A lot of people think the Internet has fundamentally altered the nature of late-night comedy/talk shows. But I don’t.
Take the article by Jason Lynch in The Daily Beast last April that sports this headline and subhead:
For one thing, “that time slot after the local news” does matter. Only people who watch a show on TV get counted in the ratings. People who only watch clips online don’t. Ratings mean ad dollars, which a show needs so it can stay on the air. So “that time slot after the local news” is vitally important.
For another thing, late night is not “all about…engaging with audiences on the Internet.” “Engaging with audiences on the Internet” is just another way of saying, “getting people to watch your promotional clips online,” and, sure, getting people to watch promotional clips from your show–ideally on primetime TV–has always been an important way to attract viewers.
But late night isn’t “all about” promotion. Late night is all about having fresh, funny comedy pieces on your show in the first place. Your show’s main goal is not to create great promotional videos for the Internet. It is, and always has been, to create great short-form comedy for your show so that your TV viewers will be mightily entertained. The Internet hasn’t changed that.
For example, when I was co-head writer of The Chevy Chase Show our primary goal wasn’t to create viral videos—a good thing, because the Internet as we know it didn’t exist. Our primary goal was to create funny comedy pieces under about five minutes long–Internet-sized, as it turns out–to fit between commercial breaks. That’s why we aired a hidden camera prank involving Chevy at the Hollywood Wax Museum.
But if we had had the Internet and a social media staff I think that video would have gone viral and given the show a nice promotional boost. What do you think? Take a look.
Learn how to create short-form–Internet-sized–comedy pieces in my book Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV.