There is a problem in this country that we have avoided for too long, and we should finally take steps solve it. No, this isn’t a political or social issue, but rather how to reinvigorating the late-night talk show.
The late-night formula has been relatively unchanged since Jack Parr hosted the Tonight Show in black-and-white. Everyone knows how an episode plays out: headline guest, commercial, second guest, commercial, musical guest or stand-up comedian; then rinse and repeat five nights a week. And after almost 70 years, it’s grown a tad bit stale. Even its heyday is more than three decades old, and it hit its zenith with Johnny Carson in the 1980s.
It’s amazing that the formula has lasted as long as it has, but like most other things since the internet boom, late-night TV needs to change in order to keep up. This is not rant on how they should integrate social media or why they should cater to the millennials — they most likely won’t watch — but rather how to make the shows more watchable. I could spew a bunch of ideas and try to impress you with how smart I think I am, or I could point you in the direction of a show that is doing exactly what is needed.
‘But Mark,’ you say, ‘all the shows on my TV are the same.’
Who said I was talking about America?
To witness my solution to the monotonous content that is aired on US broadcast television after the local news, all you have to do is look 3,000 or so miles across the Atlantic Ocean to London and The Graham Norton Show.
The beauty of this popular British talk show is the simple concept that all of the celebrity guests are on the couch at the same time (usually two or three actors or British personalities and a British or Irish comedian) and are interviewed together. While this may seem like something that could get chaotic, it is more often than not the complete opposite. The refreshing part of this format is watching the guests interact and ask each other questions. I understand that the first guest on Leno, Conan and Letterman sometimes sticks around for the second interview, but they are rarely involved in questions.
Graham’s interview segments feel as though we are watching these celebrities interact in a social setting rather than on produced television. It has a more natural feel and thus, more unexpected moments.
Even if a show would implement this interviewing technique into their concept, there’s still the big problem of commercial breaks on American television. The Graham Norton Show is aired in Britain on the BBC, which is similar to PBS, but much larger in scale. The BBC is publicly funded so it is banned from having advertisement that isn’t related to future programming.
It’s not a difficult problem to work around, and it could even enhance the show. Some episodes of The Graham Norton Show can drag, and a commercial break would help in these instances, but it’s a double-edged sword though, because stopping for commercial could also halt the momentum of a great segment.
I understand that trying to use the format for a once-a-week show as a way to fix the five-days-a-week version is crazy, and thus, installing The Graham Norton Show style as your model for an American talk-show could be difficult to implement in its entirety. But that doesn’t change the notion that something needs to change.
Reinventing yourself is always good thing, just ask Warner Brother about the recent Batman trilogy. And, I do give Jimmy Fallon and Craig Ferguson an “A” for effort for what they’ve done to stand out from the old guard, but no matter how hard they try there is not much room for creativity in the archaic formats in which they work. And that’s a major problem.