It’s weird how little late-night shows have evolved, especially when you look at the rest of television. Take the basic sitcom. The format for years was your standard “three cameras and a live studio audience,” with most stories relatively self-contained. Those kinds of shows still exist and some of them are still wildly popular, but what we’ve seen lately is a move toward more single-camera shows that serialize their plots over a full season, or multiple seasons. It’s not that either style is inherently better. Cheers starred Ted Danson and was very good; The Good Place stars Ted Danson and is very good. They’re just very different shows, in most non-Danson ways.
Late-night shows on the other hand, and especially the ones on the networks, not so much. The format has basically been the same since their inception: The host — to date always a white guy, surprisingly often named Jimmy — walks out to do a monologue, the show cuts to commercial, it comes back and there’s some sort of comedy bit or segment, another commercial, celebrity interviews, good night. We’ve seen flashes that broke that mold, sure. Viral-y bits that feature singing are popping up more in that second segment, Seth Meyers sits at his desk for his opening, Craig Ferguson had a robot, and so on. But the mold hasn’t really been broken or altered all that much since, what, early Letterman? And that was 30 years ago.
But change is hard and weird. I understand that. And I admittedly do not have all the answers for how to blow up the genre and retain enough of the audience to make it sustainable. Someone will eventually figure it out and we’ll feel very silly for not seeing it years earlier. No, what I have today is a simpler suggestion. One that changes both everything but possibly nothing. We can put the format in a blender later. What I’m wondering is… why not two hosts?
I don’t mean a host and a sidekick. We’ve seen that. I mean an actual comedy team, equal partners, hosting a late-night show together. It’s not that wild an idea, right? We’ve seen variety shows with multiple hosts (Sonny & Cher), and morning talk shows with multiple hosts (various combinations of Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa and other people), and awards shows with multiple hosts (more on this in a minute). Comedy teams have been around as long as comedy has been around, just not on weeknight network television between 11:30 PM and 1:30 AM. It’s a little weird.
I think it’s a Johnny Carson thing. Carson wasn’t the first host of a late night show, but he’s still the most iconic, even today, multiple decades since he walked away. He casts a long shadow in the genre, in no small part because you can draw a straight line from him to Letterman (who revered Johnny) to current hosts like Jimmy Kimmel (who reveres Dave). Audiences, at least the ones still watching live in 2017, have grown accustomed to ending their day with a single host. Which is great. It’s fine. But what it means is that you’ve got five or six guys doing what amounts to their own version of a similar show.
This is why I’m suggesting two hosts. It’s a baby step. Even if the format stays mostly the same (monologue, bit, interviews), just having two people out there would be a big change. And it could be a bunch of fun, with the hosts playing off each other and adding a little more chaos into the interviews by having the questions come from two angles. You might have to lose the desk. Or get two desks. Maybe you could stack the desks up like bunk beds, one on top of the other with a ladder on the side. Or use stools. Probably stools. But let’s not rule out the bunk desks until we try it.
Of course, the follow-up question in all of this is “Okay, but who?” And this is where I tell you that I don’t have a great answer to that one, either. The obvious pair is Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who are legends as individuals (30 Rock, Parks and Recreation) and as a team (Weekend Update, Golden Globes), but they are both very successful and very busy and I’m not sure if or why either would commit to the grind of creating a new hour of late-night television five nights a week. It would feel almost like a step back for them at this point, which I mean very much as a compliment. Their show would be very good and very fun and will, in all likelihood, never exist.
– John Mulaney and Nick Kroll are at the right point in both of their careers and are great together, as anyone who has seen Oh, Hello or their performance as hosts of the Film Independent Spirit Awards can attest…
… but I’m not sure that the solution to “We need to break up the monotony of late-night shows hosted by individual white dudes” is “Let’s do a late-night show with two white dudes!”
– Colin Jost and Michael Che are at the Weekend Update desk now and that gig has been a springboard to a late-night show on NBC in the last few years, but both of NBC’s hosts are young and in no apparent rush to leave
– Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, Letterman and Leno (I am a little serious about this last one but mostly I’m just making sure you’re still reading), and a bunch of other known commodities who have a history of being funny together
Any and all perfectly acceptable. But the truth is, the ideal comedy team for a late night show is probably one most of us have never heard of, or at least one that doesn’t show up on lists like this. Probably two people in their late 20s who haven’t quite broken through yet. Maybe they have a UCB show, or even a podcast. Chemistry is a bigger deal than anything, honestly. I mean, Letterman was a failed morning show host and Conan was a pale guy in The Simpsons‘ writer’s room. Talent shines through. Fresh blood is good. If we’re gonna mix things up, let’s really mix them up.
Again, it’s not a crazy idea. Lord knows I’ve had crazier ones. Just the other week I suggested someone make an adaption of Columbo set in a dystopian futuristic wasteland. A late-night show with two hosts is way more reasonable than that. But it would still represent a significant change in a genre that hasn’t seen much in a long time. I say we give it a shot.