Political jokes, celebrity guests and a time slot that doesn’t start until most people go to bed. TV giants like Saturday Night Live, the Tonight Show and whatever network Stephen Colbert has been on are mainstays in the American TV scene, but the formula has had its day in the sun, and it’s time for something new.
Late-night TV has been an American staple for a long time, and like many things on TV, streaming and the internet have helped cause the decline of this once lofted entertainment formula. While the downfall of certain towering show ideas may seem bad on the surface, the fall of late-night talk shows has been coming for a long time, and it is not a bad thing.
The formula of the late-night talk shows has not changed since Kennedy was president. It always includes a somewhat-likable middle-aged left-wing white man entertainer who is humorous enough to get by interviewing celebrities with upcoming projects. There are, of course, exceptions; the new CBS show “A Little Late with Lilly Singh” featuring Youtuber turned host Lilly Singh, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee are all examples of a buck in the trend, but they still follow the same pattern as the others.
Late-night talk shows are essentially just long dressed up advertisements. A celebrity will come on to promote a book, movie or show that will be released soon and answer the same four questions they have answered the past month on similar shows.
Audiences don’t need these long advertisements anymore.
Before the internet, it was necessary for marketing to do these late-night spots because audiences didn’t have access to this information, but social media and Youtube have made that obsolete.
If a person cares about a celebrity, they can follow them on social media where most of them market their projects anyway. Youtube channels like Wired bring celebrities on for quirky segments similar to late-night TV, and they get the same amount of content without 20 minutes of commercials.
Late-night shows have already begun to put most clips from their shows on platforms like Facebook and Youtube for general audiences, and those are oftentimes much more popular than the actual show is.
The Tonight Show Youtube channel currently has about 22.4 million subscribers, and The Tonight Show for the week of Oct. 7-11 brought in 1.85 million viewers. Clearly, people are watching the show more on Youtube, so maybe a market expansion into Youtube is in order.
In the case of SNL, the show is just not as funny or culturally significant as it used to be. The hay days of “needing more cowbell,” Wayne’s World and Debbie Downer are gone. SNL is suffering in the ratings department, which is not surprising. They have had dark years before, most notably when Eddie Murphy was a cast member and the only bright spot on the show, but this feels different.
There are only so many times the Alec Baldwin-Donald Trump impression is funny before even liberals get tired of the schtick. The show, as a whole, is too political for many, and you can’t really fault those people. SNL has always towed the political line with its shows, but Trump fatigue is a real thing. People don’t want to unwind on a Saturday night by being reminded of the president’s latest gaffe.
SNL has also suffered the same way other late-night shows have. Their social media presence on platforms like Facebook and Youtube is actually harming their show ratings. People would rather wait and watch the few funny sketches from the latest edition of SNL rather than sit through the entire show to find the funny sketches not related to Trump.
The David Harbour sketch parodying “The Joker” with Sesame Street has easily eclipsed the normal viewership for SNL episodes because it was the best sketch from the night he was hosting, and it’s only three minutes. People can watch the sketch and not sit through the rest of the show which is exactly what they did.
The internet, stale formats and politics are “killing” late-night TV, but is that a bad thing? Entertainment is constantly evolving, and maybe it’s just late-night’s turn to adapt or die.