It’s been a strange year for late-night and things are only going to get weirder.
All of the late-night shows were dark between May and October as as a result of the writers strike (please, don’t ask John Oliver whether he enjoyed his time off) and the genre lost one of its longer-running shows as The Late Late Show, which has run for over 5,000 episodes since 1995, is to be replaced by an old Comedy Central game show.
The change hasn’t been quite as significant as last year when James Corden and Trevor Noah revealed they’d be stepping down (surprisingly both are continuing to talk, just in a less visual medium), Warner Bros. Discovery’s new regime killed Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal and Desus & Mero, who, for some, were the duo to reinvigorate the field, broke up.
Late-night, it seems, is just ticking along.
The Late Show will continue as comfortably the most-watched late-night show, particularly as we head into another general election year, and Stephen Colbert recently signed up for another three years.
Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon will continue to battle it out for second and third spot, battling over younger viewers but without any real sign of dethroning Colbert. Both hosts are in place for a couple of years.
John Oliver also just signed up for another three years on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, as revealed by Deadline earlier this month.
Seth Meyers will continue to take A Closer Look at the state of the country, helped by an assortment of punk rock drummers, but instead of taking on Carpool Karaoke, he’ll go up against After Midnight, hosted by Taylor Tomlinson, which is set to debut early in the new year. The comedian becomes one of the few females in late-night, but it’s not really late-night as we know it. But maybe that’s a good thing.
Where things are really getting darker is around the edges.
Ziwe brought her brand of “offensive, bombastic and satirical” comedy to Showtime but was canceled after two seasons. She probably wasn’t helped by the fact that her network hardly exists anymore, which is a shame, particularly as she recently scored a post-Congress interview with George Santos that will now air on YouTube.
Paramount also scaled back a couple of other late-night cable shows, canceling Charlamagne Tha God’s Hell of a Week and Tooning Out The News.
It wasn’t just Bob Bakish’s brigade that struggled to make talk happen outside of broadcast, Sam Jay revealed earlier this year that her HBO show Pause was not returning and NBC basically sidelined Peacock’s The Amber Ruffin Show, a huge shame given Ruffin’s ability to jazz things up. Then there was The Problem with Jon Stewart, which as well as being the name of the show, was also likely Apple’s internal description of housing a no-holds barred comedian when you’re trying to do business in China.
The television industry, it seems, has once again failed to figure out how to make late-night work in streaming.
Is there any hope? The Daily Show might have one of the last opportunities to shake things up when a decision on the new host(s) is finally made. Hasan Minhaj may have come so close to getting the job, but now it seems like a straight shoot-out between buying more chairs to fit behind the desk or giving the job to Kal Penn or Sarah Silverman.
Don’t expect many other new faces, though.
Late-night is hurting and questions are being asked about budgets. The train no longer looks to be providing as much gravy as it used to and those long plastic hallways might soon start to seem a bit lonelier. Hopefully, NBC is saving a few bob on wardrobe costs with Meyers wearing his own flannel shirts on Late Night rather than expensive suits.
Talking of NBC, Saturday Night Live is gearing up for a big year with the 50th anniversary on the horizon. The variety show, which premiered on October 11, 1975, is heading into its Season 50 in the fall and big round numbers often bring big news.
Speculation around creator Lorne Michaels’ future has been intense in the comedy community with many late-night sources convinced that change could be on the cards. Even star Kenan Thompson previously said that “capping it at 50 might not be a bad idea”.
Michaels himself has flip-flopped on the issue; in December 2021, he told CBS Mornings co-host Gayle King that this might be a “really good time to leave”. He walked back these comments in a NY Times interview last year, saying that he had “no plans to retire”.
Comedy sources are convinced that Tina Fey remains the odds-on favorite to replace Michaels if and when he does step down, but that’s not an easy gig to fill. Former SNL star Meyers told Deadline earlier this year that Michaels “might be irreplaceable”.
“Whoever goes after the person who replaces in there, that’s the job. They should do a favor and just go to monster.com and hire somebody with no background in TV. Let them do it for six months and have the entertainment press fucking put them on a spit. Tell that person coming in that you’re just here to take the heat and you’ll get a golden parachute. They should get someone’s who not in TV because after they’ll never work in TV again,” he joked.
Michaels, comedy’s own Wizard of Oz, has talked up NBC’s plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary with a big event at Radio City Music Hall and celebrations kicking off around NBC’s coverage of the Paris Olympics next summer.
A 50th anniversary party with all of the stars and hosts and musical guests would seem a pretty good way to go out but the mercurial Michaels has never really played by the traditional rules.
It’d certainly get late-night talking again.