Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Staying Up Late

Warning: this post is kinda long. 


At this time last year, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert debuted on CBS after a month of almost incessant marketing. Where I live, the CBS affiliate hosted a block party to celebrate the debut of the show in a city park renamed for the evening in honor of Colbert. Wow, that seemed a bit much for nothing more than the debut of a late night talk show. 

On the one year anniversary of that "momentous occasion", I wanted to take a few paragraphs to share some thoughts on late night television. 

Colbert's debut on CBS was one of several seismic shifts in the late night television that had occurred over the preceding 10 months or so. In December 2014, Craig Ferguson stepped down as host of CBS's The Late Late Show followed by Stephen Colbert himself exiting his own Colbert Report on Comedy Central. By May 2015, David Letterman, a stalwart in late night entertainment for 30 years retired from the Late Show on CBS while a month later over on Comedy Central, The Daily Show said farewell to Jon Stewart, an absence that a lot of people are still feeling over a year later.  

Meanwhile, replacements stepped up to take the place of these departing TV hosts with varying degrees of success.

The Nightly Show With Larry Whitmore
Whitmore replaced Colbert's show on Comedy Central with a program designed as a companion piece to the Daily Show. I tried to get into this show. Whitmore when he stuck the landing could be very funny and insightful. 

But it seemed to me that Whitmore's misses outnumbered his hits. Early on Whitmore seemed a bit uncomfortable in his new role as a TV show host and by the time Comedy Central cancelled the show last month, I did not see an appreciable improvement in that comfort level. 

The Late Late Show With James Corden
Following in the footsteps of Craig Ferguson, James Corden hailed from the United Kingdom where he had been quite popular on TV and stage. I knew of Corden's work from his excellent turns on a pair of Doctor Who episodes.  Corden is a very funny and very talented performer. And his show has struck gold with it's Carpool Karaoke segments. Watching James and a guest singing along to songs while driving in a car is a lot of fun to watch. 

But for all of Corden's considerable talents. his actual hosting of the Late Late Show really doesn't work for me. He's frequently too eager, too breathless, too shrill during his monologues, desk pieces and interviews.  

The Late Show With Stephen Colbert
Taking over from a television icon like David Letterman was never going to be easy. Yes, Letterman had gotten cranky and a bit complacent in his latter years but seeing the end of the road coming up, there was a spark in David that made me not want to say goodbye. Letterman's exit in May 2015 was a masterpiece of broadcasting. So Stephen Colbert was going to have measure up to that legacy which came to an end on a very high, very positive note. 

But even harder, Colbert was going to have to compete with all the expectations surrounding himself. As I mentioned earlier, the marketing push in the lead up to Colbert's debut was overwhelming. And all for a guy that we knew and didn't know at the same time. After all, Stephen Colbert had spent 9 years playing "Stephen Colbert", a right wing pundit on the outrageously funny and award winning Colbert Report. Would the funny and the plaudits earned by the fake Colbert follow the real Colbert to CBS? 

Colbert has proven to be an incredibly talented individual, demonstrating skills in comedy, singing, dancing, even drama (for comedic effect). His razor sharp take downs of the political process have been a particular boon to Colbert. His interviewing skills still need improvement. Colbert, who spent years honing a fake persona for himself, hasn't quite learned to fake the sincerity needed to engage in a conversation with a guest there to plug a movie. He is getting better though. 

One more thing on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert: anytime the show can spotlight Jon Batiste and his group, Stay Human, do that. This is a remarkable group of musicians and Jon himself is quite an accomplished musician. 

The Daily Show With Trevor Noah
Over a 16 year period, Jon Stewart carved out a successful niche calling out not only the bullshit of the political process but also for calling out supposed "real" journalists who weren't do their jobs at calling out the bullshit of the political process. Stewart put into words what so many of us felt but we weren't hearing from CNN, Fox or MSNBC. With a potent combination of sharp comedy and barely controlled frustration, Jon was pitch perfect for the job. There was no way in hell Trevor Noah was going to measure up. 

And so far, he hasn't. To his credit, Trevor is very funny and smart, both of which are a must for anchoring the Daily Show. But I don't know if it's his demeanor or his background (Noah is from South Africa, not the United States) but Trevor Noah seems a bit too removed from the proceedings, lacking an emotional investment that Jon Stewart had in spades. No, it's not fair to compare Noah to Stewart but a sense of almost personal outrage goes a long way towards selling this kind of program. Which brings us to..

Full Frontal With Samantha Bee
Unlike the prior shows I've covered, this is a new creation from the former Daily Show correspondent. On the downside, I think Samantha Bee pushes too hard on being outrageously offensive. On the upside, Bee gives voice not just to the words that describe the absurdity of the world around us but she gives expression to our feelings about that absurdity. It's a shame that Samantha Bee, the only woman hosting a show on late night television, gets just 1/2 hour a week to do her thing.  Also only appear once a week is this next show...

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver 
Because this show appears on HBO, British comedic person John Oliver gets to say "fuck". A lot. It's also distinguished by looking a long form stories, taking anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes to probe a specific issue. Think 60 Minutes but funnier and with less wrinkles. The odd thing about Last Week Tonight is how much research John Oliver and his team has to commit to these long pieces. In many ways, Last Week Tonight almost works like a news show that happens to be funny as opposed to a humor show whose target is the news. It's veritable whiplash watching Oliver described some poor person's powerless downfall crushed in the gears of an uncaring governmental system then connect it to a joke about One Direction or IKEA furniture.  

OK, two more shows. (Sorry, this will be over soon.)  

The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon
When he was hosting Late Night, I really liked Fallon's loose we're just having a party here style.  As host of the Tonight Show, eh, not so much. Of all the hosts I'm covering in this post, Jimmy Fallon is the worst for keeping the camera on him. That's not say that Fallon is selfish or unlikeable. I think it would be cool to hang out with Fallon. But Jimmy Fallon relies too much on his own skills as a performer to keep the showing going as opposed to stepping back and letting his guest shine on their own.  

I will say that I did particularly enjoy President Obama's visit to the show and Jimmy's story about playing ping-pong with Prince was rather sweet and very funny.  

Late Night With Seth Meyers
In many ways, Seth Meyers has become the heir apparent to Jon Stewart but in the context of a more traditional talk show. Meyers last year decided to forego the normal stand up monologue and opted to go straight to the desk. There, the monologue does not have to rely solely on Meyers' delivery but can make use of clever graphics to underscore the comedy, much like Meyers at his best on SNL's Weekend Update or as Stewart did on The Daily Show.  

But the highlight of Meyer's show is A Closer Look. Not as long form as Oliver's Last Week Tonight pieces, this segment still dedicates about 8 to 10 minutes looking at a particular topic and exposing facts and truths buried under political rhetoric. 

While not a perfect interviewer, Meyers at least does let his guests carry on a discussion. And any host who can have a solid, informative conversation with Geoff Johns about what's new at DC Comics has got my vote. 

All right, this post has gone on way longer than I intended but I suppose I should be complete in this review and mention Jimmy Kimmel Live. 

Jimmy Kimmel Live
OK, I mentioned it. 

Oh, and...

Last Call With Carson Daly 
That's still on?  

Whew! That was a long post and...

Whoops forgot one. 


That's on TBS and is hosted by Conan O'Brien. 

Er, that's all I got. 

Tomorrow is Wednesday which is usually comic day here on the blog. So tomorrow, let's take a look ahead at Supergirl's return to TV.

Until next time, remember to be good to one another. 

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