2014 may go down as the most evolutionary year in late-night TV’s history, even rivaling 1992-93 when major tectonic shifts were happening in the post-Carson retirement aftermath. Not only have we seen the new vision of “The Tonight Show” under the Fallon doctrine, we’re seeing a glimpse into the future of late-night TV with Comedy Central’s “Midnight” and Colbert somehow being himself in David Letterman’s old chair. And with Chelsea Handler leaving E!, the lament over no women in late-night TV seemed frustratingly stuck in place until her new announcement with Netflix.
Nobody really saw it coming that Netflix would dive into the late-night arena by giving Chelsea Handler a new late-night show there. Then again, the reason nobody saw it coming is because Netflix doesn’t operate in the traditional network sense, despite starting to look more like a network all the time. The thought of a late-night show on Netflix immediately gives visions of people binge-watching a week’s worth of late-night shows on weekend mornings rather than watching them as they air.
Then again, Netflix hasn’t gone into live TV yet, which the new Handler show may be. When you bring the excitement of live TV online, you have more uninhibited online programming that can’t be done on mainstream networks. It’s also a chance to reinvent the wheel of late-night TV, something that can’t seem to be done on regular TV.
The Rapid Evolution of the Late-Night Format
“Midnight” on Comedy Central already seems to be more popular some nights than even Jimmy Fallon, Letterman, or Kimmel, at least in social media circles. Because they connect social media to the show through hashtag games as just one interactive feature, “Midnight” gives the feel of being the true future of late-night TV. But perhaps it really isn’t since Netflix might be the real future of the late-night concept if they decide to nurture a franchise that finally includes more women and overall talents who deserve a similar show.
Airing it live (or relatively live) would also break new ground for everyone tuning in to a live series online. We have yet to see that done successfully for a recurring series, and it may mean reinventing Nielsen’s ratings tabulation figures. It also may give concern to the networks that want to adhere to tradition in late-night TV. While many people prefer such a thing as a nod to when Johnny Carson hosted the true golden years of the concept, it might also be inhibiting in many respects. There’s only so much you can do to reinvent things within the confines of a small studio.
As “Later with Carson Daly” managed, they took their late-night show away from the studio and out into the real world. Interacting more with the outside world as Jay Leno did with his occasional “Person on the Street” interviews might be the best way to handle late-night TV in the Netflix world. With Handler’s acerbic personality, that could be very funny in live outdoor settings where anything could happen. In some respects, it could be similar to “Today” where we see the anchors interact with people outside 30 Rock every morning.
Yes, the above is ironic when you consider the idea of morning show TV was invented by the same person who created the late-night TV concept (Pat Weaver, the father of actress of Sigourney Weaver).
You have to wonder what the late Weaver would have done had Netflix been around in the 1950s, considering he also invented the concept of the subscription TV channel before it finally became a reality. Will late-night TV finally move beyond the standard monologue, desk, chair, guests, and musical guest format? A lot of possibilities exist taking late-night TV out into the real world to interact, especially when Netflix now has a bottomless well of money to use and no censors around to pester the talent they nurture.