Late-Night TV: When Jimmy Noah and Jon Stewart Met “The Daily Show”, and he Solved Their Anomalies (Invited Review)
Editor’s Note: Bill Carter, a media analyst for CNN, covered the television industry for The New York Times for 25 years, and has written four books on TV, including “The Late Shift” and “The War for Late Night.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. CNN has more opinion on it.
The comedian had appeared as a correspondent on “The Daily Show” for only a few months before he was tapped to fill the anchor chair. Though little-known to American television audiences at the time, Noah had already garnered a significant following outside the US.
The world of late-night television had a recent, undeniable shift that was roiling everything.
The proliferation of late-night shows was the product of a different time in the TV industry, when a percentage of the audience – mostly younger and male – could be coaxed to stay up a little later to sample other talent, especially those considered edgy, unique and more experimental, as Letterman and then O’Brien were during their later-night years.
Desus Nice and The Kid Mero broke up over the summer, abruptly ending their Showtime series (one that no less a legend than David Letterman called “the future of late night” when he was a guest on the show.) Ziwe Fumudoh, who followed the duo on Showtime’s lineup, has new episodes starting November 18, but her show has not yet been renewed for a third season.
Even though she has won an exceptional review, she is still doing a limited number of episodes. Meanwhile, “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” was canceled on TBS after seven seasons. The network is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery. James Corden has also announced he’s departing his CBS show in 2023.
The Daily Show isn’t like many of these shows, it’s a franchise. It has been open for four nights in the past 20 years. Jon Stewart made it essential viewing during his 16-year run. The show won 11 straight golds for outstanding variety talk series.
That was one reason why klieg lights were directed with 1,000-watt intensity at Noah when he succeeded to the host role in 2015. He was a correspondent on the show but he was barely known in the US. He told me he turned downStewart’s offer of a role on the show twice.
The offer was very highly coveted. Ask Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, and many more alumni of “The Daily Show.” It was a star-making vehicle comparable only to “Saturday Night Live.”
Late Night Revisited: Where Are the Stars? Where Are We Going? What Do We Need? Where Do We Go? Who Are We Looking for? How Did Noah Find His Show?
I would never pretend to know America, in the relatively short time I think I have been here, said Noah, who brought an outsider’s perspective to the show. He gave a few lessons that he has learned.
It was the right choice. Following Stewart was always going to be a potentially crippling challenge. Noah took the show and reworked it for his own purposes.
Given the shocking underrepresentation of minorities and women that marked the first 60 years or so of late night, that has been a proud flag for Noah’s “Daily Show” to wave.
Which raises questions about the future. In earlier times the departure of a major late-night star was the starting gun for a mad scramble among potential successors. The speculation game has begun, and it could be that Wood moves up. Maybe Bee comes back. It is possible that Comedy Central tries to win Ruffin away from them.
In late night, the breakthrough against long term White male dominance would continue with all the names, which Noah more than confirmed as a priority.
And of course, someone else many of us have never even considered could be lurking under the radar, a largely unknown comic talent like Noah was in 2015.
But also lurking is an existential question: Is a host job in late night still the ultimate dream for an ambitious comic talent? You could not sell the idea by looking at ratings. A piece in Forbes magazine last week noted that “The Daily Show” audience dropped to 383,000 this August, down 65% from Stewart’s final year.
That doesn’t mean people aren’t interested. Forbes pointed out that “The Daily Show” has a lot of subscribers on YouTube.
The Journey of James Corden to Late Night Stardom: A Tale of Two Guvnors & One House, Two Ice Cubes
Corden is not actually ordinary at all. He is a gifted Broadway star and a famous actor. As it happens, he earned the late-night job in no small part because of his Tony-winning performance in the hit play “One Man, Two Guvnors,” and his latest drama could be seen as a callback to that show’s comic high point, where his down-on-his-luck character desperately tries to help an inept waiter. But his talk-show persona, like that of the forever boyish Jimmy Fallon, did not rest on his comic and musical talents, but on how he exploits them to seem like a garden-variety sweetheart.
We are in a moment when viewers are questioning what we want these shows to be and what makes for a successful host. It appears that some network executives have likability in the past decade. They have emphasized performers the audience can relate to, a star who, to use the phrase that used to be a political litmus test in the pre-Trump era, you would want to have a beer with. James Corden was the man.
He presented himself as an ordinary guy with a quick laugh and eager to please, even if he seeming to come out of nowhere. His signature bit, “Carpool Karaoke,” pulled off the feat of making pop superstars also seem down to earth and relatable, making for charming television and great promotion. Talk-show perfection.
But regardless of that slip in popularity among certain circles, Kimmel said at the time that he was simply not willing to refrain from making jokes about Trump.
When he began jokes about the former reality star, he lost half of his fans according to the network research.
Even the three highest-profile hosts occupy a different world from the one that they inherited from Jay Leno and David Letterman, who in turn carried on the mantle from the comic forever associated with late-night stardom, Johnny Carson.
ABC renewed their agreement with host Jimmy Kimmel earlier this year that will keep him in his seat for three more years. His contract had been set to expire in 2023.
The Last Seven Years: How Were We There? When We Were Not So Sad, But We Are Trying to Be Real, and When We Are Going Home
“Don’t be sad,” Noah said in his closing monologue, adding, “It doesn’t feel like seven years. Not at the desk. Obviously I went home in between. It has been a wild ride.
A lineup of correspondents’ segments paying tribute to Noah and a video montage of goodbyes from Oprah, Issa Rae, Kamala Harris, Tracy Ross, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton and more helped usher the host through the night.
Noah encouraged his audience to consider outside of the confines of the republican and democrat ideals, noting that the American political parties hold a strong influence.
“As we live in a society where we increasingly introduce ourselves to things that separate us, we forget that real friendships come from the similarities, and then the disagreements are how we polish each other as human beings,” he said.
“Issues are real, but politics are just an inventive way to solve those issues,” Noah said. “It’s not a binary. There are more than one way to solve a problem. There are more than two ways to be.
The End of Late-Night TV: Revealing His Dreams and Losing Its Implications to Black Folks and Black Lives
“I’ve often been credited with, you know, having these grand ideas … Who do you think teaches me? Who do you think has shaped me, nourished me, informed me. The host said that he has a lot of black women in his life.
He quickly molded the program around him, puckishly guiding his audience through singular national experiences such as the Trump presidency and the Covid-19 pandemic.
When Noah announced his exit from the show in late September, he hinted that his decision was inspired by a desire to perform out from behind the desk.
“I spent two years in my apartment, not on the road, and when I got back out there, I realized there’s another part of my life out there that I want to carry on exploring. I miss learning other languages. Noah said he misses going to other countries and putting on shows.
The comedian is only taking a brief hiatus before hitting the stage again. He kicks off his “Trevor Noah: Off The Record” tour in Atlanta on January 20.
When the show returns on Tuesday, January 17, the network has announced a lineup of comedic greats who will fill in as host, including Chelsea Handler, D. L. Hughley, Leslie Jones, Hasan Minhaj, Kal Penn and Wanda Sykes.
The long-term future of the show is still unresolved as the network hasn’t said whether guests will host indefinitely or if a permanent host will be installed in the chair.
The anchors of late-night TV remain in place with Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel, the last having recently signed a contract extension that will keep him behind the desk into 2026. Bill Maher and John Oliver also remain at HBO, albeit in weekly form.
It has been reported that CBS will replace James Corden with a game show, following the exit of other late night shows such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. “Later,” the NBC show that followed Seth Meyers, is also gone, after giving way to another title that featured a woman of color, “A Little Late With Lilly Singh.”
Those situations unfolded for various reasons, and the loss of opportunities for diverse talent has been an unfortunate side effect of this collective thinning of the herd. The late-night landscape can’t financially support the explosion of shows that came about as everyone wanted a slice of that pie, reflecting a retrenchment by TV networks.
Nor has daytime TV been immune, with what might be called the children of Oprah, Drs. Phil and Oz, giving up their shows (the latter to pursue a failed Senate bid), following Ellen DeGeneres’ decision to hang up her dancing shoes.
In reporting on CBS’ plans, Deadline noted that a driving factor is, not surprisingly, money, and the desire to fill the hour after Colbert with a less-expensive program.
The irony is that while late-night hosts have more ways to get their material out and voices heard, with viral clips disseminated via YouTube and social media, actually generating revenue off that content has become more challenging.
The latest departures do not show that the lights are being completely turned off. They are the same as in the way people once used to consume TV. As for what the late-night market will look like by the time Kimmel’s new contract expires, that’s a crystal ball into which even Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent couldn’t clearly see.