Late Night has become so divided that its difficult to figure out who is dominating. Do you look at ratings? YouTube clip hits? Advertiser dollars? Press attention? Best guests? Nobody knows, and that’s why the late night game is in flux this year.
The nightly game is changing. The weekly game seems to be suffering from stagnation. Where will late night go next?
Our end of year awards have all focused on the best of everything in comedy, extolling the positives and reasons for our choices. But it’s no secret as a comedy site, we’re falling out of love with late night as the genre dives deeper into politics, and the comedy elements continue to shrink. Every show is hosted by a comedian, but its beginning to look like being a comedian may no longer be a requirement of helming a late night show.
In 2018 Seth Meyers is still holding ground as the school professor of late night on Late Night With Seth Meyers. He wants to be smarter than everyone else, and more professional and he’s succeeding on both grounds. But his show is suffering somewhat from Trump fatigue and we’re not sure if it’s his or ours. Do you hate Trump? Then this will be your second show right after Rachel Maddow. But what happened to the quirkiness that made the midnight hour our favorite time to watch talk tv? “Late Night With…” originally made its reputation on being the show that let their hair down, brought on rock bands that didn’t play anywhere else, and those strange guests that would never fly an hour earlier. We miss the chance to take chances that late late night afforded- Potato chip ladies, and pet tricks, bizarre characters and risky sketches. James Corden isn’t faring any better with his Late Late Show. He started his run as a breath of fresh air who didn’t take things too seriously. He hired the brilliant Reggie Watts to shake things up. None of that attitude has stayed with the show. Or maybe it has, we confess, we’re not watching. But we’re also not hearing anything about the Late Late Show this year. If anything it seems Corden is biding his time there while he puts his real energy into developing spinoff shows with a better chance at really hitting. If there’s anyone that needs to reinvent themselves its James Corden.
Back at the 11:30 hour Jimmy Kimmel has found himself a groove to sit comfortably in on Live!, and appeal to parents who want to prank their kids, viral video stars, and the usual parade of guests with something to promote. He has his prime time shows to look forward to, so he’s keeping things chill. Last year we predicted that he was transitioning into a more issue-oriented show but that hasn’t quite taken place. Meanwhile over at NBC on the Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon has maintained his second place position to Colbert, but reportedly is succeeding in winning over important demographics. Yes, he’s dipped a little deeper into the political pool this year, but always maintaining that ‘I’m just kidding you guys’ attitude that allows Jimmy to stay the life of the late night party. There’s always a hint that Fallon is a lot more fun off air than on air, and we’re angling to see a Tonight Show drinking show in the future, cause that sounds like a ball. Our favorite thing about Fallon is that he seems to be the most interested in treating stand up comedy guests like professionals, keeping the old school system of allowing his comics to perform in front of the main show audience. Reports say he’s really been getting behind them, helping warm up the audience to them, and we love that he’s bringing back favorites again and again. Stephen Colbert has fully immersed himself in politics. He has overtaken Fallon in the ratings, but that’s not all. He’s also in the lead for the guy-most-likely-to-think-of-himself-as-adorable race. Its difficult to say anything about Colbert that he hasn’t said about himself, particularly if it’s a compliment. We’d like to see him pull back on the narcissism just a tiny bit. But then again, its working so why bother? We do have to give love to the Late Show for continuing to support stand up, bringing on more young comedians than anyone else. We can’t help but wish the comedians got to perform on the big show like all the other guests. but with Conan cutting stand up in 2019, Kimmel ignoring it on his show, and Corden treating stand up like a once in a blue moon obligation, we’re happy to see stand up remaining an element on the show at all.
Off the big networks we have Trevor Noah, who seems to be comfortable in his Comedy Central Daily Show spot, and they’re equally happy with him. He’s found his stride and ratings are growing, although he’s never brought the Daily Show back to its former Jon Stewart helmed glory. And Conan, oh Conan, what’s happened to you? Conan announced that he will depart the format for a shorter form program based off his specials in a big celebratory statement but is this something to celebrate? We’ve been watching tv cut pieces off of this guy since he left “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” Why are you still doing this? Maybe its time for you to grow a beard and go to Netflix.
What is there to say about the weeklies? John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight has remained perfectly consistent and he should be congratulated for that. But there is the question- how long can consistency stay fresh? Samantha Bee has settled in on Full Frontal and thanks to a roaring controversy this year, she has brought back the term feckless, which is exciting. But she’s also seemed to find her muzzle, and that’s disappointing. Ever since her sharp words for Ivanka Trump brought gigantic blowback, she’s seemed to ease into a quieter role. We’re hoping that’s temporary. Jim Jefferies is probably the freshest voice in the genre, but does it matter? The Jim Jefferies Show‘s inability to break out of the pack seems to prove the problems with having so many other shows out there. The format is so well worn that we just wish he would have found some other vehicle to showcase his original points of view on television on a weekly basis. Because they’re really worth hearing.
And finally there are the weekly streamers. This year This year we saw the arrival of Michelle Wolf’s exciting Netflix talk series The Break With Michelle Wolf, and we saw its disappointing departure. It was a good show, but couldn’t survive. Before John Stewart got the Daily Show, he had a late night talk show on MTV and it literally helped him figure out how his next show needed to be. And maybe that’s where Michelle Wolf finds herself. We expect her to get another show, and maybe this time she’ll find the right formula to be a star. Hasan Minhaj has arrived with all the hope and promise to save the concept of a streaming ‘late night show’ with Patriot Act, and its a good show. He’s young and smart and eager, and funny, and seems to be a good fit for the same audience that loves the new incarnation of the Daily Show. But Netflix hasn’t solved their delivery problem. Releasing new episodes in the middle of the night once a week might be de rigeur for the platform, but is that what makes sense for viewers in this genre? We’ll have to wait and see.
So we’re not loving late night, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone doing it better than everyone else. Let us know with your vote!