In the landscape of late night television, Comedy Central’s @midnight stands alone.
While post-primetime real estate is mostly populated with variety talk shows like NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and such political satires as Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, the unique @midnight is a game show/stand-up hybrid with some sketches thrown in. “We’re not the same show every night,” explained EP and host Chris Hardwick at a recent Awardsline screening. “It’s a comic’s comic game show which showcases comedians.”
In the wake of E’s Chelsea Lately going off the air, for some @midnight has been the closest to Chelsea‘s current events panel of comedians bantering on whatever topics get thrown their way. By February 2014, @midnight found its footing against rival late night competition in the ratings.
Come July, @midnight will count close to 300 episodes since hitting the airwaves in 2013. Back then, @midnight was intent on including itself in the Twitter-sphere, but has since spread to other social medias. At the Awardsline screening, Hardwick told moderator Dominic Patten of Deadline, “We’re always aiming to be innovative: How can we use these emerging platforms like Snapchat and turn it into games? Can we make (comedic) stuff, put it in the world, get a reaction on social media, and pull it back on our show?”
Being different from its late-night brethren has its advantages. @midnight typically doesn’t compete in the crowded Emmy variety categories. Instead, it’s rallied three Emmy noms (two in the 2014 and 2015 outstanding interactive program categories) and one win last year for creative achievement in interactive media – social TV experience.
In morphing the show to new social media outlets, @midnight opted to cover politics in the heat of an election year, a frosh arena for the show. Such hijinks included a Bernie Sanders vs. Donald Trump debate (aka “Socialist vs. Sociopath”). “We’ve described Donald Trump in the worst ways imaginable,” Hardwick said. “Trump is a burning sea lion wearing a spaghetti hat. We can’t help to point that out.”
During the Awardsline screening Q&A, Hardwick further detailed @midnight‘s inner workings. Essentially, on episode day, the writing staff drafts up a list of topics and possible jokes for the the guest comedic actors or stand-ups. The guests arrive two hours prior to taping, sometimes massaging punchlines, but as Hardwick described “the riffing is the beat of the show…it’s more of a set list, and not scripted.” In fact, most comedians appreciate the fact that the show is taped, not live.
Expounding on how the Comedy Central game show is an anomaly in its arena, Hardwick said “@midnight has the highest joke per ratio if you put it up against any other late night show. It’s built around jokes. If you don’t like one joke, there’s another one in 30 seconds. You’d be hard-pressed to find a (late night) show with that many jokes in 21 minutes.”