Viewership of late-night talk shows is steadily declining. Jon Stewart spin-off Stephen Colbert has clawed his way to the lead of the pack with a nightly audience just a bit over 3 million. But that’s a pale shadow of what late night used to be. Back in the day, Jay Leno regularly pulled in 6 million viewers and sometimes more than 10 million.
a. Jimmy Kimmel’s recent habit of substituting political diatribes for his opening monologue—which, to be fair, is no great loss—is a sign that late-night talk show hosts have decided to get more political. The first time around, when Kimmel used his son’s illness as an excuse to wade cluelessly into the political debate over an Obamacare reform bill, seemed like it might be a one-off on an issue where he was emotionally invested (even if emotion still isn’t substitute for knowledge and clear thinking). But then we found out that he gets his health care talking points from Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, which gives this a little more of an air of calculation.
So maybe these two phenomena are related. The late night marginally comedic hosts who can only ridicule and marginalize Trump and scream Fire in a crowded room, are getting more political because their viewership is declining.
Don’t underestimate the shattering impact of technology on the entertainment industry, even technology that doesn’t seem revolutionary any more, like the digital video recorder. I can remember the last time I watched the late night TV shows, and do you know why I watched them? Because that’s what was on at 10:30 at night. I flipped through channels to see what was being broadcast at that particular hour of that particular day. There are many times when I would almost certainly have watched something else if I had the option. Then came Netflix, great programming on HBO, streaming TV is glutting original programming.
I have been released from late night television captivity.
I have places to go and people to see. Late night laughter? Only for the politically sleepless….
The late night shows are in a much fiercer competition for eyeballs than ever before, and politicization is a response to that; a desperate way of getting in the news, of getting noticed, of securing the loyalty of a particular demographic. If the big, broad, general audience you used to have is gone, then why not make a harder bid for the loyalty of the smaller audience you’ve got left? In a time when the entertainment industry is (or thinks it is) a one-party state with no dissenters, you had better echo that politics back to your base.
What were once cultural institutions with a broad, bipartisan audience are becoming niche players with a narrow fan base. They no longer view partisan politics as a dangerous move that will shrink their audience. Instead, they’re using partisan politics as a lure to secure the loyalty of their audience, or what is left of it. Not that it’s going to work over the long term, because people who want to have their biases confirmed will just watch the 5-minute YouTube clip that Chris Cillizza links to the next day.
This is a good reason not to be to concerned over late night hosts pushing us away with political diatribes when we just want to be entertained. The fact is that we were already drifting away, and they’re just making a desperate bid for attention in a fading medium
Snatched and a h/t to Robert Traciski