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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

opinion

OPINION: Late-Night shows can return to form

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Late-night talk shows have existed since the 1950s and used to be integral to the family’s nightly routines. Even over the past few decades, we’ve had excellent late-night hosts such as Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jon Stewart. But recently, many of these talk shows have declined in viewership and don’t seem as important to our conversations as they used to be. So, is there still a place for late-night television, and if so, can these shows regain their former glory? 

Late-night talk shows haven’t changed much in form over the years. Steve Allen’s talk show aired on NBC in 1954 and is widely regarded as the first-ever late-night show. According to Mentalitch, “It had the elements of the quintessential late-night talk show: opening monologues, stand-up comedy, celebrity interviews and a house band.”  

These details are still integral to late-night shows, but something has felt off about the genre in recent years. The gags seem old, the celebrity interviews feel routine, and the hosts aren’t as iconic as they used to be. They’re also expensive to make, primarily with host salaries. Top hosts Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert make 15 million dollars in a year. But I don’t think late-night shows are completely dead, and we’ve recently seen how they can be revived. 

Late-night shows have been making strides to regain their popularity and importance, and it seems to be working. Popular late-night host Jon Stewart returned to “The Daily Show” after an eight-year hiatus, President Biden recently appeared on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" returned for its eleventh season to the delight of fans, offering Clarence Thomas $1 million per year to retire. Stewart’s return is the biggest news of this bunch, and shows there is still an audience for late-night talk shows.  

Some outlets, such as Time Magazine, " don't believe Jon Stewart’s return is good for late-night, and it only shows they’re trying to return to the glory days in a desperate cry for help. Time Magazine explains, “... whether you idolize him or abhor him, Stewart’s return feels like a bad omen for an aging show that captured the early-aughts media zeitgeist like no other—and for late night as a genre.” 

However, this hasn’t seemed a problem for viewers. Stewart’s return helped rake in the views, and it doesn’t seem like he’s missed a single beat in his absence. The ratings for his return have been mighty impressive. Vox says, “According to Comedy Central, his first episode back on February 12 was watched by 1.85 million total viewers across premiere simulcasts and encores, up 110 percent from Trevor Noah's final episode in 2022.” 

His return proved that “The Daily Show” and other late-night shows could still draw in big numbers and impress large audiences. Biden’s stop on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” isn’t ground-breaking, but for someone struggling in the polls, late-night TV is one of the ways he seeks to reach out to voters. However, his efforts to reach younger voters were thwarted as the viewership of people in the 24-54 age range has dropped dramatically, down 32% compared to the same night the previous year. However, these clips did make it to social media, where they may have reached younger audiences. 

Late night seems on track to have a resurgence this year. After the writer’s strike from May of 2023 to September of 2023, new (and returning) hosts and the rise of streaming, late-night seems to be doing what it needs to do to survive in this new climate. A.J Katz, editor-in-chief for LateNighter.com, believes late-night is having its moment, “The format was losing a little bit of momentum, but I think with the return of Jon Stewart and this election coming up, and Biden and [former President Trump], whatever you think of them, they can say outlandish things and that makes life easier for writers on these shows,” Katz said. 

Late-night seemed like it would die in the age of social media and streaming because anyone could see a particular clip without watching the whole episode. But it’s a testament to the producers and writers’ work that they’ve continued to climb out of this funk. 

So, does this mean late-night has survived its rough patch completely? No. Some of the issues surrounding late-night TV still need to be addressed, but so far, 2024 seems like it’ll be a better year for late-night programs. Exposure on social media creating viral moments and news outlets highlighting clips is how late-night shows will continue to attract new viewers. The goal of these shows is to entertain and inform, and after a rough stretch they are on a solid track to regain their viewership and relevance.  

Jack Davis (he/him) is a freshman studying journalism. 

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