Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Dropping back in on Late Night Hosts

At the start of this pandemic (13 weeks ago?  Two years?  It’s hard to keep track.)  the late night talk show hosts were forced to do their shows from their homes, sans an audience.   I talked about how uncomfortable Stephen Colbert said he was without getting reactions to his monologue.  Kimmel seemed the most comfortable. 

 

How are they doing today?

 

Note:  I don’t bother with Jimmy Fallon.  The wide-eyed puppy who will do anything to please act leaves me cold. 

 

Trevor Noah seems to have adjusted.  To me, he’s getting better every week.

 

Colbert still seems really awkward.  He’s so clearly just reading off a teleprompter and at times he’ll deliver a punchline and do little dance moves that just look creepy.  Maybe it’s his way of holding for laughs, but it’s like your grandpa doing the Macarena at a Bar Mitzvah reception. 

 

Even the camera angle, which points down at him, makes it seem like he’s in a well calling for help. 

 

But when he steps aside from the monologue and just delivers straight social commentary he suddenly gets way better.  You just get the sense this is more in his wheelhouse.  He had a rant recently about how the government’s attempt to squelch the demonstrations won’t work that I thought was brilliant.   It was delivered with passion and eloquence and I want to say to Stephen Colbert:   “Do THAT every night.  We’ve heard your Trump impression to death.  Just be YOURSELF.” 

 

Or better yet, be Jimmy Kimmel.

 

Jimmy Kimmel does a spectacular job in this format.   Yes, he too is reading off a teleprompter, but you’d never know it.  It really feels like someone casually talking just to ME.   He’s clearly sooooo comfortable and so conversational that you yourself can relax and enjoy.    He’s the Mr. Rogers of late night. 

 

Kimmel also offers social commentary that often hits the mark, but he’s more like a guy you’re having a beer with than someone conducting a seminar. 

 

As I’ve said before, I believe a lot of that comes from Kimmel’s radio background.  He’s used to being in empty rooms talking into a microphone.  But I also think it’s just a natural ability.  You either have that comfort and warmth or you don’t.   

 

And I should say at this point that I don’t know Jimmy Kimmel.  Met him one time very briefly as we were both going through a TSA line together.  He seemed the way he appears on camera – low key and approachable.     

 

Is he as quick-witted as Colbert?  I don’t think so.  As intellectual?  If I had to guess I’d say no.  But under these conditions, I think Jimmy Kimmel stands head and shoulders above his late night competitors. 

 

I might even suggest that when the pandemic is over, to distinguish himself, he stay with this format.  Guests can come to his house.  Why not?   Do you miss the band?  I don’t.  Do you miss orgasmic ovations for everyone who comes out on stage?   Not me.    At the moment all three network late night talk shows are exactly the same.  Let Kimmel do something different; something he’s better at than anybody else. 

 

What do you guys think?

42 comments :

ELS said...

Mr. Levine, do you have opinions on the other late night hosts or commentators? Hosts such as Seth Meyers, Conan O'Brien, or James Corden? Or commentators like Samantha Bee and John Oliver?

Well, yeah, I'm sure you do. Perhaps you might share your opinions of them with us.

Unknown said...

Totally agree with you about Jimmy Kimmel. It'd be great if he could continue from home. He probably wouldn't miss the screaming audience at all. Even before the lockdown, he had cut out the entrance walk and started talking rather than bask in the whooping the other hosts seem to love.

Marty Fufkin said...

A lot of these shows have become unbearable, including Bill Maher's Real Time. The thing that's struck me over the past year is that Joe Rogan does a really engaging show with no theme music, no intro, no format. On the few occasions when he has someone on I'm really interested in, I'll listen or watch for the whole 2 or 3 hours. I wondered why people like Maher or Colbert don't just do that. Just have engaging, free-flowing conversations with interesting people. As a viewer, I feel like I get better information from people, and I'm more entertained. By contrast, doing a late-night format in a stripped-down setting is just irritating.

Dave Wrighteous said...

Agree 100%.
I've always liked him best and with the new format Jimmy is so much better than the other two by a billion miles. He's relatable, at ease and the writing is terrific.
I'd be totally okay with him doing his show from his house.

Glenn said...

The problem is that every late night host toned down their funny bones, even long before the pandemic. It's all Trump bashing (and I can't stand him either) with barely any laughs. (Same goes for SNL.) I never got the appeal of Jimmy Kimmel. Never found him funny, still don't. Same for Seth Myers. Haven't seen enough of Trevor Noah, but what I have seen, is not good. And I agree about Fallon, he's always been terrible. I think the late night format officially died when Letterman retired.

cd1515 said...

Maybe it’s me but as a guy who used to consume Leatherman almost every night, it’s weird to say I haven’t watched one of these shows in years.
Most of it seems hopelessly staged/scripted/pre-interviewed BS, and if there ever is a real, natural, humorous moment it’ll be all over YouTube and Twitter the next day anyway.

DanMnz said...

I agree 100%. I fully enjoy everything Kimmel is doing. Even for those that don't agree with his view on Trump, he's delivers rants and jokes unlike the others in a very clever and smart way. His casual way of hanging out with guests instead of sitting in chairs and asking the questions we've all heard before is refreshing.

John H said...

Yes! Can we omit canned laughter from everything (talk shows, game shows, late night, sitcoms, etc)? If something is funny, I'll know when and how to laugh.

Brian said...

Without taking into account the quality of the show between formats, I am reminded of Bill Lawrence filming the final episode of Scrubs...and then bringing it back for another season. His reason was that he gave his crew another season of work. Whether it was the best decision artistically was not as important.

Each of these shows has a crew, all of which have been decreased due to the current situation. I gather all of these folks will go back to the studios/theaters, but even if it worked better and it was me, I'd feel for the people that I couldn't call back to work.

FRIDAY QUESTION: Rewriting is part of the business. What are some of the stranger reasons you've had to altar a script?

RyderDA said...

I think Trevor Noah is the best by far, and I find myself seeking out clips to watch him and see what he's talking about. Can't say the same of any of the others, including Kimmel. Perhaps the fact that Noah is South African and has personal experience with overt racism gives him a perspective others don't have in more recent times.

Ted. said...

Jimmy Kimmel is fine, but he's only doing a half-hour show each night, while all the others are doing an hour. That certainly skews things in terms of difficulty.

Jimmy Fallon was the first to bring back his show with a casual home format, and the first few weeks were really fantastic. Whether or not you like him as a host, he really thrived under these conditions. (When Kimmel and Colbert came back, they mostly just seemed to be copying him.) But Fallon is not so great at dealing with serious social and political issues, as he's been trying to do lately (and it doesn't help that he's defensive about his own past behavior).

Right now, I think by far the best host is Seth Meyers. His "Weekend Update"-style monologues and "Daily Show"-style long commentaries are well-suited to the current climate. He also gets support from a talented team of performers on his writing staff (starting with Amber Ruffin, who's probably fielding multiple offers to do her own show).

Colbert is earnest but increasingly boring -- he seems to have lost the twinkle in his eye that let us know he was enjoying himself. And James Corden is trying, but he still comes off as a blowhard who thinks he's much more talented than he actually is.

Even with those qualms, I actually think all of these shows are doing pretty well under extremely difficult circumstances. And I've long thought it was time to shake up the late-night format (which every host has generally followed since Carson and even earlier), and now that might actually happen.

Jrandall said...

YES!!! You are right on the mark - Kimmel stands alone - Noah is getting better - the others are being left in the dust as one trick ponies -Kimmel is the one I'd most want to meet and buy a beer!

Roseann said...

I, too, have thought that Kimmel's show is so much better in this format. I wish he would stick with it.

ventucky said...

I don't watch late night show with any regularity. A few times a year. But if I do, it is only Kimmel or Colbert. Fallon is excellent at music parody, but his show is made for pre-teens, the few times I dipped into it. Seth Myers always seems to be laughing at his own jokes before he even delivers them. Like Amy Klobuchar. Kimmel seems like someone I would actually have as a friend. Colbert is simply a genius. Haven't watched a full episode of the Daily Show since Stewart left. Seen many of Noah's clips. he just ain't funny to me.

Wayne Carter said...

Your observations and comments are right on. I always watched Colbert's monologue but he hasn't adapted it to the home and still awkwardly waits as if for applause. Bill Maher has not adapted his style either, and he does his monologue looking around and with goofy laugh clips from different audiences. He can't just play natural to the camera.

Kimmel is definitely the gold standard here, and he is also the best interviewer. I always get something more from his guests because of his style. I don't know why they've cut his show to a half hour though. And forget the bands.

sanford said...

CD1515 As for shows being scripted so was Letterman's. Yes you have moments where shows go off script, such as Drew Barrymore Flashing Dave. At least after Letterman left the best late night show was Craig Ferguson. On another note a great article from Mo Ryan. Are you in agreement Ken. https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2020/06/is-tv-sabotaging-itself

Kevin said...

Jimmy Kimmel & Seth Meyers are nailing the home versions of their show. I also like that Kimmel is only a half hour in it's current format. Get in, have a laugh, quick interview, get out. I don't miss an audience on either of these shows.

I would watch Fallon regularly when he was in studio. I continued watching the "from home" episodes and now I pretty much don't watch him at all. Fallon actually needs an audience. His monologue has always been the weakest of the bunch (Colbert's is better even if I am turned off by his delivery) and the fun of Fallon's show was the bits & games and songs etc... Whatever he's doing now is nearly unwatchable. Kids interrupting, walks with his wife. He needs back in a studio ASAP.

Michael said...

I seem to recall Jimmy Kimmel having on Vin Scully and clearly showing he's a big fan. Think of how Vin always talked to the fans--like it was one-on-one, a conversation. That was his training, and I think Kimmel absorbed that, just as you have said Vin influenced how you write.

Frank Beans said...

I think that all the late night comedy hosts are doing a pretty great job. I would agree that Jimmy Kimmel is the best, and doing the most creative adaptations. Seth Meyers is a close second.

I say give them a break for working under hard circumstances, the way everyone is. They have not just their professional careers and pressure to be on television every week, but also their families to deal with as well.

And Kimmel's kids are really cute.

R. Jenkins said...

Something that's been kind of bothering me:
It seems like everyone is saying they want comedy to be a break away from all the madness of the world. Escapism.
Then why, as all the other hosts are doing pointed political material, isn't Fallon killing it? The philosophy of his show is what everyone is SAYING they want. Upbeat, silly, music, games, fun.

Unknown said...

I still enjoy Colbert and Kimmel. (I start with Colbert monologue, then switch to Kimmel).
The one that has lost it is Bill Maher. I liked his shows for the panel, which he is rarely doing. When he is interviewing someone, he looks bored. Doesn't seem like he is even trying. If it isn't my opinion, no need to listen.

sueK2001 said...

I think Kimmel is okay but I am sure the show is still an hour. Nightlight just breaks it up.At least that's how my affiliate does it. As for my preference, I have tried watching Fallon and can't take him. He's funny and creative but mostly in the musical moments. Everyone else does so many Trump jokes that they all run together.

Todd Everett said...

Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Conan O'Brien and Trevor Noah are the ones I watch; Conan more out of wishing he had his old variety-show format back. Awkwardness is part of his act; I can take it.

I've never warmed up to Colbert, but I like him much more now (not that I watch him, except when a guest I like is on) than I did back in the old days when he was trying to be Dick Cavett -- dancing, singing with the singing guests, and so on. Everything except the incessant name-dropping.

Meyers seems to have it down. I also like his recurring bits, especially those with his women writers.

Some people (mainly Brits) seem to really hate James Cordon. I don't mind him, but I'd infinitely prefer the return of Craig Ferguson or Tom Snyder to the slot.

With you on Jimmy Fallon. He's clearly talented, but I'm just not his intended audience.

Anonymous said...

If we have learned anything from decades of late-night and even daytime talk show hosts, they are the most exposed and seemingly open people on television and yet the most hidden. We see them all the time and they appear to be who they are, while they are skillful at cultivating only an aspect of who they are. All of us do that in public setting to a degree, but somehow talk show hosts can powerfully convince us that what we see so often, for years and years, are who they are.

Rarely is that the truth. And I have to say that in Kimmel's case, that is what bothers me. He is most skilled as you say because he knows how to fill time and this is a perfect opportunity for him while it's awkward for others. However, looking back on his body of work, and the various personas he has been over the years--especially that "regular guy," it just bothers me somehow. That's strange because he worked very hard to get where he is and is very good at it.

I'm not saying he is not sincere. All performances are sincere or they don't ring true. But if you look back on The Man Show and the kind of things that he did when it was "okay," and then look at his stances now, he's giving the public what sells best.

He's also a very very wealthy person, as all these hosts are. He has an easy, freewheeling approach yet he has no trouble trotting out the biggest A-listers in the business. He is very good as connecting, which is not a bad thing. It just doesn't ring true.

It's like wondering whether Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh would have chosen their personas and built their empires had they started at different stations and bloomed where they were planted.

James Corden was handpicked by Leslie Moonves. He's an American version of Graham Norton but completed packaged and vetted by CBS marketing.

Let's face it, Trump jokes are safe. Not that people should be offended in any way, not that they should be un-PC, but now that they are home, they could be a little more inventive. But we're seeing what happens when most of the machinery is taken away from them. They're just like a lot of other YouTubers.

Isolation from the barrage of movie and TV marketing that tells us what to like and who is supposed to be great should be teaching us something.


Randy @ WCG Comics said...

That's a great point about Kimmel's radio experience paying off in this environment/format. I've listened to Kimmel since his start in the LA radio market on KROQ on the morning Kevin and Bean Show. I haven't purposely followed his trajectory, but saw his jump to the Man Show and then the leap of faith ABC made in hiring for his current talk show. Though I wasn't a fan of the alpha male kind of persona he had, his evolution into a talk show host and a person who cares about the issues have been remarkable -- I'm not a regular late night viewer, but he's definitely outstanding.

Regarding continuing the show at home -- in addition to the need to keep the crew employed (something I think he probably feels is important), I think guests would miss the energy and adulation of a live studio audience!

Tom said...

I'd love to have Tom Snyder back, too. Since he died in 2007, however, it might take some ingenuity to pull off.

Troy McClure said...

People still watch James Corden?

Don K. said...

We DVR Colbert, watch what passes for his monologue and generally skip the rest. That his show is not done sequentially always through us off. Often he does his monologue, then the next segment was obviously taped days earlier so there's no continuity.

The one who has really lost it is Maher. Why he won't go to a panel on ZOOM is beyond me. We stopped watching. The inserts of old time audiences subbing for fake laughter is a clear miss, but his attitude/personality has clearly taken a turn for the worse. That change began before he left thr studio, in that he belittled presidential candidates and mocked them and other guests if they didn't agree with him. His self induced paranoia about Trump not leaving office if he loses is incredibly oft putting. I'm waiting for a guest to say "ALRIGHT ALRIGHT BILL WE'LL JUST SHOOT THE MOTHERFUCKER, DOES THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY?????"

While being forced to work from home these last three months, I've found relaxing things to take my mind off things. To wit- I'll tell Alexa to play Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, mindlessly play solitaire on the computer and just listen to the music, realizing that what I'm hearing was being done for the first time ever and that Brian Wilson, for all his troubles, really was a genius. Not only did he create Pet Sounds but he spurred on the Beatles to reply with Sgt. Pepper. Top that, anyone. Problems fade away like waves on a beach.

flurb said...

Everybody's got different tastes. Stephen Colbert's presence is one of the reasons I've made it through the last few years without losing the majority of my mental functions. I am so grateful to him and his writers, perhaps I cut him too much slack, but even quarantined without his audience, he regularly makes me laugh out loud. I wish CBS didn't force him to toot celebrity-product as often as it does, as, like John Stewart before him, he seems a little dulled by hyping things he's not really interested in. I would love a talk show that was just about good talk - but of course, that's not what The Late Show, or any of these vehicles, is. I am also deeply fond of Sam Bee and John Oliver, and I occasionally dip into Seth Meyers' and Trevor Noah's monologues. But Colbert has got my loyalty.

Bob K said...

I really miss Craig Furguson.

scottmc said...

Add me to the list of readers who are Jimmy Kimmel/Seth Myers viewers. I watch Kimmel and then wait the half hour for Myers to start. I think his 'A Closer Look' segment is consistently high quality.

Anonymous said...

I'm old. I still catch Carson from time to time on the old person channel. lol. Give me Johnny, Doc and Ed and his Alpo anyday. Janice B.

myrna said...

The news since Trump's election has been so depressing that I quit the 24 hour news channels and also mostly stopped watching the late night hosts who satirize the news. The only political commentary that I regularly follow now is the talented Randy Rainbow. He alone can bring a smile to my face in these trying times. And I wonder why Randy has not once been invited as a guest on Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, or John Oliver. (The networks could bleep out the naughty words). Re covid: I recommend Randy's "A Spoonful of Clorox Makes Your Temperature Go Down" (Mary Poppins) and Randy's version of Adelaide's Lament from Guys and Dolls. "A person could develop covid"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPDPzbLFeP4 Mary Poppins
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CCW4Xnp_sQ Guys and DOlls

myrna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
myrna said...

Yet one more Randy Rainbow parody- "Social Distance"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WimbyL_25Nw

Breadbaker said...

I rarely watch any of them but happened to catch the Tuesday Colbert on Wednesday on YouTube. I thought his delivery was slow and that diminished the jokes. He clearly gets a lot of help from the interaction with a live audience. But he made a Jitterbug joke that was hilarious.

Jon Lovett, on his podcast, has had comedian friends and handpicked fans on Zoom listening to his monologue, so he gets immediate and vocal feedback. It's a different format and a narrower audience, but I think it's worked.

Anonymous said...

OK, giving two lines to FAllon makes sense. Your comment supported succinctness. However, why not elucidate more on Noah? How/where is he improving? What are his continuing faults? You appear to give him short shrift.

Fran Bergamini said...

Hi everyone.
I think we are missing the point. Basically what we are saying is that this specific new format, is helping or suits more certain hosts, like Kimmel, while Colbert maybe was at is best on his old format, but as he said millions of time, he is missing the audience, he is an actor, a comedian who performes in front of people. So saying that Kimmel is better than all, it s not quiet the point: he has just found, in a very unfortunate situation, the format that works better for him, and this is why the suggestion of staying as it is...cause going back will bring him back to what it was. Colbert is a genius, fast, smart, and funny, and Trevor is an incredible surprise: he is so young and can just get better and better, but you all forget the real comedian, journalist, reporter, and sexy British dude that is John Oliver. Someone else who doesn't need an audience (has he said to Colbert), and the level of information of his episodes saved me during the pandemic. And after seeing Seth pairing with Leslie Jones, I thought those two are brilliant together, so he is missing a alterego partner to balance he is being to much "Seth Mayer". And all the others, I m sorry, for me it ain't worth to watch. Thanks

Craig Gustafson said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: When writing a sitcom episode, how much trouble are tags? I just watched the "Dick Van Dyke Show" episode, "Obnoxious, Offensive, Egomaniac, Etc...", where they break into Alan Brady's office to retrieve a script littered with Alan Brady insults. It's one of the classic episodes (based on the writers' experiences writing obscenities into their "Joey Bishop Show" scripts) with a perfect ending.
And then they had to come back for another two minutes, which were completely anti-climactic.
Is this hard to maneuver around?

Troy McClure said...

A Friday question about sitcoms that make self-referential wink wink jokes. I recently rewatched the hilarious Nanny G episode of Frasier that starred Laurie Metcalf. I'd forgotten that there was a self-referential joke when she says to Frasier "Can you imagine playing the same character for 20 years?", to which Frasier visibly reacts and the audience applaud.

Since I'd forgotten it, I was surprised, because Frasier, and Cheers before it, always steered clear of such jokes. They tend to be done in a really corny way, like Christopher Lloyd appearing in Spin City and Michael J Fox's character saying "It feels like I'm stepping back in time", followed by the audience whooping and Lloyd saying "I always recommended you look to the future", followed by even more whooping and applause.

Where do you stand on sitcoms having this sort of joke? What did you think of the joke in Frasier? I mean, it was funny and it was the only time Frasier did it, but would you have written it if you were writing that episode?

Roger Owen Green said...

Meyers on A Closer Look isn't even TRYING to do comedy; less a function of no audience, more the seriousness of the issues. Oliver is largely unaffected by no audience; great stuff.
Noah took a couple weeks to get his rhythm, but he's good. Corden tries too hard to be earnest.

Colbert is tiresome and unwatchable without an audience. I only catch Kimmel occasionally, but he's surprisingly good. I NEVER watch Fallon, pre- or post-COVID.

Unknown said...

Jay Moriarty said...

BIG UPS to Jimmy Kimmel--as both a person & a Host!