Call it a seven-year itch, but the sands of late-night are shifting.
James Corden is leaving The Late Late Show next year after seven years in the CBS hotseat, Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal was canceled at TBS, the latest cull of the new Warner Bros. Discovery empire, and Desus & Mero split up and ended their Showtime series.
Jon Batiste, bandleader of Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show is leaving after seven years and even Jimmy Kimmel is considering ending his 20-year run on ABC.
Seth Meyers, who hosts NBC’s Late Night, which scored its first major Emmy nomination since launching his show in February 2014, tells Deadline that we’ve reached a new inflection point.
“It’s notable that when we started, around eight and a half years ago, it seemed like there was this massive wave of new shows, and that seemed like the last inflection point. What was really exciting about that wave is you have someone like me, who looks a lot like people who’ve had these shows in the past, but then there was a group of people who hadn’t had shows like this in the past. That was really fun. That’s one of the heartbreaking parts about Samantha Bee and Desus & Mero coming to a close, because they represented a really new, exciting chapter in late-night. I would just hope that it’s not as negative a bellwether as it seems,” he said.
There’s long been two strands in late-night; the nightly shows on the broadcast networks – The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Late Late Show with James Corden – and cable such as The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Then you have the weekly shows on cable, and more recently streaming such as Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Real Time with Bill Maher, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Ziwe, The Amber Ruffin Show, Pause with Sam Jay and Hell of a Week with Charlamagne Tha God.
CBS is currently figuring out how to replace Corden, who started in 2015. CBS CEO George Cheeks told Deadline, back in May, that the network was looking to experiment in the 12:30am and freshen up the format, which has been somewhat singularly designed around the Tony-winning Brit. There have been a plethora of names thrown into the ring from established stars, predominantly female, to YouTubers and more esoteric performers. One late-night chief told Deadline, “Everyone wants someone that already has followers but that’s [tough], like getting people to go from YouTube to linear,” the source said.
The network has some time to figure it out as the Gavin and Stacey co-creator is expected to leave around April next year.
Deadline understands Corden’s production company Fulwell 73, which he runs with a group of producers including his Late Show EP Ben Winston, who also exec produces Hulu’s The Kardashians, is one of a number of companies vying to produce the new iteration of The Late Late Show going forward.
“I’m most curious for what it means [for] what direction late-night is going,” said Meyers on his timeslot rival. “The turnover happens so rarely so it will be fascinating to see what the data point on the axis is. The craziest thing they could try to do is try to hire the next James Corden.”
ABC will also be keeping a close eye on the landscape in case Jimmy Kimmel decides to retire, a decision Deadline understands the host has not yet made.
Kimmel built a long summer break into his current contract and his show has introduced a rotating line-up of guest hosts such as RuPaul, Anthony Anderson, Chelsea Handler, David Alan Grier Liu and Kerry Washington. Notably, many of JKL’s guest hosts were not straight, white men, per Kimmel’s request, which points to progress if he does decide to call it quits any time soon.
Handler, who had a long-running late-night show on E! as well as a short-lived streaming show on Netflix, is understood to be keen her own return to the genre, while it will be interesting to see Desus Nice step out on his own next week.
Desus’ former late-night partner The Kid Mero believes that the landscape is changing in a positive way. “I feel people can look at what we did, what Sam [Bee] did, and [realize] this was viable. If you let these people play to their strengths, don’t water it down, just go in there, let them do what they do, worry about the rest later. It’ll work,” he told SiriusXM podcast Basic!, co-hosted by former MTV and Comedy Central exec Doug Herzog. “It speaks a lot to the fact that this is a viable product; you can be a black man, a black woman, an Asian man, an Asian woman, a gay man [in late-night]. It’ll work and it’ll bring you eyeballs, which is at the end of the day all the execs and the advertisers want.”
Herzog, who oversaw The Daily Show with Jon Stewart when he ran Comedy Central, said that there’s a lot of different things at work right now when it comes to late-night. He says that linear, ad-supported television is being “upended” and its impact on specific day parts is one issue, while streaming is another. “Ten years ago, certainly 15 years ago, you couldn’t access a late-night show until 11:30pm at night, and now it’s feels like with social media and the way these shows are kind of chopped up and sent out to the world, it’s late-night all the time,” he said on his show.
The Amber Ruffin Show is one of those shows. The show streams on Peacock and launches at around 6pm PT, meaning audiences can watch it at their leisure rather than staying up in to the early hours. Deadline understands that there are still some episodes to shoot and air as part of its second season ahead of any potential third season.
The comedian, who is also a writer on Late Night with Seth Meyers, started incorporating more interviews with the likes of Cynthia Erivo, Vanessa Williams and Jaquel Spivey into the show, which previously had more of a variety, song-and-dance feel to it, showcasing that Ruffin is just as comparable at chatting up stars as her NBC counterparts. While Fallon and Meyers both recently signed long-term deals to stay on their shows, it’s clear that Ruffin is increasingly becoming a star in the space.
She also recently praised two of her late-night peers – Ziwe and Sam Jay – who have been helping diversify the genre. “Their shows are incredible,” she told Deadline earlier this spring. “I also think I’m great, so out of the box—bam, bam, bam—were three f***ing excellent shows. It just made me feel so proud.”
The cancelation of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee is one of those decisions impacted by decreasing linear ratings and a changing media landscape, coming as part of a swathe of cuts at Warner Bros. Discovery.
Bee herself, in a tweet following the cancelation took a swipe at regular interruptions for AEW wrestling or repeats of The Big Bang Theory. “We’re so thankful for our loyal audience, our amazing team, and that we got to annoy the right people every week – that there wasn’t wrestling or baseball or a very special episode of Big Bang,” she wrote.
But, as shown in the graph (XXX), the TBS show was the least watched of all of the major late-night shows and its cancelation came as David Zaslav and his team were tearing up the linear schedules of the Turner networks. Coupled with Conan’s recent exit, it’s unlikely that these stations will look to directly replace the pair.
These exits – particularly Bee and Desus & Mero – while coincidental will have a knock-on effect for the genre’s chances at the Emmys going forward. As Deadline revealed in June, a group of showrunners lobbied the TV Academy to keep five nominations in the Outstanding Variety Talk Series category.
This will be less likely next year and could lead to a change in how the TV Academy approaches the genre. While many in the late-night space would hope for separate categories for nightly and weekly, the decreasing number of submissions both in this category and for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, which is where The Amber Ruffin Show, Ziwe and Pause with Sam Jay competed, this is only likely to get the Academy to take another look at combining the categories, which it previously attempted. Throw in a growing slate of shows competing the Hosted Nonfiction (Series or Special) category such as The Problem with Jon Stewart and My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman and my guess is that there will be a change before the 2023 Emmys.
Despite all of this, there is still optimism about the future of late-night. There will undoubtedly be a popular successor for Corden, a new pairing to rival Desus & Mero and a woman who can take on the topic of abortion rights in much the same way as Bee just around the corner.