The late-night story of 2015 was supposed to have been the September 8 debut of Stephen Colbert, who left his cozy Comedy Central perch to take over for the retiring David Letterman weeknights on CBS. Instead, according a new article in The Hollywood Reporter by Bill Carter (of The War For Late Night fame), the real story of the year is Jimmy Fallon’s continued dominance of the time slot. Carter believes Fallon’s success reflects a fundamental change in late-night.
“The focus of late seems to be shifting away from talk and toward performance,” writes Carter. “Fallon is the obvious center of that movement.” And there is a new battleground, too: the internet, where brief comedy bits can be easily shared on YouTube and disseminated to the masses through social media sites. Fallon is the king of that stuff, with ready-to-go-viral content like his “History Of Rap” series with Justin Timberlake and his celebrity-studded lip sync battles. While ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel has his much-shared “Mean Tweets” segments, meanwhile, Colbert has nothing along those lines on his show. At least not yet.
But the late-night mosaic has more tiles than just those big 11:35 network shows, and Carter takes the time to discuss what’s happening on Comedy Central and TBS, too. He also assesses the performances of James Corden and Seth Meyers, whose programs follow Colbert and Fallon, respectively. It’s not always about how many viewers a show gets, Carter explains. It also matters how old those viewers are. The younger, the better. Although Conan O’Brien has the disadvantage of being on TBS, a basic cable channel “that does not otherwise produce consistently appealing shows,” the lanky redhead is better than any of his competitors, even Fallon, at reaching younger viewers. O’Brien, too, has proven adept at producing content capable of going viral. And then there is SNL veteran Seth Meyers, whom Carter deems “perhaps the quietest current late-night success story.” Initially overshadowed by Colbert, Meyers has now found his footing as the host of Late Night, helped by his decision to do a Jon Stewart-esque “deskalogue,” i.e., a monologue delivered from behind a desk, on each show.