For decades, the format of the late night talk show had pretty much stayed the same with all the trappings of monologues, well tailored suits, desk pieces, celebrity guests, bands.
Now, in the 2010s, the tried and true format of late night is no longer tried and true. Rather than hanging out and hearing the crazy stories of famous people, viewers of late night seem to want to see something crazy actually happen on the show and perhaps only that.
James Corden took over The Late Late Show from Craig Ferguson only last year, relatively unknown in America, and has now scored a viral video that has out performed all the silly games that Jimmy Fallon, the late night leader pretty much from his start at The Tonight Show, plays with A-listers pretty much every night that he tapes an episode.
When Corden inherited The Late Late Show, there was scarcely any online presence for The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson as brief out-of-context interview clips were the only thing that would CBS would bother uploading on to YouTube. There is a reason that Corden went from pretty much zero to 70 million hits in a matter of a months.
The Internet and, more specifically, YouTube and social media, have commodified late night TV into more of a spectacle than it ever was. Remote segments, games, trips outside the studio are all things that are resonating with the current landscape of late night. Adele singing and joking around with James Corden being the most watched late night YouTube clip perfectly illustrates this change.
Such things specifically include Conan O’Brien doing any of his segments out in the wild or going abroad, Jimmy Fallon’s Lip Sync Battle, the pranks that Jimmy Kimmel hatches or his ongoing faux feud with Matt Damon, the deep segments on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that are uploaded early Monday morning. You’ll note that you’ve probably seen all of these an almost innumerable times on your various social media feeds, both in embedded video and in .gif form.
Sure, Letterman used to throw random things off of a roof and Leno used to find dumb people out on the street who didn’t know what we’d all assume is basic common knowledge for JayWalking. However, in 2016, you don’t have to watch all of The Late Show or The Tonight Show just to get to watch those segments or bits. At any time of the day, you can watch just those specific parts, over and over and over, and nothing else.
With this being the case, many of those aforementioned late night tropes like the opening monologue of topical jokes and desk pieces are slowly fading in relevance in favor of what makes for the most viral sounding headline.
When Conan does entire special episodes where he travels to remote locations, it more resembles something that Anthony Bourdain would do rather than The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.
Last Week Tonight, @midnight, and now, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee all offer something also atypical of what late night has been for so very long by trading chats with celebrities for dozens more topical jokes that aren’t merely delivered while standing on stage without a video package to throw to. Their success is signs of the winds of change at 11PM onwards.
With all of that being said, the old guard late night talk show is, for now, still in tact. Stephen Colbert is, in a surprising turn from The Colbert Report, presenting a very high brow, well executed version of the traditional late night talk show. In fact, Colbert pulls off many feats as a late night talk show host, especially when it comes to who he books and how he interviews or interacts with who he books, that his competition cannot because they’re off focusing on all the things mentioned above. Whether he can ascend to the top of the mountain of late night like his predecessor David Letterman did and stay there has yet to be seen, but Colbert definitely has the brilliance to do so.
Oh yeah, because of Trevor Noah, Larry Wilmore, and Samantha Bee, there is finally more than one late night show right now not hosted by a white guy.
Though they’re inevitably some doubters and skeptics, all these new trends are probably for the best. When it’s easier to watch live TV and stream content on the Internet on the same device (and that’s probably pretty soon), know that late night is only going to get more shaken up.