With the late-night TV world playing some wild musical chairs this year, you have to wonder where the dust is going to settle in another year or two. Once David Letterman and Craig Ferguson leave late night, CBS is going to be playing major gambles in how their late-night lineup is going to go over. NBC will probably stay steady with their solid two-hour block of Fallon and Meyers. They could be vulnerable, however, if there’s any competition in the world of cable where other late-night shows are already popping up. If you spend time on Twitter, you’ll notice more people are starting to watch “Midnight” on Comedy Central lately than the very popular Fallon.
Part of the appeal of “Midnight” (with host Chris Hardwick) is their nightly hashtag games where you can get into creative jousts with your Twitter friends. While some of those hashtags aren’t always family-friendly, some like #Ruinamoviequote can lead to you having more creative fun at the midnight hour than there usually is.
Then you have weekends, especially Sundays when everything is on at once in primetime, then nothing for late-night shows. HBO sensed this void and wisely placed former “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” comedian John Oliver with his new HBO series “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” With a slightly off-kilter title, it reportedly did well in the ratings when it debuted recently. And that might have kicked off a new era of late-night TV where HBO could potentially usurp the mainstream networks.
Will HBO Make Inroads with a Strong Late-Night Lineup?
Sunday nights are a perfect time for a comedian to round up the week’s news events, and having no censor opens it up to much more interesting comedy. Other than “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday nights, John Oliver’s new HBO series may be the beginning of a new trend in the weekends finally getting represented in late night TV. Don’t be surprised to see the mainstream networks try a Sunday late-show eventually since most of them air syndicated programming or infomercials at 11:35 p.m. Sunday nights.
Oliver, though, may have kicked off more than that for HBO. With audiences getting larger on HBO and wanting uncensored material, will they eventually get into competing with the mainstream networks for late night TV? Even John Oliver himself, after proving himself on Sundays for a time, might get a nightly late-night show competing directly with Fallon, Colbert, and Kimmel.
It all comes down to how unfiltered people want late-night to be and whether having bleeps and FCC restrictions actually helps late-night TV be funnier.
Such is the case with retiring Craig Ferguson who has the dirtiest late-night show in the universe. Regardless, would you really want to see it completely uncensored on a place like HBO or Showtime? Chances are it wouldn’t be as funny without hearing the dubbed bleeps during Ferguson’s monologues and interviews.
Late-night TV is such a mainstream network institution that most people don’t think of it as a free-for-all where you have complete freedom to say whatever you want. Restrictions can bring even more danger and hilarity rather than being as profane and dirty as humanly possible. Besides, what helps Ferguson is it’s obvious what he’s saying without actually hearing it.
If HBO gets into the nightly late-night business, they may want to keep the above in mind, even if nobody is going to stop anyone from going all out. It’s going to be up to the host and how dangerous they really want to make it. As with HBO’s dramas, the writing has to be compellingly funny to begin with, which is more than possible considering the potential candidates. If it turns out to be the slightly more conservative John Oliver, HBO may give real competition to the NBC and CBS juggernauts.
2015 may be the year when the network late night market shifts in more dramatic ways than we ever thought it would this fast. If HBO make inroads, late-night TV will never be the same, especially if a host decides that any censorial mindfulness will come down like the Walls of Jericho.