Thursday, September 17, 2015

Click bait

Is the purpose of a late night talk to get ratings or merely to serve as click bait? Is the real objective now the number of online viewings for various segments? Get enough eyeballs and you can sponsor the clips.

Les Moonves of CBS, at a recent session at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference, called online clip viewing a “great secondary source of revenue.”

He also acknowledged that Letterman wasn’t into that. I’m guessing that’s one of the reasons Dave was pushed out the door. (And I’m sorry, no matter what he or anyone publicly says, I believe Dave was “asked” to leave for a younger host.) In discussing Colbert’s appeal versus Letterman's, Moonves said: “It’s a younger demographic and a hipper demographic. So Colbert could be a significant profit center.”

Profit center, source of income. Yeah, Dave, don't let the door hit you on the way out. 

I have no problem with late night clips being available online. I watch them too. But I worry, will the programming of these late night shows change in order to maximize click bait? There used to be a flow to these nocturnal programs, there used to be a rhythm. I suspect one reason Dave was less excited about carving up his segments for online bite-sized viewing was that he often had running jokes through his show. Those callbacks would mean nothing if taken out of context.

Continuity used to be a big part of these shows. “Remember last night when we…?” Well, continuity is gone when viewers can watch clips from any day.

Now segments need to be flashy. Now each one needs a hook. NBC getting Fallon was a brilliant stroke if click bait is the goal. Playing games with celebrities, singing with them, karaoke – perfect programming for attracting online viewers.
Will Stephen and the other Jimmy be pushed to do more of that themselves? Will monologues give way because they don’t draw as many clicks? Will guests be selected based on their internet popularity? Will late night shows become the networks’ version of Monty Python’s “Now For Something Completely Different?”

My fear is that a little of the spontaneity and unpredictable nature of late night talk shows will give way to pre-packaged bits and promotable segments. I worry that the producers will forget that first and foremost they’re making a TELEVISION show. There are times I almost yell at the screen, “Hey, instead of programming for people who aren’t watching, how about programming for the people like me who ARE?” It’s kind of disconcerting to realize then networks don’t want me even when I am watching.

And warning: The major broadcast networks have a big edge on the late night audience because they deliver the most affiliates and are the big guns. But if click bait is the goal then it’s a level playing field. Conan on TBS can out click you. Or anyone who comes along on any network.  Roseanne are you listening?  Come back! 

35 comments:

Bill Avena said...

You're a veteran of traditional television and I think what you see is the cavity-ravaged tooth, all but hollowed out. When I see "first acts" on sitcoms broken apart for Epic Melty Cheese commercials I know they're not thinking of me.

Jim S said...

Look I loved Letterman. But let's be honest. Those last few years, he would phone it in as often as not. If he was interested in a guest, the interviews would be great. If he wasn't, it could be painful, especially if the guest was an up and comer he had never heard of.

Letterman often had his bits - the guy under the stairs, the monkeycam, etc. Carson had his bits - Aunt Blabby, Carnac, etc. They weren't great (they were sometimes just awful) but they would count as clickbait today.

As to seriousness, at least with Colbert, if you want you can go and see the full interview with Biden. That's not a bad thing. The days in which guests all sat on Carson's couch and interacted with each other are long gone and the Internet didn't kill that practice.

As I've said I don't find Fallon funny, but I find his show fun. I can see it getting old fast - hey like the sizzle but how about some steak. But for now he's succeeding and being able to click on something the next day and get caught up with what people are talking about isn't a bad thing, especially since I find myself going to bed earlier than when I was a pup.

Bill Jones said...

"I worry that the producers will forget that first and foremost they’re making a TELEVISION show."

Yes, it's "a TELEVISION show," but I can sort of see the point behind what someone like Moonves is saying. Namely, in an age when there are fewer barriers than ever between forms of media (television, computers, podcasts, etc.), why force someone or something to stay within the bounds of one particular medium, just because it's been done that way for 50 years? It's a very "old school" way of thinking, and while those of us who grew up with segmented media might find it disconcerting, it's not at all disconcerting to twentysomethings and some thirtysomethings, who grew up with this.

Now, you can complain that these shows are cravenly seeking a younger market at the risk of turning off an older market, but that's nothing new. And with all three 11:30 pm hosts chasing the same market, using basically the same techniques, perhaps one of the networks will take a different route and launch a more "traditional" talk show if they find that they're not succeeding with that strategy. But that's a different issue than the one you pose.

blinky said...

I have been doing a linear version of "clicking" for years. It is fast forwarding on my DVR. I don't think I have watched a commercial since Pets.com on the Superbowl©®™.

Tobi said...

One of the things that I find disconcerting about the new show is the shabbiness of the interview editing. Out of the blue, Stephen will stick out his hand and thank a guest with whom he was, up till then, engrossed in a terrific interview. It's so obviously a lousy tack-on good-bye to a longer piece that they've decided to cut down. There is a sloppiness to this kind of 'let it go...we can fix it in editing' approach on this kind of show, where one has come to expect/enjoy a certain 'live' or at least 'live to tape' spontaneity.

chuckcd said...

LOVE Monty Python! I would watch their old BBC show in late night.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

My problem is after the clips are uploaded, then they're deleted after X-amount of time, so you don't even really get to enjoy them for that long anyway. Heck, it wasn't a month or so after Dave's last show then his YouTube channel was pretty much shut down. Dat ain't kewl.

Dave Creek said...

I've noticed the sloppy editing on Colbert's show, as well. DAILY SHOW and COLBERT REPORT also did this. Whenever I would see a particular close-up show of Stewart, I'd tell my wife, "There's an edit," because you seldom saw that shot otherwise.

A couple of Colbert's interviews have seemed much too short. He's such a good interviewer, possibly the best late-night interviewer out there right now. I like that he's knowledgeable enough that he's able to do an newsy interview like he did with Joe Biden, and not afraid to go for legitimate emotion. But I get the feeling they're cutting down a much longer show to squeeze it into the time slot.

MikeN said...

Ken you're a bit late with this rant. It's done. And as much as I dislike Letterman, it's clear the decision was his.



Dave, Worst editing was Jon Stewart interviewing Jonah Goldberg about his book Liberal Fascism. They had to go to great lengths to make Jonah look bad.

http://www.cc.com/video-clips/rlt7ia/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-jonah-goldberg

Mike Schryver said...

Ken feels unwanted as the person who's watching live; I've known for a long time what that feels like as the person who watches over-the-air.
For a few years now, the networks have been giving online perks to people who watch on cable, leaving out those who watch OTA. We were worth less to them. Now there seems to be another evolution.

What I miss about these shows is the live feeling (or at least live-to-tape). It seems that they used to strive to make it feel like it was a real-time show that took an hour to perform. The obvious edits have killed that, and the cut-down interviews give them a way to push people to the web.

Elf said...

Hell, you can tell when there's an edit during the monologue on any of the late night shows because they'll cut to a distant view of the host, from a camera behind the audience. It's very apparent with Conan and Seth Meyers.

However, for an example of very good editing, check out @midnight. Each 22 minute episode is edited down from anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes of taping. It's clearly apparent that entire segments have been edited out because the contestants' scores can jump wildly without acknowledgement, but the editing itself is often seamless. I've attended a few tapings and when I see the finished product on TV I wonder if I just hallucinated segments while I was there because they never appeared on my TV.

MikeN said...

You're whining about two small paragraphs from a much longer and very good interview. I encourage people to read the whole thing.

Mighty Dyckerson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark Fearing said...

I think the big truth is, nothing stays the same. Whatever Late Night TV was in the 20th century, it will not be what Late Night TV is in the 22nd century (or whatever it's called and how it functions). I've lost almost all my interest in watching it oddly enough. Not sure if it's age or just being so overwhelmed with so much media.

Andy Rose said...

I think you're half-right about Letterman. If he were truly being forced out, the unavoidable leaks about the network getting sick of him would have started in the trade press long before he announced. That said, Letterman himself has admitted that he saw that Fallon and his type are the future and he can't possibly do what they do, so it was better to get out voluntarily before being pushed.

Honestly, there wasn't much going on with Letterman in those past few years that wasn't as predictable as Leno. Almost everything on those shows (except Dave's rambling desk monologues) was carefully planned, as though both hosts and guests were deathly afraid of something that might be a tad embarrassing to them.
Fallon's show is not exactly a thinking man's show, but I've got to give him credit for coming up with a compromise remedy to the staleness. His "games" format works because it wrangles celebrities into moments that have marginally unpredictable results. But at the same time, those results are harmless enough that celebrities are willing to play along. Spontaneity - even controlled spontaneity - is something that had been missing from talk shows for a long time.

John in Ohio said...

I've said this before, but I think one of the best recent hosts was Craig Ferguson. He avoided the scripted interviews like the plague, and when he had either a really smart or really dumb/nervous guest, they were both must see for opposite reasons.
Some of Kimmel's click bait is really funny - generally Mean Tweets and This Week In Unnecessary Censorship, and whenever he does a Matt Damon gag.
Fallon's games annoy me, hell he annoys me. I like his musical impressions and will check those out.
But, all in all, I don't watch any of them like I used to. I would rather continue my current binge than turn over to any of them.

cadavra said...

I have a dear friend who worked for Letterman from Day One (he got me tickets any time I was in NY), and he told me flat out that Dave was getting tired (especially after the bypass), and that he would go soon after he broke Carson's record. He also confirmed that the story about how spending time with his son led to the decision happening when it did was absolutely true.

Clickbait isn't always designed to be. That semi-impromptu Colbert segment with Carol Burnett and Kevin Spacey last night was positively electrifying.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

And who is this James Corden guy, anyway? I've never heard of him before. At least they didn't just hand the job over to a former SNL castmember on a silver platter again like they did with Jimmy Fallon or Seth Meyers; still, never heard of this guy.

The thing I dislike about Colbert's show is his set: it's too bright, too busy, too distracting, and too much. Never cared for Fallon's set either: looks like he's inside a lodge that's been misplaced in the city. Leno had a distracting set during his last number of years: the bright neon colors and the 80s-esque vibe were too much. Dave had a great set, and I was upset to see it immediately went into the dumpsters immediately after his show finished (couldn't Kramer fit it into his apartment?); Conan's old network show had a nice set, too - I liked the backdrop of overlooking the Empire State Building. Both of Kimmel's sets have been easy on the eyes as well; his older set had a hip look to it, but I like the cool blue scheme his current set has as well.

MikeN said...

Only times Letterman has been funny in last ten years was his interview with Paris Hilton, asking her about going to prison, and when he mocked Les Moonves for meeting with Castro. "I kill dissidents." "The Bette Midler show was my idea."

Letterman's spot as doing service to Hillary Clinton was taken up admirably by Jimmy Fallon. Letterman did the 'pop quiz' when she was running for Senator, allowing her to pretend it was unplanned.'I know that..bluebird' while Jimmy did the spontaneous 'You want to pull my hair?'

cd1515 said...

good points Ken but to be fair there hasn't been much "spontaneity" in late night for years.
I feel like everyone's been pre-interviewed to death and there are very few real moments.

and the irony of networks pushing everything online is that I NOW NEVER WATCH THESE SHOWS because I know anything interesting will be online the next day.

how is that good for the show or the business?

Mark P. said...

I don't think I've seen the "spontaneity and unpredictable nature of late night talk shows" for a few decades. Every major host (except for Cordon, and he's just too obsequious to watch) seems to be looking at his cards and reading a disjointed list of questions drawn from a pre-interview. I do like the ability to see extended versions of the interviews and musical performances on the web.

Mike said...

Ken Levine rails against all the people taking their old VHS tapes of late-night chat shows, editing out segments and posting them on YouTube.
"These programmes are all segmented. There's a band number, followed by a monologue, followed by guest on the sofa, followed by a sketch, followed by another band number. This is not television! Where's the continuity?"
Ending with a gratuitous Roseanne reference.
Are you sure this article isn't click-bait?

John Hammes said...

Always liked Conan's original "apartment" set (for lack of a better description) from 1993-1996.

Guess because it was different, and allowed for a sort of "intimate vacuum" (Ernie Kovacs' words on the medium he would master) kind of atmosphere. Crazy happenings, yet intimate vacuum.

Speaking of...
NBC gave Kovacs a daytime "talk" series during the 1955-56 season: he oversaw and chose a dungeon set.

Seriously. A dungeon. Chains, suit of armor, the whole shebang. Intimate, but certainly in a far darker way.

Imagine anyone today going THAT route.

Anonymous said...

Face it. We are a capitalist nation. So, corporations will do ANYTHING to make a buck. ANYTHING!

Also, sorry to break it to you Ken but you are far too old for any advertiser to care about whether or not you like this or click on that.

Now get off my lawn!

Geoff with a G said...

I think we need to be patient with Colbert. His best bits on the Colbert Report were either based out of spontaneity that can't be forced (his interview with Neil Gaiman, where he spouts entire sections of Tolkien poetry) or, more to the point, extended narratives ("Charlene," Bears, SuperPacs, the green screen challenge). I'm sure both will happen in time but Colbert has to find the moment or the material. Late Night comedy isn't the sort of thing you can easily pre-fabricate. Unlike other late night hosts, I think he's keenly aware of this process and is open to it as part of his improv training-derived "yes" or "yes and" philosophy.

My biggest problem with his show right now is the old Colbert faux pundit. Too much of the show is built around challenging or embracing what that character brought to the table. And, to be fair, too much of my own frame of reference weighs down what he's doing now with expectations that were built by that character.

This also will pass. In time.

Pat Reeder said...

To Joseph Scarbrough: I agree it's frustrating when networks scrub YouTube of clips of their old talk shows to force you to watch the new ones. But as for Letterman, I heard from a friend who worked on the show that it wasn't CBS that yanked all the Late Show stuff from YouTube. He told me the footage is owned by Dave's company, Worldwide Pants, and they ordered it taken down. Maybe they're planning to release it on DVD or something.

Jake Mabe said...

Everything went to hell after May 22, 1992. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Pat Does that also have anything to do with why after Dave's finale, the show didn't continue into reruns for the rest of the summer up till Stephen Colbert's show? I mean, that really disappointed me: knowing they began trashing his set after his final taping, other shows being thrown into the timeslot afterwards, the clips disappearing from YouTube, it felt like they couldn't get rid of Dave fast enough. That'd be cool, though, if Worldwide Pants would come out with some kind of DVD collection.

Andy Rose said...

Dave owned his own show and his own set. If there was anything he cared to keep, he could have kept it. (Reportedly, a few pieces were saved for non-profit organizations.) I believe Jane Pauley asked him in an interview just before he left if he would at least keep his own desk, and Letterman said no because he wouldn't have any use for it.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I still like to envision the scenario of Kramer salvaging Dave's set and then assembling it in his apartment like his did with Merv Griffin's set.

Brad Hill said...

This article is just platformism -- thinking that online delivery is inferior to over-the-air delivery. Or even very different. The key content priorities are the same: create engaging entertainment; build an auudience; sell that audience to advertisers. Online provides much smarter targeting, so the network bosses might hope that online eventually takes over, if it hasn't already. Any two of Fallon's "Hashtags" or "Thank-you Notes" clips adds up to the total broadcast audience. "I worry that the producers will forget that first and foremost they’re making a TELEVISION show." It's not forgetting; it's a decision. Millions of people (like me) already relate to The Tonight Show solely as a YouTube franchise.

Anonymous said...

To Andy Rose: When Pauly asked Dave if he was keeping the desk, he told a story of how someone had Johnny's desk and offered it to Dave. Dave said, "If Johnny didn't want it, then why would I want it!" Then he went on to ay he would have no use for his own desk. The desk was wrapped in bubble wrap and saved though, maybe for the Smithsonian, Museum Of Broadcasting or to be actioned off for charity.

Johnny Walker said...

I don't think this is "platformism", the issue is about the overall quality of one show being sacrificed. Can you make something for both (vastly different) platforms at once and still maintain the quality on both? If the networks want a talk show, make a talk show. If they want internet sketches, make internet sketches. I'm not sure you can do both without sacrificing quality of one of them.

Breadbaker said...

Pretty much the original re-posted clickbait from a late night talk show was the Top Ten list.

Nick said...

Well, Antenna Tv (or ME Tv--can't remember) is going to start running old Johnny Carson shows. Looking forward to that. Would really love to see old Late Night with David Letterman shows...So, I guess my boredom with current TV/movies continues unabated.