Late Night TV: Can We Stomach Anymore?

Yup, it’s been almost 10 months since we last saw Conan O’Brien in late night TV.

as if late night wasn't crowded enough

as if late night wasn't crowded enough

So that’s 10 months that we were subject to the getting-old shtick of David Letterman, the politically charged rants of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and the decidedly unfunny Jay Leno.

That’s the state of late night TV these days. Every show is segmented, looking for completely different audiences. So who’s actually watching these shows?

Leno: Middle Americans over the age of 50 (60?) who still somehow think he’s funny. Apparently there is some kind of genie with a power over this portion of the country. Make no mistake — the man is unfunny and the complete antithesis of entertaining. Any argument otherwise is just wrong. I forced myself to watch Leno last week just to see if anything had gotten better. I went in with a totally open attitude, drank a couple beers before to even make me more accepting of his humor with the hopes that just the right amount of alcohol might make me laugh. I did not laugh. It’s official, either Jay Leno is specifically unfunny to me, or he’s just unfunny. I’m going with unfunny until I hear otherwise.

he may be getting old, but he holds his own with britney as much as he does with richard simmons

he may be getting old, but he holds his own with britney as much as he does with richard simmons

Letterman: Big city types who consider themselves too sophisticated for Leno’s humor, but aren’t snobs about it. Which is, like, everyone. After 30 years on late-night TV, two different scandalsand tens of thousands of shows, Letterman still managed to keep his “cool” factor. That’s almost impossible. There can’t be more than 10 people in TV history who have been or were on the air for more than 30 years that managed to stay cool. One is Johnny Carson, Lettermnan’s hero. The only other person consistently on the air right now I can think of is William Shatner, and maybe Tom Selleck. It’s not a long list. Weirdly, all three of those guys are on CBS, the network we think of as tired and old. If they’re going for old guys, at least they’re going for cool old guys.

Stewart and Colbert: The really sophisticated big-city types who want some news twinged with their humor. It’s quick, it’s short, and it’s over by midnight. There’s a lot to be said for that. Personally, I liked Daily Show better when they weren’t talking about trade policies in China, but that seems to be where their bread is buttered right now. More power too them.

Jimmy Kimmel: Decidedly male-skewing humor for people who’ve tired of the same-old, same-old of late night. Basically a younger version of Letterman. Problem is, Kimmel has now been on the air for almost eight years, so his act is starting to show a couple gray hairs. But he’s the one host who you might think, “He may tell Kim Kardashian she’s a whore,” so it’s safe to watch.

George Lopez: I’ve never gotten Lopez as a comedian, so his talk show never clicked with me and I think I’ve only watched it once or twice beyond mere channel flipping. He’s the walking proof of how late night has changed since his show’s been successful on one simple premise — Latinos want to be represented on late-night TV. Who can blame them? Before Lopez, late night TV was whiter than a Justin Bieber concert. The market has become so fractured that networks are succeeding by simply representing one group or another. Which leads us to …

i just realized chelsea handler and elizabeth banks look a lot alike

i just realized chelsea handler and elizabeth banks look a lot alike

Chelsea Handler: Grating to some, goddess to others, Handler is the only female voice in late night. And I’m not talking about just right now — I’m talking about ever. In the world of late night TV, how many successful women hosts have there been? The answer depends on one question — do you think Joan Rivers was successful in her time guest hosting The Tonight Show or on The Late Show on Fox for about three months? Otherwise, there is almost nothing to compare it with. Not even as sidekicks! Even Leno threw minorities a tacky and not-so-subtle bone with Branford Marsalis and Kevin Eubanks. But for whatever reason, there just has been no steady work for women in late night. It’s a good reason to root for Handler whether you find her funny or not. Personally, I find her very funny. But I completely understand why people wouldn’t. Helps that I also think she’s pretty hot.

Craig Ferguson: I really don’t know who he’s playing to, actually. I’ll probably never accept anyone who wants to clean up Craig Kilborn’s … umm, let’s go with a non-adjective-aided “seconds,” but Ferguson’s late-night act never interested me. Maybe it’s because I was such a big fan of Mr. Wick on Drew Carey that every time I watch I keep waiting for him to fire Johnson or something. But the times I have watched it just seemed a little to vanilla. At least we’ll always have Mr. Wick …

Jimmy Fallon: Give Fallon this — the guy is trying his butt off. Every bit he comes up with is original — you haven’t seen anything like what he does on late-night TV before. Right now, he’s late-night voice of Gen-X. That would have been great 10 years ago, but now we’re starting to fall out of the key market demos and we’re entrenched in family life, so there’s little-to-no-chance we’re staying up til 1:30 to watch. So Fallon is left trying to reach the college-age market, but isn’t changing his act to do it. Here’s a hint — they don’t care that much about Saved by the Bell.

Carson Daly: Yes, he still has a show!

And now, Conan: Hoity-toity fans of well-crafted humor that requires some thought. Conan’s fans are the same people who like things like Kids in the Hall, Arrested Development, Wes Anderson and other things they claim are “too smart” for other people to truly get. And in case you’re thinking I’m coming down to hard on those people, I’m a card-carrying member of this group who hopes Conan never dumbs down his act for a BONEHEAD MASS AUDIENCE!!! Not you …

If you think other late-night shows believe Conan isn’t a threat because he’s on TBS, think again. One look at Letterman’s guest lineup for the week and it’s completely clear he knows his audience could be torn between him and Conan. So instead of giving them a chance to choose, he comes out guns blaring with Harrison Ford, Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe and Cher. That lineup didn’t come together by accident. Leno is busting out The Governor and Kim Kardashian. 

Conan isn’t backing down at all with personal friend Tom Hanks and others like Seth Rogen and Jon Hamm, the latter of which is starting to make a name for himself as one of the best talk-show guests out there. He proved it by showing up for an impromptu dodgeball game at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon a couple weeks ago.

So that’s 10.5 hours of late-night TV comedy a night. Doesn’t that have to be the saturation point? Can’t we put up a no vacancy sign and hope that no one actually comes in the office to ask if the sign really is true? It’s probably not the end, especially if word gets out that Conan makes TBS money. Then the other cable giants, who have avoided the late-night-talk market because of hefty price tags, will start jumping in the game. Why wouldn’t MTV try out a Nick Cannon show? What’s stopping Spike from taking a shot with someone like The Situation?

It’s almost depressing enough to cheer against Conan’s success.

Almost.

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