2011: The Joys of a Late Night TV Scavenger Hunt
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Late night talk shows, though regimented and predictable in the general sense, don’t have this issue. They may be rehearsed to an extent, but it’s easy to tell that little thought or planning goes into each segment. With each show required to fill an hour a day, five nights a week, there’s simply not enough time to make it flawless. They’re all grasping at straws all the time.
That’s why you’ll see hosts screw up punch lines, sketch props fall over, guests go on strange story tangents, and numerous other “mistakes.” The beauty is that none of it matters – the in-house audience got in for free and the viewers at home are likely half-asleep and never had high expectations anyway.
What’s amusing is that these shows still rely on the same show format Carson was doing 30 years ago. The hosts still wear suits and the nightly schedule has changed very little – monologue, sketch, two guests and a musical act or comedian. Night after night, week after week, year after year. It’s become so familiar to viewers that something as simple as having a musical act play before the guests come out would be confusing.
What has changed and will continue to change is the style of humor. Since the tone of each show so heavily relies on the host, it is only natural that Dave Letterman’s show is nothing like Jay Leno’s, whose is nothing like Jimmy Fallon’s, whose is nothing like Craig Ferguson’s and so on and so forth.
Personally, I’m not a fan of a few of the late night hosts, but the perk of all these shows is that they have the capacity to be interesting regardless. Take George Lopez for example – I’m ambivalent at best about his comedic style, but when Prince crawls out of his purple bunker to appear as a guest, I’ll still watch him.    
Another perk is that the celebrity guests are forced to rely on their real-life personalities and charm to shill whatever they are promoting. Viewers get to see when a star is devoid of both (e.g. Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro). The best guests are often the C-level celebrities and comedians who have been kicking around Hollywood for years trying to retain some level of success, but realized a long time ago they were never going to be huge stars (e.g. Norm McDonald, Chris Elliott).
Ratings for late night shows aren’t what they once were and probably never will be, but the optimist in me believes this type of after-hours chat show will be able to survive for years to come. There will never be a day when the world runs out of celebrity guests and opening monologues will survive as long as politicians continue to have affairs and say stupid things. I’m not too worried.
I come from a generation whose preferred style of comedy is often centered on awkwardness (The Office), shock (Daniel Tosh, Sarah Silverman), endless pop-culture references (Family Guy) and genre parodies (Community). The concept of a comedian who comes out in a suit and cracks jokes about the president and the day’s headlines while standing under a “Laugh” sign borders on archaic.
That’s what’s I like about late night shows. In this day and age, a little old-fashioned show business, a few cheap jokes and genuine enthusiasm actually comes off as refreshing. There are worse ways to drift to sleep.  
The Joys of a Late Night TV Scavenger Hunt, June 2011 Vhcle Magazine Issue 6, Life
I was flipping channels late at night recently when I happened upon the enigmatic and awkward-as-ever Prince being interviewed on George Lopez Tonight. My first two immediate thoughts were:

A) This is weird – it’s rare to see Prince ever grace a late-night show couch, as he rarely grants TV interviews.

B) Since it is so rare, why did he agree to go on
George Lopez Tonight of all places? Even Lopez himself joked that he was wondering the same thing.
Regardless of the circumstances, the segment made for good TV. The interview was as awkward as you would expect with a guy who has trouble stringing together two sentences when he’s not singing. After the interview Prince got on stage to perform 1984’s “The Beautiful Ones”, if for no other reason than he’s Prince and he can do whatever he wants.
The whole thing was a classic example of what late night talk shows have become in the 21st century. On any given weeknight it’s possible to be entertained by TV’s after hours – there are just so many options and it’s all so random that finding out where the most interesting stuff is happening is a crapshoot.
Whether it’s Prince on George Lopez, Robert De Niro playing “Password” with Jimmy Fallon or Charlie Sheen making out with Jimmy Kimmel, I can usually find something that keeps me engaged enough to stave off sleep for a little while. It may not always be funny, per se, but as an impartial observer of pop culture in general, it keeps my attention.
As someone who is still under 30 – at least for about 10 months – the fact that I even watch late night talk shows on a regular basis likely makes me more the exception than the rule for my age range. It’s more of a tradition for older generations, who had Johnny Carson ruling the late night airwaves for 30 years.
Most of my friends don’t watch any of the “traditional” late-night shows with any sort of regularity. Many watch Comedy Central’s after-hours shows, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, but I don’t think of them as the same format.
With eight million ways to spend your time, I can’t say I’m shocked that the current late night shows don’t draw viewers in droves like their predecessors did. But to me these shows offer something you can’t get almost anywhere else on TV – spontaneity, or at least some element of it.
Scripted shows obviously don’t have any. Reality shows are often scripted too, and even when they aren’t, they are heavily edited. No matter what type of show you are watching, the likelihood is that a group of people sat in a dark room for several hours editing it in such a way so that it would appeal to the masses.
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Marc Ingber is a journalist with
Sun Newspapers, based in Minneapolis, MN. He was born and raised in the Twin Cities and attended journalism school at the University of Kansas. His primary interests include rock n' roll, movies, food and drink, the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins - probably in that order.
Read other articles by Marc Ingber
Joanne (Jo) O'Neill is a designer living in New York City. Originally from the UK, she is currently a Communication Design student at Parsons The New School for Design and has previously interned within the department of Creative Services at MTV Networks. She enjoys hand lettering, wood type, iced tea, tattoos, winter months and Morrissey.
This article can be found on p13 in Issue 6 of Vhcle Magazine.