With every aspect of television rapidly evolving, there probably isn’t an area that has undergone more sweeping changes in the past couple of years than late night. A slew of new shows cropped up across the dial, and the networks with the longest traditions in the day part, NBC and CBS, both changed the hosts of their late-night franchises. That big changeover could shake up the Outstanding Variety Series Emmy category, which has long been dominated by late-night shows. The field finally got a jolt last year, with The Colbert Report taking the Emmy after a 10-year winning streak for The Daily Show that followed five consecutive wins by Late Show with David Letterman.
There were a handful of major late-night changes and new additions in the 1990s and the 2000s. The first botched Tonight Show transition in 1992, which installed Jay Leno as successor to Johnny Carson, led to CBS breaking NBC’s late-night monopoly with Letterman and the introduction of Conan O’Brien. They were followed by the launch of The Daily Show on Comedy Central. The following decade saw the arrival of Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, Chelsea Lately on E! and another messy Tonight Show transition at NBC, resulting in the launch of O’Brien’s Conan on TBS and the emergence of Jimmy Fallon.
That was just a precursor to the incredible turnover we’ve seen over the past year or so. FX launched Brand X with Russell Brand and Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell in 2012, followed by the debuts of Comedy Central’s @midnight, TBS’ The Pete Holmes Show and the syndicated The Arsenio Hall Show last fall and this spring’s premiere of HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO. (All but @midnight and John Oliver have been cancelled.) Leno retired, with Fallon taking over The Tonight Show and Seth Meyers over Late Night at NBC. Letterman announced he too will retire, to be succeeded by Stephen Colbert. Craig Ferguson and Chelsea Handler also are leaving CBS and E!, respectively, with Larry Wilmore set to replace Colbert. It’s been a crazy year, but the following “newbies” have cemented the generational shift, taking late night into new territory.
Below is Deadline’s assessment of latenight’s new, but not entirely unfamiliar, hosts who are in the mix this Emmy season and on the horizon:
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, NBC
Time slot: Weeknights @ 11:35 pm
Pedigree: Six seasons on Saturday Night Live, five seasons as host of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon; roles in the films Taxi and Almost Famous; two Emmys, one Grammy and two People’s Choice Awards
Trademark: Games and skits with celebrity guests, impersonations, musical numbers
Our Take: Without a cynical, jaded or droll funny bone in his body, Fallon’s joie de vivre and unbridled sense of fun make him the perfect hire for the most coveted job in all of television. Fallon is an all-around entertainer: an actor, writer, sketch performer and gifted musician who loves joining his musical guests onstage for a song or two.
Overheard: “I’m really excited for Jimmy Fallon. It’s fun to be the old guy and see where the next generation takes this great institution.” —Jay Leno
@midnight, Comedy Central
Time slot: Mondays through Thursdays @ 12 am
Pedigree: Best known for hosting Talking Dead as well as appearances on Attack of the Show!
Trademark: Fast-paced jokes
Our Take: With his sharp wit and boyish good looks, Hardwick presides as ringleader of @midnight’s rapid-fire joke fest, where comics compete to see who can come up with the funniest wisecracks about the day’s headlines. Hardwick has a giant laugh—it’s the best in late night. The comics on his show constantly crack him up; he’s laughing even when the audience is groaning.
Overheard: “We’re amazed at how quickly @midnight has resonated with our fans. If the Internet … and social media become part of pop culture, we think we’ll have something here.” — Comedy Central’s Kent Alterman
Late Night with Seth Meyers, NBC
Time slot: Weeknights @ 12:35 am
Pedigree: On the writing staff of Saturday Night Live for 13 seasons; anchor of “Weekend Update” for four seasons; buzzed-about keynote speaking gig at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011; host of the upcoming 66th Primetime Emmy Awards; one Emmy and three WGAs
Trademark: Interviews, fake news
Our Take: Meyers is known for some of the funniest stuff on TV, including writing the iconic Sarah Palin spoofs that Tina Fey performed on SNL, as well as his earnest delivery of fake news as anchor of “Weekend Update.” Only Darrell Hammond has been on SNL longer (15 years to Meyers’ 13).
Overheard: “Seth was not only brilliant on ‘(Weekend) Update,’ but he was a rock as head writer. (His departure) was a big loss, and SNL wasn’t quite the same.” —Lorne Michaels
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, HBO
Time slot: Sundays @ 11 pm
Pedigree: Best known for The Daily Show, where he subbed as host when Jon Stewart took a sabbatical to direct the film Rosewater; appearances on the NBC sitcom Community
Trademark: Political satire
Our Take: He can’t vote and he can’t run for public office, but for some reason, HBO gave Brit John Oliver his own late-night show so that he can go on in that fancy accent about how stupid John Boehner is, f-bombs and all. It seems his green card—legally obtained, apparently—entitles him to say just about anything he wants on American TV, which has helped turn his show into a buzzy launch.
Overheard: “When we saw John Oliver handling host duties on The Daily Show, we knew that his singular perspective and distinct voice belonged on HBO.” —HBO’s Michael Lombardo
The Minority Report with Larry Wilmore, Comedy Central
Time slot: Weeknights @ 11:30 pm,starting January 2015
Pedigree: Best known for his role as the “Senior Black Correspondent” on The Daily Show; creator/executive producer of The Bernie Mac Show; one Emmy
Trademark: Racial comedy
Our Take: Next year, Wilmore will become the latest African-American host of a late-night show, following in the path set by such stars as Chris Rock, Wanda Sykes, W. Kamau Bell, Tavis Smiley and Arsenio Hall, whose syndicated comeback program was just cancelled. At 52, Wilmore is the senior member of this newest class of hosts, and one of its most accomplished.
Overheard: “While Larry Wilmore is a brilliant comic and showrunner, this is all just a complicated ruse to get him to move to New York and turn him into a Knicks fan.” — Jon Stewart
Late Show with Stephen Colbert, CBS
Time slot: Weeknights @ 11:35 pm, starting in 2015
Pedigree: Best known for The Colbert Report, The Daily Show and Strangers with Candy, all on Comedy Central; recipient of seven Emmys, two Grammys, four WGAs, seven PGAs and two Peabody Awards
Trademark: Political satire
Our Take: Colbert will join late night a little older and more experienced than some of his fellow hosts when he replaces David Letterman on Late Show next year. He won’t be taking his conservative pundit alter ego with him to CBS, so we’ll see if he can be funny out of character and stay funny for more than two hours a week.
Overheard: “I’m very excited for (Colbert) and I’m flattered that CBS chose him. I also happen to know they wanted another guy with glasses.” — David Letterman