Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Late Night TV Revisited

About a year an a half ago I wrote a post about the changes in late night TV. Over an 18 to 24 month span, all these shows had new hosts. You can see my original impressions here. Since I was fairly critical of most of the new hosts, I think it is only fair that I revisit the genre as this new year begins. It takes time for these shows to jell and for the audience, including me, to get familiar and comfortable.

In addition to the review of the previously mentioned shows, two new players came on the scene. I'll give my opinion of those shows a little farther down this post. 

Jimmy Kimmel remains the dean of the late night hosts. There have been no major changes on his show. It is a decent program that I watch occasionally when Jimmy has an interesting guest or none of the others do. 

Next up is Jimmy Fallon and the Tonight Show. This is the rating winner of late night. Not in my house. Although Fallon has talent and the show has a few good bits, I usually find it hard to watch. Jimmy is still weak in the monolog although slightly better. No improvement on the interview skills either. The next insightful question Jimmy asks will be his first. His insistence on having guests play games and participate in skits is hit and miss. Some OK and some very bad. Fallon continues to fawn over every guest. I find it hard to believe that everyone who goes on the show is the very best in the world. The Roots, the house band, remain the best thing about The Tonight Show. Like Kimmel, I rarely watch this show. 

The follow-up show on NBC is Late Night with Seth Meyers. This is the biggest surprise of the bunch. When Seth first started, he was unwatchable. The monolog was painful, the set was tacky, the band and interviews were mediocre at best. Well, Seth and his staff must have realized that too. They ditched the standup monolog for a sit-down opening and got new furniture. That opening often includes the best commentary on the day's events, particularly the political scene. Seth has become a much better interviewer. He asks good questions and appears to actually listen to the answers. He also doesn't have a stack of notes on the desk that he refers to while doing the interviews. The band is still just fair, but they don't play a major role. Overall, I rate this the most improved. I often tune in for at least the opening segment. 

Moving over to CBS, we have Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I thought Colbert started out slowly or more specifically, too fast and hyper. He has calmed down some but it still seems to me that the show is too jammed packed and rushed many nights. The monolog has gotten better and Stephen is often good in the interviews although sometimes he gets off track and talks about himself. The house band, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, remains outstanding. The show is better than when it first came on but is not must see TV. He hasn't made me forget Letterman yet. 

James Corden follows Colbert on CBS. This show is about the same as when it started. Corden is still not very good at the monolog. He is awkward with the teleprompter/cue cards and is obviously reading the jokes. The Jokes are usually not that great. He has a few standard bits that are not that funny and now seems being stretched after being used several times. His one big success has been "Carpool Karaoke" which is him and a famous musical artist singing in an alleged drive to work. He has had some big stars join him and the videos have been very successful on the internet. Like his other bits, it seems to be getting old and forced. The show still brings all the guests out at the same time for a group interview. It usually leads to a very disjointed interview segment. Very rarely is there any meaningful interaction or chemistry between the guests that adds to the segment. Much like Fallon, James fawns over every guest. They are all the greatest. Corden is a talented and pleasant guy but the show is mostly mediocre. There has been little or no improvement. I still miss Craig Ferguson and his robot sidekick, Geoff.

Over at Comedy Central, there is little good news. The Daily Show continues to disappoint. The host, Trevor Noah, has not grown into the shoes left by Jon Stewart. He is a terrible interviewer. He often dominates the interview with overly long questions and comments. I usually learn little or nothing about the interviewee. Some of the fake correspondent bits are OK but no one really stands out. This is a show that peaked a few years ago. Noah and the cast are just mining that old formula without adding anything new. It is a disappointment particularly given the wealth of material in this election year. 

The worst news from Comedy Central is the cancellation of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. This show replaced the Colbert Report and had a slow start in my opinion. They quickly made some changes that vastly improved the show. I liked all the contributors too, especially Mike Yard. It was an irreverent look at the day's news. Unabashedly liberal and from a black/minority viewpoint. Although a comedy show, some of Wilmore's commentary was very serious, poignant and heartfelt. I am very bummed and disappointed that Comedy Central canceled the show, particularly prior to the end of this election season. I miss this show. 

There have been a couple of new entries in the late night scene. Both hosted by women. The first is the Chelsea Handler Show on Netflix. The only good thing about this show is that since it is on Netflix you can easily watch it on demand. I choose to not watch it on demand. This show is terrible. There is no structure, substance or any redeeming points. It appears to be thrown together with no thought or preparation. Do yourself a favor and skip this one.

Better news about the other new show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS. No, this is not a porn show. Samatha, a long-time Daily Show "correspondent", stays fully clothed the whole time. It is a biting comedy show about the absurdities of our society, particularly the political process. There are long field pieces that explore issues in more depth than a two line joke. Sometimes Samantha goes a little overboard on the sarcasm and false outrage but overall it is a good show. 

In summary, the late night scene is mostly the same as a year ago. Fallon and Corden are about the same. Both over complimenting every guest. Colbert has improved marginally. Kimmel is the same, OK but not outstanding. Trevor Noah has not grown nor has The Daily Show. Chelsea Handler is unwatchable. Larry Wilmore and company is sadly MIA. The two bright spots are the significant improvement of Seth Meyers and the addition of Samantha Bee. 

I might point out that Charlie Rose is also on PBS every late night. It is not a comedy show but is very informative, probably the best long interview show. Tavis Smiley is also worth watching.

I'll continue to be a consumer of late night TV. I am a night owl and a news and comedy junkie. Let's see what this new year brings.


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