So the successor to James Corden as the face of the second portion of CBS’ late night lineup has been announced. And the winner is…to be determined.
Rather than try to find a breakout personality to attempt to gain traction in a daypart where the majority of its actual viewership doesn’t occur within it, CBS has decided to end the 28-year old LATE LATE SHOW and will resurrect a Comedy Central original format that began a decade ago, @MIDNIGHT. The outlets that eagerly reported this late yesterday didn’t have the network’s confirmation at first, so specific details are still sketchy, but it was established that 2013-2017 host Chris Hardwick will not be a part of this version. (At the moment, his replacement is yet to be named, but it will reportedly be a younger female)
CBS will also return the production of its LATE SHOW leadout back to its host, in this case Stephen Colbert, which is the arrangement they established with David Letterman as a reward for their establishing a beachhead with a talk show that could fully compete with THE TONIGHT SHOW for the first time in decades. In electing to engage in head-to-head battle for the later part of late night with a personality, now that they had successfully stolen the host that owned that time slot for a decade. they wisely chose not to go directly after the same demographic that Letterman successor Conan O’Brien was attempting to keep. They brought back the guy who effectively started the whole late-late night game, Tom Snyder, whose eclectic TOMORROW show was sacrificed when NBC saved face by giving Letterman’s acclaimed but poorly rated daytime show a second chance at what its research suggested was a more apropos daypart.
When that audience proved to be a tad too old to fully compete for the high-CPM advertisers seeking younger demos, CBS shifted its strategy toward more comedic hosts and formats, purloining original DAILY SHOW host Craig Kilborn from Comedy Central, then following him up when he got too greedy with another Craig–Ferguson, the winner of several months of protracted on-air audition weeks between dozens of suitors. When the Scottish-born Ferguson’s appeal began to wane, CBS honcho Les Moonves reached out across the pond again and, in another out-of-the-box hire akin to his foisting Drew Carey upon the PRICE IS RIGHT, discovered Corden, a cherubic Brit little know in the States outside of some performances in INTO THE WOODS. Corden and his Fulwell 78 production banner took the show into more ambitious (and expensive) territory, producing elaborate and often hilarious remote segments such as Carpool Karaoke and staging performances of stage plays at the intersection of Beverly Boulevard and West Genesee Street.
But the reality of cost vs. reward is all too pervasive now, and seemed to override any desire to find another Corden, as Carys Anderson of Consequence TC reminds:
An @midnight revival is sure to be a helpful cost cutter for CBS, which was looking to trim its 12:30am time slot budget from its current $60 million a year to $35 million a year. The original program only took up a 30-minute slot as opposed to The Late Late Show’s hour run time, and a game show would likely require a lot less money than a high-profile talk show.
Yes, I know all too well exactly how cost-effective @MIDNIGHT was and will be. My fellow Game Show Network executives were all but obsessed with ripping it off when it began, and initially attracted a decent audiene as the third spoke in a lineup where it was preceded by Jon Stewart’s DAILY SHOW and THE COLBERT REPORT, which went by the wayside when he replaced Letterman. They raved about what at the time was their way to learn more about social media and memes than they knew, and marveled at how competitive the gameplay was. They, like so many publications that reported its comeback yesterday, were convinced @MIDNIGHT was a defacto competition.
Except it’s not.
The format relied on improvisational comedians playing for nothing more than laughs, as Wikipedia clearly and accurately reminds:
Three guests compete in a series of Internet-themed improv games. “Rapid Refresh” is a game where contestants craft a funny response or choose an answer based on an Internet meme or trending news headline. On Thursdays during the run-up to the 2016 presidential primaries, this round was alternately referred to as “Panderdome” and focused on the candidates’ gaffes and antics. Other games run daily include “Hashtag Wars” in which contestants buzz in with a phrase based on the given hashtag theme, and where fans can submit their own tweets which may show up in the game, and “Live Challenges” where the contestants write their answers over the commercial break. Hardwick would shout “Points!” and give the contestants arbitrary amounts.
Towards the end of the game, the third-place contestant is eliminated (with some rare exceptions), the scores are erased with a gesture, and the remaining two contestants play the final round called “FTW (For The Win)” Hardwick would read a question and the contestants would write down a response. The responses would then be read back anonymously and the winner would be decided by one whose response generates the most laughter/applause from the studio audience. The winner “wins the Internet for the next 23.5 hours”.
And yes, in many cases, some of the comedians did know about some of the show’s subjects in advance. Remember, points were arbitrarily awarded, much as they were on Carey’s WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?, which no one has ever called a game show. Nothing illegal or immoral about that, since no actual prizes were awarded. And when our top management would listen to the persistent pleas and fan-girling from my mid-management colleagues of @MIDNIGHT’s cost efficiency and demographic appeal, they steadfastly would back me up when I would remind all that would listen that, yes, it may have looked like a game show, but it’s not an actual game. Previous attempts to blur those lines by programming executives who despised actual game show had failed miserably, and the audience reaction to legitmate game shows we had launched during my tenure were far more successful.
Yes, this party-pooper actually wanted to give OUR audience something THEY wanted, not something a few snarky executives wanted to try and emulate without the benefit of two strong lead-ins, both hosted by breakthrough comedians. What a lousy executive I was.
And I’m sure a few journalists today might feel much the same way about me. Sorry, folks, @MIDNIGHT is cheaper, might be funny, and will likely appeal to those Comedy Central fans that sought it out as an alternative it a decade ago. The nature of both the execution and the material will also open it up to a lot more aggregate online viewership this time around than it had access to when Comedy Central and its Viacom parent were aggressively seeking to block YouTube from what they saw as cannibalistic uploads of their shows. With the ability to now measure and monetize via Nielsen finally upon us, let alone the evolution of viewing behavior to time-shifting and non-linear, this version will have a better chance to capitalize upon cross-platform viewing that the first incarnation did.
But it’s NOT a game show.
And note to CBS: it might help if you actually message that. The last time you attempted to launch actual competitions in the time slot didn’t go all that well. In the wake of he surprising success of STUDS, a far dirtier version of THE DATING GAME that had caught fire with FOX stations, it launched two similar sex-obsessed series, PERSONALS and NIGHT GAMES, to compete with Letterman. While the prizes were often afterthoughts, such as dates at the nearby Pink’s hot dog stand, they WERE real prizes. Few watched, and few remember these failures. Lucky for you all, I do. You definitely don’t want those histories to repeat themselves.
At the time, when those formats died their warranted early deaths, CBS was forced to return to a mocked strategy of airing crime drama repeats which dated back to its days when the umbrella title was THE CBS LATE MOVIE, which was true in its first days when it reran made-for-TV prime time efforts, but eventually needed to rely upon the likes of HAWAII FIVE-O and CANNON to fill the void when new production of MOWs declined. Letterman had a field day by “channel surfing” on his NBC show while “monitoring what else was on at 12:35 a.m.” and would snarkily and accurately note “Hmmm..it’s not that late…and it’s not a movie”.
Accuracy and the ability to point it out to those otherwise oblivious. David Letterman got applause and millions for it. I got mocked and eventually got fired.
Which brings me to one last bone to pick. That title.
In ira first iteration, @MIDNIGHT was accurately named because, duh, it actually aired at 12 midnight. This version will air immediately after Colbert on “most of the same CBS stations”. That’s now 12:37 AM. I do acknowledge that @23MINUTESTOONE might be a bit unwieldly a title to consider. But they shouldn’r repeat others’ past mistakes, either.
For many years, KABC-TV in Los Angeles aired a successful late afternoon local talk show that followed the end of the ABC daytime lineup, which at that time was 3:30 PM local time. The\at show was called 3-3-0. When ABC turned the last half-hour of daytime back to its affiliates, many of whom beyond owned-and-operated markets pre-empted the show anyway, KABC expanded the show and moved up its start time to half an hour. The show retained its title of 3-3-0, even though it now started at 3-0-0. Not a day would go by where the hosts wouldn’t note that. Eventually the audience tired of both the joke and the show. And, believe me, they were nowhere near as funny or joke-driven as those who will guest–not compete–on @MIDNIGHT will be. Why not at least think about air quotes this time around?
Nah, you’re right. Who gives a crap about accuracy anymore anyway? Certainly not paid journalists.
Until next time…