As one might expect from a 20-something journalist raised in the liberal-hotbed of Seattle, I have been watching comedy news shows since I was a wee lass. “The Daily Show” was there as long as I can remember, catching a peek on my way downstairs as my mom sent us to bed after “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” I still remember when “The Colbert Report” was just that guy who produced some of my favorite sketches from TDS (his religion segments are some of my strongest memories from when I actually got to watch the show). And so seeing both Colbert and Jon Stewart step down from their desks is, in a way, a momentous occasion for me.
Not that I’d watched them religiously in the days since. I did get some schooling done. It’s a lot, like Ian Crouch notes for The New Yorker, like your Facebook friends, who you constantly see updates from but rarely catch up with. Because in the vast world that is late-night TV, how many people are skipping their favorite fictional shows for a real talk show, when they could catch the highlights the next day?
These days, the most interesting thing about late-night television is the one thing that it has in common with a Presidential election: the race to fill an open chair. And in both governance and late night, once the work begins many people lose interest. -Crouch
That’s the problem with late-night talk shows: very little has evolved since they were invented in the past. And where they once filled a very real purpose, they now sit like a trophy on a mantle. Every once and a while there’ll be a new way to present it to audiences, but it feels to comfortable where it is to make any changes.
Done with confusing (and in the case of my own, weak) analogies? Me too, so let’s cut to the chase: Late-night talk shows have a superfluidity that they didn’t have back in the day. Not only that, but they’re run largely by white men. When was the last time you sat through a whole late-night show—and your grandparent wasn’t there for Letterman’s top 10?
The whole concept of late-night talk shows as a formula has remained very stagnant, and leaves the whole thing feeling very dated.
In some ways late-night has maintained a symbiotic relationship with the Internet; now those famous people who come on to promote things or those extra-funny zingers can go out into the world, beyond the audience who happened to be tuned in at the time. But it’s also removing the need for the show in the first place. These shows could be released exclusively as viral web videos and most people wouldn’t notice a difference.
So when I tune into find out who the new face is in the changing tide of late-night talk shows, I’m more interested in what fresh perspective they’re bringing to the table. And yeah, a lot of that is whether they’ll be something other than an white, male comedian, but that’s not the end of the discussion (Jimmy Fallon has done the lion’s share of work for bringing fun back to the late-night talk shows), but the sad state of late-night TV is that without diverse voices it leaves a very outmoded doldrum on your TV in the wee small hours of the morning.
Will Colbert’s biting commentary have a place? I hope so. Just like I hope, in a different way, that Trevor Noah will be able to elevate Stewart’s insight to a new level. If there could be more diversity in late-night, there might just be a reason for it to still exist.