-19, the focus is on choosing to work from home, return to movie theaters, or opt for an expensive streaming service? What if the deep-dive style that John Oliver mastered on Sunday nights was ideal for those who traded until Wednesday?
Former President Donald Trump still makes late-night fodder – and continues to be a reliable source of late-night virality. But when the same exact Trump joke is told by five hosts – it actually happened in March 2018 – the formula probably won’t be sustainable.
Separation of generations
Many students commented that hosts save late-night shows by making false assumptions about their generation. Not all of them like the Korean boy band BTS or want to hear celebrities talking about their luxury lives. Also, they are not exactly non-fungal tokens or NFTs – digital collections that have become increasingly popular over the past year.
In January 2022, my two late night classes and office hours started with some version of the same question: “What about your old boss and this monkey?”
They referred to a section where Jimmy Fallon interviewed Paris Hilton and compared the respective NFTs. I found the clip to be completely harmless – but I’m no longer part of Target Demographic.
In class, it was described as “tone-deaf” – two rich people who compare the expensive purchases of digital cartoons when it’s hard for writers to buy laptops. Some students spoke of moving away from what is known as “celebrity culture”.
I was tempted to back away from this. Big name guests are the draw. But then I thought about Myrtle Young.
Myrtle was once a guest of Johnny Carson – an elderly woman from Indiana, collecting potato chips that resemble objects and people.
It was weird and weird, but it was heartbreaking and real. Martil did not try to give the hawk to people who could not afford his belongings; She was sharing a passion that was funny but fun.
I’m not saying the audience should see some versions of Myrtle and her chips every night. But do audiences have to watch the same actor twice a month, to promote the same movie they last appeared in?
About the hosts …
The most common suggestion from my students is that late night needs more variety.
Lily Singh, the YouTube star with 14.7 million subscribers, has been mentioned more than once.
In 2019, Singh was announced as the new host of the NBC show One Night, which follows Fallon and Seth Myers – a much-needed diversification from the late-night “Suit Guy in a Suite” troupe.
Singh is bisexual, Indian-Canadian – and most importantly, funny. I watched Singh Tonight’s show Host-in-waiting.
But something went wrong. There were reports of new showrunners, new approaches, and finally a cancellation.
From the outside, those who could help promote and empower Singh on the television side seemed to be considering a new host to promote the show themselves on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.
But if someone is already watching something on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, why not set up their DVR at 1:30 in the morning?
Many students spoke positively about Singh’s show and appreciated the fact that it was played to audiences who were familiar with viral videos while updating the standards late at night. Is it possible that those in charge of Midnight “did not” get Lily Singh?
This is not the first time a young host has gone through growing pains. In 1993, while replacing David Letterman, Conan O’Brien was beaten one by one by critics. Late at night. Even O’Brien admitted that it took him about three years to find the sound of his show. By comparison, Singh was given two.
With that, the network has five menus for viewers – soon to be four – white boys in suits: Corden, Fallon, Meyers, Stephen Colbert, and Jimmy Kimmel.
I often think about how I grew up with Rivers and Arsenic Hall just to see things go backwards. I wonder why the performer, whom I consider to be the most talented of all the current hosts, Amber Ruffin, who is not dressed in white, airs weekly on Peacock, the streaming platform, rather than on night TV.
It’s amazing that my students, who eagerly eat Aunt Donna, Tim Robinson, CV, Eric Andre, Dess & Mero, do not get any of the above on a mainstream night.
I cannot force change on those in power. But all I can do is report my students’ perspectives – talented, intelligent writers, hoping to one day hear their own jokes on television, but often find it hard to find a show to learn from.
Conservative comic Greg Guthfeld dominates the ratings not because of a demographic on Fox News, but because of systemic flaws in Network TV.
Funny or not, Gutfeldt knows his audience and wants to succeed. He cares. Yet the chorus continues in some version of it, “He’s a conservative tempter from Manhattan, he’s out of his element, and will eventually disappear.”
Interesting. The last time the Pandits were so arrogantly dismissed, a network television host even laughed at the White House.
John Reinman is affiliated with the Faculty of Visual, Media Arts & Comedy Arts. Emerson College
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