The possible death of late-night TV


Jeffrey Williams

The COVID-19 outbreak has put everything on pause, just like late-night TV.

The COVID-19 outbreak is affecting us all, but one medium of entertainment has been in a downward spiral even before the pandemic. Late-night television, as an industry, has started to dwindle. Perhaps some of this is more of a personal stance, but let’s be honest with ourselves.

How often do we watch late-night television anymore? Gone are the days of Johnny Carson, and later to the 90s Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno. Hosts would bring on hot new talent and aspiring artists to promote their new projects and material. While still a factor, late-night hosts now have moved towards a more “content” related mapping.

The shows now mimic successful YouTubers and gain inspiration from that platform. All late-night shows have their own YouTube channels, and share highlights from their shows. It would seem that the content shared is perfect for that format, but in context with the rest of the show are completely random.

Guests brought on are well known celebrities going about their media circuits in preparation for, usually, their new movie. Some lesser known musical artists are shown off, but for the most part the artists are well known.

The celebrities surrounding the shows are more prevalent than predecessors, but most still can’t seem to find a way to surpass Carson. Now it would seem that there are too many shows to choose from. Hosts like Seth Myers, Trevor Noah, Jimmy Kimmel/Fallon, Steven Colbert, and Conan O’Brien compete with each other, and influencers online.

One major factor that may contribute to the decline of late-night is the alienation of its audience. It’s blatantly apparent what each host thinks of current politics, and that is completely fine and they’re right. The show is their show. But this constant barrage of political bits, Trump bashing and outright refusal of straying from said bashing status-quo has led to each show painting themselves into corners that only allow them to continue with this structure. I can’t count how many times Jimmy Kimmel begins his show with a Trump joke. No matter your political standing, it does get tiresome.

These factors aren’t the killing blow, but have set up these shows to either have to change or fail. With COVID-19 however, the threat to late-night television is at an alltime high. The shows aren’t able to produce content at their studios, so they do so at home. Without an audience or solid structure, it’s painful to watch as some of these hosts try their part of being “comedians” without the help of their audience. We’re starting to see how unfunny they can be. And not to be unfair, I can’t imagine how difficult the situation would be to write a funny bit and not have reaffirming forced laughter.

We’ll see which of these shows will survive. Not to be grim. I do think late-night will continue on, but maybe in a different direction. Some may choose to move towards a more online focus, or some will move on entirely. Or maybe they get different TV deals and all of this was for nothing anyway. Time will tell as the ghost of late-night television haunts on into the future.