In late April, James Corden announced that he would be stepping down from “The Late Late Show” the following spring, prompting speculation about his replacement.
However, others’ reactions to the recent changes to the late night TV lineup were different: Who cares?
Ratings are down, he explains. The show can’t get over his Trump obsession. They represent the bygone era of television.
But in my view, late nights still matter. Contrary to what some might say, late night is not “dead” and it can come back. But if it doesn’t want to fall into the cultural form as baseball, it needs to do what isn’t a national pastime: adapt and evolve.
ask target demographic
For nine years, I wrote for two late night shows: “Late Night” and “The Tonight Show”, both hosted by Jimmy Fallon. I saw, for the first time, a debutante show, which aired at 12:30 pm, turned into a hugely successful show in the coveted 11:30 pm slot. I was also around for the start of its slide.
When I started teaching writing for Late Night at Emerson College in 2019, the late nights were terrible. At the start of a semester, I asked how many people in the class regularly watched a network late-night talk show. Each student saw at least one; Most of all, two
As of 2021, only half said they most watched “The Eric Andre Show” on Adult Swim and “Conan” on TBS – the latter of which will end in June 2021.
This year, only 30% of my late-night comedy students considered themselves “regular” viewers of any of these shows. While I admired his honesty, I thought: This is not good.
So I asked my students, who make up a major late night demographic of 18- to 34-year-olds, “How do you turn a late night out?”
Another spin of the news cycle
Some topics came up.
As one student observed, there’s so much re-rehearsing of the stories that already make the news, it’s like you’re just watching more news.
Thus came the follow-up question: Why does top news need to be covered in depth?
There was a suggestion from several students to focus more on specific, related issues in the monologue. I found it interesting, because it was the style of Joan Rivers and Craig Ferguson—two examples of personalities who abandoned rapid-fire topicality in favor of issues affecting everyday people.
What is the true entertainment value of six jokes about debt limits? What if, instead of monotonous news about gas prices, the economy or COVID-19, the focus was on topics like working from home, going back to theaters or choosing a valuable streaming service? What if John Oliver mastered the deep-dive style for Sunday nights to suit those trudging through Wednesday?
Former President Donald Trump still makes easy fodder for late nights — and remains a reliable source of late-night virality. But when the same exact Trump joke is told by the five hosts — which actually happened in March 2018 — the formula probably isn’t sustainable.
a generational disconnect
Several students noted that they sometimes find patrons patronizing late night shows, with the hosts making misleading assumptions about their generation. Not all of them love Korean boy band BTS or want to hear celebrities talk about their lavish lives. And they’re not exactly on board with non-fungible tokens, or NFTs – digital collectibles that have seen a surge in popularity over the past year.
In January 2022, my two late-night classes and an office-hours meeting all began with some version of the same question: “What’s up with your old boss and this monkey?”
They were referring to the segment in which Jimmy Fallon interviewed Paris Hilton and compared their respective NFTs. I found the clip quite intuitive – but I’m no longer part of the target demographic.
In class, it was described as “tone-deaf”—two rich people comparing the expensive purchase of digital cartoons, when aspiring writers could barely afford a laptop. Some students reported feeling isolated from what was known as “celebrity culture.”
I was tempted to push back on it. Big-name guests are the draw. But then I thought of Myrtle Young.
Myrtle was a one-time guest of Johnny Carson—an elderly woman from Indiana who collected potato chips that resembled objects and people.
It was weird and quirky, but heartwarming and real. Myrtle wasn’t trying to sell her wares to people who couldn’t afford them; She was simply sharing a funny yet amusing passion.
I’m not saying that audiences have to see some version of Myrtle and its Chips every night. But does the audience need to see the same actor twice in a month, promoting the same film they promoted last time?
About the hosts…
The most common suggestion from my students was that late nights require more variety.
One name that popped up several times was Lilly Singh, a hugely popular YouTube star with 14.7 million subscribers.
In 2019, Singh was announced as the new host for the one-night NBC show following Fallon and Seth Meyers—a move that saw a much-needed diversification from the late-night “straight guy in a suit” trope. was declared as.
Singh is bisexual, Indo-Canadian – and, most importantly, funny. I saw Singh as the “Tonight Show” host-in-waiting.
But something went wrong. There were reports of new audiences, new perspectives and, finally, cancellations.
Looking from the outside, it seemed that those who could help promote and empower Singh on television counted on the new host himself promoting the show on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.
But if someone is already watching something on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, why would they set their DVR for 1:30?
Many students spoke positively about Singh’s show and appreciated that it modernized the norms of late nights while playing for viewers accustomed to viral videos. Is it possible that the late night in-charge could not “find” Lilly Singh?
This wouldn’t be the first time a young host has gone through some growing pains. In 1993, Conan O’Brien was hammered by back-to-back critics during a rocky debut, replacing David Letterman on “Late Night”. Even O’Brien admitted that it took his show almost three years to find his voice. By comparison, Singh was given two.
And with it, network viewers were left with a menu of five — soon four — white people in suits: Corden, Fallon, Meyers, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel.
I often wonder how I grew up with Rivers and Arsenio Hall, only to see things go backwards. It also amazes me that the artist I consider to be the most talented of all current hosts, Amber Ruffin, who isn’t a white man in a suit, airs weekly on the streaming platform Peacock instead of nightly on broadcast TV.
It’s shocking that my students, who eagerly consume Aunt Donna, Tim Robinson, Zieve, Eric Andre, and Desus & Mero, don’t make any of these mainstream until late at night.
I cannot force people in power to make changes. But I can report the thoughts of my students – talented, intelligent writers who hope to one day hear their jokes on television, but often struggle to find a show from which to learn.
Conservative comic Greg Gutfeld not just because he’s captured a demographic on Fox News, but also dominated ratings on network TV because of systemic shortcomings.
Strange or not, Gutfeld knows his audience and wants to win. He takes care Yet some version of the chorus remains, “He’s just a stereotypical jerk from Manhattan who’s out of his element, and will eventually shine.”
interesting. The last time pundits were dismissive in such an arrogant way, a network television host laughed all the way to the White House.