TV’s late-night shows are going to bed early for the foreseeable future.
ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” CBS’ “The Late Show” Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” and NBC’s “Tonight” and “Late Night” are all going on hiatus as a result of the start of the Hollywood writers’ strike — and the shows could be off the air for at least a few weeks. In place of new programs, NBC, CBS and ABC will air repeats of those shows. HBO will also cease live production of “Real Time with Bill Maher” and “This Week Tonight” with John Oliver. Immediate word on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” was not available.
Writers play an integral role in TV’s late-night schedule, bashing out multiple jokes, one-liners and sketches each day that play off current events and trending popular culture. The contract between the Writers’ Guild of American an the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents about 350 TV and film production companies, ended on May 1.
One wee-hours competitor intends to keep going: Fox News Channel says it will continue to broadcast new shows of Greg Gutfeld’s 11 p.m. panel program.
The late-night shows often serve as a leading indicator of sentiment. When the WGA last went on strike in 2008, the hosts stayed off the air for two months. But Jay Leno, Kimmel, David Letterman and Conan O’Brien managed to return to the air. Letterman did so by coming to new terms with the WGA, and was able to bring his writing staff with him. Others had to wing it, with Leno doing his own monologues. “There are more people picketing NBC than watching NBC,” he told viewers on his first night back.
The strike is likely to interrupt several business plans. At Comedy Central, executives are testing a broad array of guest hosts for “Daily Show,” including turns by the program’s cadre of faux-news correspondents. Dulce Sloan had just kicked off a four-day stint at the helm of the program Monday evening. “SNL” was starting to prepare for an appearance later this week by former cast member Pete Davidson, who was set to host a new broadcast of the series Saturday night.
The strike is not likely to help the late-night programs maintain viewership levels, an ongoing problem in TV’s streaming era. In 2018, seven late night programs — NBC’s “Tonight” and “Late Night,” CBS’ “Late Show” and “Late Late Show,” ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” — drew more than $698 million in advertising in 2018, according to Vivvix, a tracker of ad spending. By 2022, that total came to $412.7 million — a drop of approximately 41% over five years. Fallon, Kimmel, Colbert and the others have all in recent years had to grapple not only with viewers moving to streaming, but with a coronavirus pandemic that forced their shows to embrace performances without a band and live audiences and absences due to infection.
After an era of expansion following the exists of David Letterman and Jon Stewart, the networks have begun to cut back on their late-night portfolios, with NBC getting out of programming the 1:30 a.m. hour, and CBS planning to install a game show in the slot that had been occupied by James Corden. Warner Bros. Discovery has not mounted replacements for Conan O’Brien or Samantha Bee, both of whom had regular slots on TBS.
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