No matter your opinion of Chelsea Handler’s comedy style, most people who care about gender equality in the world know that “Chelsea Lately” leaving late-night TV leaves a blank spot for women there. While I’ve written about this before not long ago with a look at women in late-night TV before and possibly the future, you have to wonder what’s going on that the networks are so reluctant to hire more women in the upcoming empty late-night roles. If CBS ultimately doesn’t hire a woman to fill Craig Ferguson’s shoes, the good news is that E! is developing more late-night TV projects once “Chelsea Lately” leaves the air this August.
The question is whether those late-night shows will bring the standard formulas we’ve seen time and again, or if they can bring some innovation to the table. We’ve seen evidence before that changing the look and formula of a late-night TV show from the old monologue, desk, and gab can be done. Just look at “Later with Carson Daly” as the greatest revamp of a late-night show ever.
In the above show, Daly started out trying to copy the old Johnny Carson formula of doing a monologue, forcing a comedy bit, and then trotting guests out for a chat at a desk. While an effective and genial host, Daly was far from being adequate as a comedian. After calling a time-out from the show halfway into the show’s run, NBC revamped it completely to an on-location format where the introductions and interviews were put on film in advance. All comedy was removed, and it became a unique interview show done in specific locations (usually around L.A) using stylized cinematography.
This improvement of a late-night institution proved you can deviate from the norm and still be successful, particularly in a very late hour. Surprisingly, “Chelsea Lately” took more from the usual late-night bag of tricks with a monologue, comedy bits, and sit-down studio interviews in oversize chairs. It’s a format that might look just a little too familiar to viewers now and one that could be automatically designated boring with a host who doesn’t have a magnetic personality.
What could E! do to revamp late-night TV there so it looks completely different? A lot of ideas are still possible to make it successful.
Try a Host Other Than a Comedian
In Brazil, a late-night TV show is very popular there called “Luciana By Night” with a woman host by the name of Luciana Gimenez. She made some news here by once getting pregnant by Mick Jagger and also guest-hosting “The View” for a time last year. However, she’s not a comedian and only has a background as a model. Her late-night show in Brazil is still quite popular and tells you that late-night TV doesn’t necessarily have to be about comedy. Carson Daly now proves this with his serious interviews. And even “Later” founder Bob Costas proved the same thing 25 years ago, despite actually being much funnier than Daly ever was.
E! might want to try hiring a celebrity host who doesn’t have to do jokes every night and perhaps takes people to other places, literally. Getting out of a studio might be the next best thing for a late-night show in order to create exciting and fresh environments.
Going Live and Using Extensive Social Media
“Midnight” on Comedy Central may end up becoming the standard model in late-night TV since they go live and also use extensive Twitter interactions. E! might want to experiment with the same thing in order to compete with the continual growing popularity of “Midnight” (with host Chris Hardwick). While it usually works best with comedians, using this format with any pop culture figure who has a good personality could put E! into good standing again in the late-night TV market. When it comes to pop culture, the potential list of women hosts runs hundreds of pages long.
Consider Hiring an Unknown
Part of the problem in network late-night TV is finding a host everybody will immediately gravitate to. We forget that when Conan O’Brien started on NBC’s “Late Night” in 1993, he was hardly known by the masses and only as a writer for “Saturday Night Live” and “The Simpsons” among two. That didn’t stop everybody from tuning in and seeing what he could do to fill David Letterman’s shoes. Once everyone saw his capability after six months, you knew he was going to be in for a long run.
Yes, it did take some time for O’Brien to get adjusted, though E! allowing an unknown in opens the talent field much wider so there isn’t huge expectation in a name already known. With someone unknown, viewers are more apt to pay attention to the comedy and the writing with no prior precedent to go on. Using the audition process and testing beforehand (plus online test shows), it might be the best scenario for all late-night TV starting anew.
E! seems to like experimentation at times. If they continue that way, starting a late-night show for an unknown comedienne has the potential of being a surprise hit in late-night TV’s future.