Comedy Central’s @midnight with Chris Hardwick landed an unexpected time slot upgrade in August when the network canceled The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, temporarily moving @midnight to 11:30 PM in the final stretch of one of the most compelling presidential campaigns ever. @midnight, which had started off as a game show-style program, in which comedians weigh in on the top online trends that day, found itself as a companion to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and amped up its political quotient in the weeks leading to the November election.
During election week, @midnight, which aired a live show on election night, drew its largest adults 18-49 ratings (0.35 in Live+same day, 0.42 in Live+3) since the final week of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in August 2015. Since its move from midnight to 11:30 PM, @midnight has seen its 18-49 rating climb by +19%. In that demo, @midnight’s delivery is off slightly (-6%) from its predecessor, Nightly Show, while improving the time slot a bit in the network’s target 18-34 demographic (+7%). Over the past year, @midnight, the youngest (median age of 39 years) and most male (62% male) late-night talk show, also delivered some of its most viral segments ever with mostly election-related content, led by the Donald Trump-Bernie Sanders debate, which has amassed almost 7 million views on YouTube. A month before the November election, @midnight was renewed for a fourth season. And while its new 11:30 PM berth has not been made permanent, there are no immediate plans for a show to replace it.
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In an interview with Deadline, Hardwick, who also hosts The Walking Dead companion talk show Talking Dead and NBC’s upcoming game show The Wall, talks about @midnight‘s evolution, discusses whether politics will continue to have a presence on the show post-elections, shares his hopes about staying in the 11:30 PM slot, reveals whether he would like to be considered for the Live with Kelly co-host position and fields an inevitable Walking Dead question.
DEADLINE: When you were told that the show is moving to 11:30? Was there any mandate to change the tone, to add more politics?
HARDWICK: Well, we had already been talking about politics over the past year and not because we thought, oh, we need to talk about politics, but the show is about what people are talking about in social media. So, with the election, it was just the topic of conversation on social media. That is the lens through which our show aims, and it was also a way to add a dimension to the show that it didn’t have before.
Before, it was really just silly, fun things that may or may not have been day and date, but we felt that it was really important to evolve the show. Last year, getting into our third season
, we really had the process of the show down, we know how to make the show, but that allowed us to start growing the format and talking about more adult things, I suppose. But really, I think people get tricked into thinking that it’s an actual game show, but it’s actually not.
Spiritually, we’re not that different from what The Daily Show does, although The Daily Show does cover more politics than we do. But The Daily Show started as a news satire show, and they deliver politics and pop culture news in the structure of a news format show, and we do the same thing, but in the structure of a fake game show. We’re talking about anything that happened that day on social media.
So when they asked us to do 11:30, we had already been headed down that road a bit more, but we certainly felt like we needed to rise up a bit to be a more meaningful companion to The Daily Show so that you could roll over and see some of those conversations continue.
DEADLINE: Was there a breakout moment? Was it the Trump and Bernie debate in March?
HARDWICK: Yeah, it really was the Trump-Bernie debate that we did, and Anthony Atamanuik and James Adomian were amazing in that episode. One of the programming executives happened to be visiting the set that day, and during the show, he said, ‘this is so amazing. I’m going to bump whatever is on after you and just do your show for an hour.’ So that’s when I felt like we were really talking about things that were meaningful and doing our job, which was to use comedy to deliver these things.
Our show is a comedy show. It is a late-night comedy show. I think, a lot of times, people don’t really see it that way, or we’re left out of that conversation because they think a late-night show is a desk, and a monologue, and a couch guest, and it’s not. We’re a late-night comedy show, and we just happen to disguise ourselves, but when you look at it, it’s a late-night information comedy show that I think delivers more jokes per minute than pretty much any other show on television.
And it’s really fun to play with the format and screw around, and that Bernie-Trump episode was really seminal for us because it showed us that we know the format of our show so well that we can break it, and play with it, and use different things, and talk about real things, but still make comedy out of it. I was also really excited about the live episode that we did on Election Night, which was something that we had talked about doing for a really long time.
DEADLINE: Following the live Election Night episode, are there any plans for the show to go live on a permanent basis?
HARDWICK: I don’t know if we would do it live 100% of the time, but I think we had a very successful test run, and I would like to do more shows that are live because it allowed us to really talk about what was going on in real time and incorporate it into the show and really pull people in who were watching at that moment, and that was very special. Comedy Central the next day said anytime you want to do a live show, you let us know. So we will do it again, for sure, we’ll just have to find the right time to do it and the right event to build it around.
DEADLINE: After the election, it seems like the show largely went back to its original format of social media-driven, non-political content. Will that change? Will Anthony come back as Trump?
HARDWICK: I’m sure we’ll have Anthony back as Trump. I just feel like, for me personally, there’s just been so much election fatigue, and while I think it was very important during the election to always be on top of everything that was going on with the election via social media, I do feel like, all right, now we need a little bit of a detox. I think people need a little bit of a break from it.
We will continue to address things, but in as much as I want to talk about politics as they are related to social media, I don’t necessarily want to be a political show. I want it to cover everything, everything in our culture through social media, politics, pop culture, entertainment, science, everything.
Obviously, we went after Trump quite a bit, but I also feel like, we can’t be on anyone’s side, really. We need to be on comedy’s side, so we need to be fairly going after everyone, because the entire political system is a circus. So it’s been fun and interesting, and I hope people enjoy the evolution of the show. It’ll continue to evolve because you can’t do the same show forever. I feel like people would get bored with that.
So it’s been really fun to mix it up and try to be a show that’s worthy of an 11:30 time slot, because there isn’t anything else like us on at that time.
DEADLINE: You’ve been temporarily in the 11:30 PM time slot, and you still call the show @Midnight. How long before you feel this is permanent enough and you have to change the title?
HARDWICK: Well, I don’t know if we’ll ever change the title. I think it just becomes the brand name now, and I honestly don’t know. Comedy Central’s been really cool giving us this opportunity to fill it at 11:30, and if it’s permanent, we’re super excited to take on that challenge and be the best companion show we can be to The Daily Show and work with Trevor more and do crossovers. And if Comedy Central does find a worthy show to put at 11:30 and they move us back to midnight, that’s fine, too.
Obviously, the earlier time slot’s better for us because there are just more people awake at 11:30 than midnight, but it’s been a great experience for us, even if it’s temporary, because it really forced us to re-examine the show and grow it and try new things, and so we will always be grateful no matter what because of that. But I do want to preface that by saying I do hope we get to stay at 11:30, but that’s out of my control, and whatever happens, happens.
DEADLINE: You mentioned potential crossovers. Is there anything that you have in the works with The Daily Show?
HARDWICK: No, not just yet. Leading up to election night, we started having a lot of conversations with them, and they’re great over there — the producers are great, and I adore Trevor. I think the main thing was just to get through the election, and now that that’s all over, I think our intention is to start having more conversations with them and really making the late-night a team block so that Trevor doesn’t just have his audience and we don’t just have our audience — that we’re all really working together and sharing our audience, and you’re getting a lot of different sides of covering whatever is happening that day, and it’s all complementary.
DEADLINE: You do so many shows, and they’re so different. Is there a moment where, in the middle of hosting, you’re not completely sure which one that was and you start going in a different direction?
HARDWICK: No. No. Well, they’re all so specific, you know? They’re all so different and so specific. I don’t ever accidentally welcome to Midnight on Talking Dead. In my career, I always had wanted the design to do a bunch of different types of things.
Talking Dead is an hour long. It takes its time. It’s more conversational. It’s live, and Midnight is basically just a big joke-fest with a lot of my friends, who are all comedians, making fun of the internet, which is something I love, too. And then The Wall, this NBC show, was really fun and was a different thing for me to do because it is a pretty straight-ahead game show. But I don’t know, I think if you have the opportunity to try different things, you should try different things and step outside your comfort zone and see what works and what doesn’t work.
I know it seems like I’m doing a lot, and it probably seems like, well, that guy says yes to everything, but I actually turn down a lot more stuff than I do. I just like experimenting and pushing boundaries and seeing what’s fun. Even going to New York and co-hosting Live With Kelly was a completely new experience, and I loved it, and she’s amazing, and hopefully I’ll go back and do that a couple more times, but I just love playing in a lot of different formats. It’s gratifying, and it’s never boring.
DEADLINE: Do you want to be considered for the permanent job at Live With Kelly?
HARDWICK: Oh, well, that’s a complicated question. The truth is I just don’t know. If they offered it to me, I wouldn’t be able to tell you unless I was in that position, but the one thing that I can tell you is that I love doing the show, and I have all the respect in the world for Kelly Ripa, and I think it would be an incredibly fun job to do. But I also know that I wouldn’t stop doing anything I’m doing in order to do it. So if it were possible to do it and to do everything else, then, of course, I would strongly consider doing it.
DEADLINE: And are you surprised that the most viral items segments from @Midnight have been all politically themed? You do so much social media-driven content, you would assume that will be viral, but it seems to me that political stuff trumps everything else. No pun intended.
HARDWICK: Well, that’s the topic that’s on everyone’s plate right now. Those are the things that people are sharing, and that’s what people are talking about. There are dramatic shifts going on in politics, which is an understatement, and so that’s what’s motivating people. Things that are viral are things that motivate people to say I have to share this with everyone I know, and that has been more politics lately, and that’s completely understandable.
Probably there are ebbs and flows, but honestly, we don’t really make anything and go, oh, I hope this is viral. We just make stuff that we think is funny and fun, and I think that’s the most you can do. I think if you’re chasing virality, it just feels desperate.
DEADLINE: And a final question about The Walking Dead. Do you know something about the upcoming midseason finale? Any big deaths coming up?
HARDWICK: No, I don’t know anything. I legitimately don’t know, and they are respectful and don’t share that stuff with me because I’ve asked them not to. I go to the file. I watch the episode, and then I delete it, and then I go to work. So, yeah, I really don’t know, and if it’s a guest that is coming up and it’s a particularly intense episode, if someone dies, or even if they don’t die, even on the booking sheet that gets emailed to everyone, it just says surprise cast member. I mean, half the time, I really don’t even know who the guest on the show’s going to be until that day.
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