Terrible TV Time #3: Late Night Zombies

So apparently NBC is yet again trying to reinvigorate their late night shows by swapping out Leno on The Tonight Show again. Mark my words, even with a good lead-in, this will play out just like the Leno/Conan switch did. And I don't think Jimmy Fallon has the cult following that Coco does to go with him if he too is forced to leave. In fact, if he does badly, NBC may be forced to give real thought to canceling The Tonight Show altogether. It won't be Fallon's fault, though -it will be the fault of a zombie TV genre.

I am actually hard-pressed to find people my age who think the traditional monologue-music-and-guests late night format isn't tedious. I'm not the only one who DVRs Conan to breeze through the interviews or bands I don't care about, and the same goes for Craig Ferguson's show (who I personally find most interesting when he just decides to "get real" with his viewers). The big two late night shows are either nonentities (Leno's corny, shmoozy Tonight Show) or sad reminders of earlier innovation (sleepwalking Letterman). And no one particularly likes Jimmy Kimmel. This is a bit of a generalization, but among my fellow TV/pop culture nerds, that's the consensus.

So who is the audience? Late night may be the last TV venue aimed at the over fifties. Baby Boomers seemed to be the eagerest to both embrace Leno & bury Conan, giving me yet another reason to hate them. But that market hates change, hates innovation, hates anything that might force them to acknowledge that media has changed since Carson's heyday. So late night stagnates, providing them their last safe place to doze off to every night.

NBC will probably never cancel The Tonight Show, since it's too much of an institution; same with CBS and The Late Show. But the day will come someday in my lifetime when they will be forced to do something different with them than just what worked in the past. Without a strong host (the strongest on network is probably Letterman, but even he feels tired), this genre just comes off as somehow more padded than a reality "results" show. Whether it morphs into a whole new creature under the same name as its old audience dies away or is just canned for reruns remains to be seen. But this may be the first true step in seeing a zombie genre laid to rest.


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