Late night TV, then and now

  • By Frazier Moore Associated Press
  • Thursday, April 10, 2014 2:30pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

NEW YORK — The future is Stephen Colbert.

The Comedy Central talk-show star was named Thursday to replace David Letterman when he steps down from CBS’ “Late Show” next year.

But what about the past and the present? Let’s try for a little historical perspective by comparing the late night landscape that greets Colbert’s announcement against the world in which “Late Show” was born:

Then: Dave arrived in the 11:35 p.m. slot on Aug. 30, 1993, with a startup venture for CBS going up against NBC’s venerable “Tonight Show,” where Jay Leno had already reigned for 15 months. Broadcast TV had only four other players in late night comedy-talk: Letterman’s old haunt, “Late Night,” where Conan O’Brien would soon preside, followed by “Later With Bob Costas,” plus the syndicated “Arsenio Hall Show.” Also, debuting a week later, “The Chevy Chase Show” aired for just a month on Fox.

Now: There are at least 11 such shows on broadcast or cable, with roughly 18 percent of them hosted by a man named Jimmy.

Then: Although three-fourths of TV homes had VCRs, almost no one knew how to program them, or had even gotten around to setting the clock. And digital video recorders hadn’t been invented yet.

Now: Roughly half of TV homes (whether with or without VCRs) are equipped with DVRs, which further undermines the meaning of “late night”: Most of these shows are taped around dusk, then plugged into a late night slot where they’re available for a viewer to retrieve and watch whenever the mood strikes.

Then: The term “Internet” would have registered barely a blip of recognition for most viewers, and, if by chance they had home Internet service, it only gave them crawling text through a dial-up connection. Web? Social media? YouTube? Streaming video? App? Whazzat?!

Now: Tweeting, second-screen interaction and viral video clips are necessary supplements to shore up the eroding audience a talk show can command solely on the TV platform.

Then: Speaking of which, the shiny new “Late Show” was scoring about 5.2 million viewers nightly, while “Tonight” averaged 4 million.

Now: Since Jimmy Fallon replaced Leno in February, NBC’s “Tonight” has averaged about 5.2 million viewers (a huge initial boost from Leno’s final-year average of 3.5 million), while Letterman and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel have each averaged about 2.7 million.

Then: Among that handful of hosts, only one was a black man.

Now: Only one — that same guy, Arsenio Hall — is black.

Then: No women were hosting.

Now: One woman is a host — Chelsea Handler.

Then: For months, media reporters just couldn’t stop churning out coverage of the Late Night War.

Now: With news of Stephen going in for Dave, we’re just getting started on another siege of stories.

More in Life

Beer and cupcakes: Snohomish brewer, baker form unlikely duo

Pacific Northwest Cupcakes uses SnoTown’s brews to make beer-infused sweet treats.

Woodward Canyon Winery continues to weave masterpieces

Owner Rick Small uses grapes from vines he used when he made wine in his back yard in the 1970s.

Snohomish brewer flavors beer with chilies from mom’s back yard

Beer of the Week: Smoked rye forms sturdy foundation for SnoTown’s well-balanced Loose Rooster.

Beer, wine, spirits: Snohomish County booze calendar

Dash to Diamond Knot: Flying Unicorn Racing is teaming up with Mukilteo’s… Continue reading

Marysville theater stages Noel Coward’s timeless ‘Blithe Spirit’

The cast and crew at the Red Curtain Arts Center do a fine job with the 1940s British play.

Stringed instruments get workout at Cascade Symphony concert

Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings” is the orchestra’s first concert of the season.

Animating Van Gogh paintings proves to be trippy yet flawed

“Loving Vincent” relates the circumstances of the great painter’s death.

Leno, Short and others reminisce about David Letterman

By Geoff Edgers / The Washington Post A few observations about David… Continue reading

Most Read