Friday, March 4, 2016

Inexplicable TV Review: A ranking of late night comedy political shows

The current king of the mountain.

Here is my current power rankings of the late night political comedy shows, since there has been quite a bit of upheaval the past two years, thanks to the “retirements” of Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert, essentially. If it’s not on this list (of four), then I’m probably not watching it. I’ll have a ranking of the “proper” late night shows at another time.

4) The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore. I understand what Comedy Central was trying to do with this show, but ugh. It just reminds me of a low-wattage Politically Incorrect, Bill Maher’s show that was on ABC ages ago (at this point). On paper, the concepts of both shows seemingly work – Let’s get a panel of comedians and smart people to talk about some current events! However, in practice, it often devolves into the loudest voices getting the most airtime, and spitballed, ad-libbed crap takes the place of polished material you typically see on a late night show.

Unsurprisingly to me, the ratings are bad. Per Wikipedia, the show started with an average of 885,000 live viewers a show in January 2015. Viewers fell steadily to 615,000 in May, before ticking back up to 773,000 in July. However, from July, they’ve plateaued between 500,000 and 570,000, with a nadir of 405,000 in September. In contrast, The Colbert Report was around 1.24 million. The show doesn’t seem like it costs much to produce, so I imagine it’s safe up until a) Comedy Central thinks of something ‘better’ to put on the air, which is highly debatable with them or b) the contracts for the show’s talent come due.

3) The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. I seem to like Noah more than many others on the Internet, but I think he’s a bit ‘wrong’ for The Daily Show’s established format at this point. He seems much more comfortable with lighter pieces and celebrities than Stewart ever was, but he definitely struggles with the political aspects. Ratings are better than The Nightly Show, with around 800,000 viewers, but still well off the levels established by Stewart.

I think the show would be better if they pivoted back toward the show that Craig Kilborn ran, which was way more focus on entertainment and celebrities. There’s a bit of a void in this category to me, since The Soup is finally off the air, unfortunately. However, I realize what audience they have might revolt at this point from such a major format change.

The other option would be to just change the host, and give Noah his own show that’s more appropriate for what he wants to do. Like, give him an entertainment-focused show at midnight or 10:30 p.m. (The latter worked so well for Leno!) I don’t think Tina Fey or Amy Poehler or other established megastars would be interested in the job, but any of the current correspondents would probably be better at a politically-themed show. Especially Jessica Williams.

2) Full Frontal With Samantha Bee. It’s early, but it’s really good through the three episodes I’ve seen. The show is currently weekly, but I’d like to see it expand to daily, to pair more properly with Conan’s show. I might write more fully about it in the future, when there are more episodes to really analyze.

1) Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. It’s heavily made the rounds this week because of Donald Trump, which is good, because the show really found its legs in its second season. When it initially hit the airwaves, it felt like a worse version of The Daily Show to me. After all, why would I be interested in a version of that show that came out simply once a week?

However, the show shifted its focus to a single long segment or big issue a week, and struck gold. While the focus has been on the Trump takedown this week, I think his single best segment has been on horrible, exploitive churches and preachers. In that single 20-minute segment, there are actually three separate, splendid comedy segments – the initial layout of the issue with Oliver’s comments, the detailing of the correspondence exchange with the preacher, and then, the establishment of Oliver’s church. And unlike a lot of shows, Oliver followed up on the church with two additional segments in future episodes.

While the church episode was my favorite, each week Oliver is doing a similar mixture of journalistic expose and humor on a new issue. I actually thought his Trump one was one of his weaker efforts, as his best ones are normally somewhat apolitical, like on public defenders or the stupidity of the penny, or about how his own memes are incorrect. Regardless, each week his show is appointment viewing for me.

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