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 of the Week: Scuttlebutt’s Night Circus

The Everett brewery’s head brewer had nightmares trying to dial in its new coffee and coconut ale.

Viognier: French white grape gaining foothold in Washington

Viognier, the noble white grape of the northern Rhône Valley of France,… Continue reading

Curries continues home-cooked Indian cuisine at new location

The restaurant, now located on Evergreen Way, also puts an Indian spin on Northwest cooking.

New documentary chronicles Obama’s last year in White House

“The Final Year” doesn’t paint the administration in rosy colors, but it isn’t too critical either.

‘Forever My Girl’ takes a page from the Nicholas Sparks genre

The film based on a novel by Heidi McLaughlin is a well-worn tale of lost love and redemption.

Christian Bale seems to channel Clint Eastwood in ‘Hostiles’

Bale plays a U.S. cavalry captain who escorts a dying Cheyenne chief to his tribal homeland.

International guitar tour led by Lulo Reinhardt stops in Edmonds

International Guitar Night, now in its 18th year, is Jan. 24 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts.

The latest on Snohomish County’s breweries, wineries and distilleries.

recreated one of those old recipes, brewing Tennant’s 1954 Gold Label Barleywine

New Cascadia Art Museum exhibit showcases mid-century designs

The exhibition includes ceramics, furniture, clothing, sculpture and jewelry from 1948 to 1966.

Most Read