With ‘I Love You, America,’ Sarah Silverman Has Conquered Late Night Streaming Like No One Else

News & Culture Writer
09.06.18

Hulu/Netflix/Uproxx

Over at the official YouTube channel for Sarah Silverman‘s late night-style talk show, I Love You, America, the two most popular videos, appropriately enough, are a comedy sketch and a monologue. The first is a commercial for a fake Halloween store, “Drew Nostume’s New Costumes,” where you can find whatever you need to “spook your conservative neighbors” or “make your liberal neighbors Dema-crap their pants.” On a more serious note, the second sees Silverman address the then-recent allegations of sexual misconduct against fellow comedian and longtime friend Louis C.K.

I mention these clips for two reasons: (1) to demonstrate the range and variety of material audiences should expect from I Love You, America, and (2) prove the point that Silverman’s program has done what no other late night streaming-only show has achieved. That is to say, the weekly Hulu series has demonstrated its relevance and longevity when it comes to surviving in the ongoing era of “Peak TV.” One of the easiest-to-spot indications of this is the fact that, unlike Silverman’s contemporaries, Michelle Wolf and Joel McHale, I Love You, America is still on.

This may sound like a cheap shot, but I don’t mean it as such. It’s simply a statement of fact. The former Daily Show correspondent’s otherwise brilliant talk show found itself on the chopping block in August, as did the Community star’s follow-up to the hugely popular The Soup. The latter premiered back in February and managed to produce 19 episodes, while the former’s initial 10-episode order debuted in May and ended without a renewal. Both cancellations were as abrupt as they were inexplicable, yet while low ratings may have been a factor, Netflix almost never releases the numbers for such things.

On a more awkward note, Wolf’s fellow ex-Daily Show team member Hasan Minhaj’s upcoming Patriot Act, a similarly late night-ish series with an admittedly political angle, was officially given an “unprecedented” 32-episode order just 10 days prior. (Norm Macdonald’s new show is also set to debut in mid-September, a month after the cancellations.) Such disarray makes it sound like the streaming giant — which also boasts David Letterman’s triumphant return and Chelsea Handler’s initial experiment with the form — is still trying to figure out how to crack the “late night talk show code” for its subscribers, even though many broadcast and cable-based talks shows have successfully gone online.

So what gives? Letterman is Letterman, and the sheer excitement of his adoring, devoted fans was enough to attract plenty of eyeballs to My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. (Not to mention the kinds of people he interviewed, like former President Barack Obama). As for Handler’s Chelsea, while it endeavored to become something more than her previous program, Chelsea Lately, Netflix repeatedly retooled the concept, but to no avail. By the time McHale’s second batch of episodes was out and Wolf’s first was coming to a close, the streamer was apparently no longer willing to experiment.

Letterman’s name guaranteed dedicated viewership. Handler, Wolf and McHale’s, however, did not. Or, at least the fanbases they developed while working at their respective E! and Comedy Central programs weren’t as big, or as enthusiastic, as that of the former CBS personality. And when they were all plugged into the complex algorithm that Netflix employs to splits its subscribers into thousands of “taste groups,” Letterman’s name likely came up more often than the “late night” or “talk show” categories. Though without any official comment from Netflix about the three nixed shows’ ratings, this is all conjecture.

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