Does Late Night Need Youtube?

Or, How I Learned to Keep Mourning The Nightly Show and Love the Bomb

It’s no secret that the measure of late night programming is often in the viral video.

It explains why Jimmy Fallon was killing the late night game and why James Cordon is becoming the singing jester that stole his crown. That’s the explanation for why Colbert might’ve defined the cultural landscape as a character while nearly vanishing as he wedges himself into the talk show format. And it’s why every Monday morning you see headlines about how John Oliver eviscerated, dominated, and destroyed some concept or another. Each of them has that sharability—and that fresh Youtube account.

As cord-cutting drops TV subscriptions about eight percent overall and 19 percent in young adults (the theoretical cable buyers of the future), networks aren’t counting on pulling viewers in through the traditional means at the traditional times. But it turns out the only thing better than water cooler talk is hundreds of thousands of shares on social media. Sharing videos, segments, and even episodes in whole on the internet is just one more way of show viability through virality.

461796278-0And it’s something The Nightly Show never had. Comedy Central was (oddly) one of the slower adopters of internet video sharing. For the longest time clips to their content could only be found through their own website, on a special video service all their own. Eventually they warmed to the idea, and now The Daily Show is sharing segments from its own Youtube account. But The Nightly Show isn’t; they only come from the Comedy Central account. Sure, you can search for them in Youtube, but if you’re just trolling the account page, The Nightly show is buried under clips and segments from Not Safe with Nikki GlaserTosh.O,  and even more Daily Show clips. Heck, it doesn’t even come up on the initial account page for its own subchannel.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there’s probably a whole cocktail of reasons The Nightly Show will be keeping it 100 for only one more night. But not having access to the modern means of getting itself out there? Definitely didn’t help.

Saying goodbye to The Nightly Show 

Larry Wilmore’s Comedy Central talk show might not have found a lot of viewers. It might’ve been a bit odd; a meandering change of pace compared to the quick zingers that flew from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for all those years. But it shouldn’t have been cancelled. 

This is not a unique opinion. Since the news broke yesterday many people have bemoaned the fact that the late night landscape has a hole, and as a whole is that much whiter. Clearly not enough for Comedy Central to count them as viewers, but not an insignificant number. 

From my view, The Nightly Show was trying to do something no one else was. Like the best of The Daily Show alum from its prime in the aughts, Wilmore adopted the humor and insightfulness of his time with Jon Stewart but recalibrated it into a new format and a different style of talk show. The result was unique: Like Last Week Tonight or Full Frontal, Wilmore was able to use talk show set ups and comedy people were familiar with to discuss similar issues. To some it seemed light on jokes. And it was arguably not going to reach the people it should’ve, but for once there was someone consistently “reporting” and doing in depth discussions on the major issues of the day. Often the show dealt with the racial inequality and police violence that has been at the forefront of American politics for two years. Wilmore and his gaggle of guests never had to shy away from topics, they only needed to illuminate them. 

Any problems with The Nightly Show itself could’ve been overcome had there been a stronger base supporting it. By which I mean, The Colbert Report could count on at least some built in, carry over audience from The Daily Show; Jon Stewart even threw to him at the end so audiences could get a taste. But since Stewart’s departure and Trevor Noah’s time at the helm, TDS has lost its cultural foothold. In an election year it used to be a thriving factory of jokes and burns. Now it’s barely on the radar. 

Whil Wilmore’s format might’ve been a bit too fresh, his topics a bit hot button, his jokes a bit drawn apart, I’m guessing audiences could’ve ultimately found time to adjust, as they did when Colbert went full into character on his own show. But you can’t cancel an institution (at least not within two years of its first change in more than a decade) and so The Nightly Show got the ax. 

It will be missed. 

The Changing of the Nightshift Guard

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.

stewart_colbert_election_2012Not 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.

Seth Meyers Visits "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon"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.