Late Night Winners and Losers: Cable (And Jimmy Kimmel)
This is part two of our look at late night comedy TV’s winners and losers. Yesterday I covered the networks, today I am tackling cable.
Jimmy Kimmel Live
I forgot to cover Jimmy’s show yesterday, so he gets top billing here. Kimmel has been solid, if unspectacular, in his return to the airwaves. Kimmel would often rely on unscripted segments anyhow, such as a segment where he takes TV footage and places bleeps over it to make it sound dirty, often to humorous effect. Kimmel also hosted Jay leno, in a crossover that worked very well. Both Jimmy and Jay have complained about the strike rules limiting what they can do, and both have had a hard time booking guests. Jay leno might be the biggest name Jimmy has gotten. It will only get harder from here. Still, Kimmel is still relatively unknown in the late night world. Its possible that some viewers may get tired of the other shows and turn him on just to see what he’s made of. The strike could end up working in his favor, but he needs some better guests to really capitalize.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
The Daily Show looked stilted and awkward its first night back, and rightfully so. Normally accompanied by a band of smart writers, Stewart was forced to slog through a show alone, providing some strange moments. Yet despite the lack of writers, the show has picked up steam and has begun to find its voice. At its best the show skewers both politicians and the media, and Jon, even without writers, has been able to work its magic Check out the first segment from last night’s show here and see for yourself. The Daily Show is beginning to look more and more like it did before the strike, and that is a good thing. There are still two questions: first, can they keep this up? Surely Stewart will see some burnout eventually, right? Second, does the show as currently structured violate strike rules? While I believe that there is no script per se, clearly the bits are well thought out, and most of the jokes are not off the cuff. The WGA complained about Leno’s monologue, will they complain about Stewart’s show?
The Colbert Report
The Colbert Report is an interesting case. Stephen Colbert the character is a work of fiction being played by Stephen Colbert the person. However, the character allows for improvisation, something Colbert knows a thing or two about. Stephen’s in stuidio bits have been disappointing, and his interviews very hit or miss, but his field pieces have been very funny, especially his three part quest to get his portrait added to the Smithsonian’s collection (a quest that succeeded, sort of). Colbert risks running into the same problems as Stewart in terms of violating strike rules and suffering burnout. Viewers of the show expect witty, though sometimes blunt, satire. Can he keep it up? The field pieces are a good way to burn time and are much more enjoyable than the studio pieces, luckily, I hear that Colbert has taped a few more “Better Know a District” segments that we will hopefully get to see over the next few weeks. They are often the funniest part of the whole show.
Real Time with Bill Maher
Real Time with Bill Maher
Real Time returned last week, and did not go as smoothly as could be hoped. Maher’s show seemed like the one least likely to be affected by the strike, seeing as 50 minutes of the hourlong show is dedicated to his intensive roundtable discussion of current events with his guests. The only thing really missing from the show is “New Rules,” the segment that usually closes the program, Bill’s monologue and some brief comedy bits are gone too, but they were never the show’s string point. I suspect that the show will settle in as time goes on, as Maher really needs no script to be entertaining. Of course, trouble could come in the form of booking guests, as actors and left-leaning guests and politicians may be hesitant to appear on a struck show. In a nutshell: I am giving Maher a mulligan for the first week, but he needs to get good guests in order to have a good show.
E’s late night talk show has been surprisingly strong. Because it is a non-union program, the show has been able to deliver (apparently) written comedy that, mostly, works. However the show still only appeals to the E! demographic, which was fairly limited in scope, and while it has been very good at silly celebrity comedy and field pieces, the show just isn’t strong enough to appeal to a broader demographic. Still, if The Daily Show isn’t looking so hot one night, it might not be such a bad idea to slip the channel to E!
That’s it for now, but what do you think about the late night host’s return? Who has been strongest? Weakest? Is there anyone I missed? Let me know in the comments.