Once upon a time — last fall — reporters writing about Stephen Colbert’s move to CBS’ The Late Show talked about “already too cluttered” world of late-night TV. To borrow a down-home-ism from GOP White House hopeful John Kasich, if you thought that was clutter, you need to head out and buy a seatbelt because there is going to be so much happening in late-night TV it’ll make your head spin.
Yesterday alone two cable networks announced new late-night projects. History unveiled a new late-night comedy block, called Night Class, featuring three original short-format series debuting a week from today at 11:30 PM ET. Night Class will be History’s companion to its new new late-night show starring Craig Ferguson, Join Or Die, which planted its flag in the daypart last night – 10 days after Samantha Bee launched her new late-night show Full Frontal on TBS, where the former Daily Show correspondent joins Conan O’Brien.
On Join Or Die, the former host of CBS’ The Late Late Show is joined by a panel to debate such topics as history’s most influential drug or biggest douchebag and whether former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was one of history’s biggest blunderers or just a guy who did not “let his personal taste get in the way of doing his job.” The premiere episode last night at 11 PM, logged an average of 721K viewers, a modest return on History’s hefty Vikings lead-in crowd of 2.39M viewers. Nearly half of Ferguson’s opening-night crowd fell in the 18-49 crowd, though.
Next week, on Thursday, Ferguson will be joined by Night Class. Among its short-format series are Great Minds With Dan Harmon, which will bring history’s greatest minds to 2016 (via time machine, naturally) including Jack Black playing Beethoven in one episode, and How To Lose The Presidency, which showcases embarrassing moments and mistakes in White House runs: Howard Dean’s unhinged scream, Rick Perry’s debate senior moment and, hopefully, a heaping dose of Donald Trump.
“They are creating content to attract a new audience … from the one the network attracts in primetime,” one industry pundit noted of the late-night trend. By “new,” what is meant is “young” and “male.”
That might answer New York magazine’s recent questions as to why Join Or Die assembled “a notably under-qualified panel” for its opening episode, but one that included Jimmy Kimmel, PR guru Howard Bragman and Funny Or Die actress Jen D’Angelo. The target audience also might explain why “for reasons not fully explained,” New York said head-scratchingly, the show’s candidates for History’s Biggest Blunders all happened in the past decade and a half, including accusations of sexual misconduct that derailed Herman Cain’s GOP White House bid in 2012, while eschewing genuinely historic blunders such as Chamberlain’s appeasement at Munich, the sale of the Louisiana territory, and Napoleon’s march to Moscow among the magazine’s suggestions:
At about the same time History announced Night Class yesterday morning, truTV sent around an embargoed news release about its new series, Late Night Snack, which debuts at 11 PM Thursday, March 3. That followed, by about a week, AMC’s proclamation it had ordered Geeking Out, a half-hour late-night talk show that will look at pop culture through a fanboy lens. It’s hosted by Kevin Smith and Heroes alum/Star Wars: The Force Awakens actor Greg Grunberg (see “young” and “male” target audience, above.)
The late-night formats that are being announced most noticeably “can live digitally as well as linear,” one pundit noted. The idea is to get it up, put it online and hope it goes viral. Odds of that are greatly increased by airing them in late-night, where networks “can experiment in content” without incurring the same advertiser pushback to which they’re prone in primetime, the exec noted of the trend. “It’s important for any content provider, because that’s how younger viewers are consuming.”
He added, “For your brand to succeed, you can’t just live in a linear world.”
TruTV’s Late Night Snack promises a sampler of shortform comedy. The carousel of half-hour segments curated by and premiering on the network will kick off with 10 episodes. Among its content: Alec Baldwin’s Love Ride, features Baldwin taking couples for a ride in his limo and offering them relationship advice, and Benjamin The Cat, based on the human-sized cat mascot who made his debut on truTV’s prank show Impractical Jokers, which also airs Thursdays, in primetime, and launched its fifth season February 11. Thursday late-night will fill up fast, industry watchers forecast. Said one, “Thursday is a great sales night,” owing to studios pitching movie openings to target younger demos. Said another: “It all points back to the brand. If you’re watching a shortform late-night piece like Great Minds With Dan Harmon, you’re watching in that digital world, but it’s History-branded, and can drive people back to the network … it’s a way to get new eyeballs.”Late-night TV is, contrary to the too-much-TV phenomenon of primetime, still a fairly wide open daypart, insist some.
None of the new players expects to draw as many late-night eyeballs as broadcast’s Jimmy, Jimmy or Stephen,” but as one industry observer noted: “This is a way to expand your empire. All these [cable] networks have concentrated on primetime, and late-night is the next logical place to concentrate and expand. These networks are getting more ambitious in programming but, largely, late-night shows are not expensive. It’s a pretty elastic program type compared to trying to produce, say, the next The Walking Dead. It’s a place where people see opportunity and not a lot of cost, compared to what some other genres cost.”