Late night television has always been one of the most interesting parts of American culture to me, and is easily one of my favorite television genres. While it's hardly exclusive as a format to our country, there's something about the American people and late night TV that seems to click in ways that aren't discussed on an international platform.
After long, tiring days at work, hearing about the worst kind of news and listening to the drab talk of basic gossip, the regular working person will come home, enjoy dinner, and watch a hearty comedian as he satirizes current events. On any given night, a favorite performer will guest, and a music group rounds the show out with a performance to promote their latest album. Sidekicks, big bands, skits and gags occupy the time on various shows, providing comic relief and over-the-top humor to the host's charming semi-straight man routine.
For decades, this formula has stayed mostly consistent, as most of the hosts, jokes and audiences have stayed the same - but late night itself has been on a course for change, with the rise of Comedy Central's evening roster and various networks such as HBO taking a go at doing the same.
A devoted, vocal generation that practically grew up relying on Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart as sources of news is now the prime age for "standard" late night viewership.
The question is: are traditional late night networks ready to entertain the Comedy Central generation?
A New Attitude
With the departure of late night conquerors such as David Letterman, along with more recent hard hitters such as Stephen Colbert, Craig Ferguson and Jon Stewart, many audiences are hanging in late night limbo. Colbert is the most beloved personality on late night TV, and that hasn't changed since the finale of The Colbert Report. Still, his excitable audience must wait until September to see him take a seat at the desk of The Late Show.
In the meantime, Comedy Central staples and spinoffs will keep them entertained: second-most-beloved-late-night-personality John Oliver has gotten nothing but positive reviews and massive viral video shares since the launch of HBO's Last Week Tonight, and Jon Stewart holds his position in third on The Daily Show. With Comedy Central greats dominating the charts amongst fans, it's time for a shake-up of traditional hosting methods.
Satire, Sarcasm, Self-Awareness
In order to get by in life, you've got to be able to make fun of yourself: one of the key points that holds Stewart, Colbert and Oliver high above the list of their traditional late night peers is their self-aware satire. It is their no-limits comedic approach to world news and politics that has made them so unique, and that has resonated extremely with the generation that is fast becoming the new Late Night demographic.
The ability to pick at world problems and put them in the spotlight does more than just bring awareness - it also helps people cope. Throughout the entirety of The Daily Show's run, viewers have dealt with tragedy and horror by turning to the friendly eyes and no-holds-barred energy of Jon Stewart. We look to hosts like him for laughter, relief, and even a feeling of togetherness amongst viewers like us.
This kind of bombastic, but engaged humor is something my generation has come to love and trust, and late night needs more of it.
Change the Lineup
Along with the sadness of Jon Stewart's announcement of his departure from The Daily Show, a frenzy launched to have the show's youngest (and, in my opinion, one of the funniest) reporters, Jessica Williams, take over the desk.
While the comedienne gracefully turned fans down The demand was so strong that over 14,000 fans signed a petition on change.org in favor of her hosting, which was only fueled further by an appearance in [Hot Tub Time Machine 2](movie:819327) as the show's anchor in 2025.
Williams was a fan favorite because she is a relatable figure around the audience's age, who stands out among the sea of white male hosts in late night and constantly hits it out of the park with her hilarious segments on The Daily Show - this is why fans wanted her. She is the anchor that we deserve, but according to her, not the one we need right now. (I'll keep the Batsignal handy anyway.)
On the up side, newcomer and hilarious satire pro Trevor Noah has officially been appointed to take over the desk of The Daily Show. Noah has appeared on the show three times as a guest correspondent, and his Netflix special, "African American", is one of the most highly rated stand-up specials on the service.
The end of E!'s Chelsea Lately saw late night TV take one more step back toward being a white male dominated medium, where people of color were often (save for one) regulated to hype men in the bandstands. Like it or not, that's not good enough for Millennials. As the most diverse generation in American history, we demand more than our parents ever did - quality, content and diversity do matter to this generation of fans.
Let's Get Digital
The one key point that late night seems to be excelling at are consistent uploads of their funniest, or most viral skits. Jimmy Fallon's youtube channel boasts well over six million viewers, with themed hashtags that constantly trend as the audience participates. Jimmy Kimmel's uploads of celebrities reading mean tweets can nab a sweet 40 million views on a normal week, and the hosts constant encouragement for parents to prank their children has become a seasonal delight to viewers for almost every holiday involving candy or present.
Connecting with fans on a platform that they now frequent more than live television is something of a no-brainer, but late night is doing it so, so right by giving fans the chance to participate in the show. Before, fans would send in letters to studios for a chance to be featured on the shows - that ability is now as easy as typing a little over 100 characters' worth of wit and tagging Conan O'Brien in an effort to get his social media team to pick it up.
Move With The Times
I feel like the biggest symptom of late night TV is the dedication to keeping tradition when it comes to format, hosts, and presentation. Long-standing traditions may not hold up as well as they did with previous generations, and a host's run no longer needs to be decades-long to have a cultural impact.
As audiences change, so should late night, and it's connection to the digital aspect of the incoming viewing generation is already a positive step. Late night should not limit itself to things that worked a few times with a certain audience, and if something doesn't work, there needs to be a more obvious plan for replacement.
As someone who loves late night television, all I can ask for is more. We live in a world of endless possibility and a time where the very idea of show ratings is being put in to question by the elements of digital media. It is time that late night catches up, if only for the sake of convincing my friends to watch with me.