Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Jimmy Fallon and many more names have become a recent sensation in today’s culture. Filled with sketches, comedy bits, news and guest interviews, late night shows have become the new media outlets for many. However, late night shows have only just become a big phenomenon within the past decade. So let’s rewind back in time to when the whole concept of late night shows was just getting started.
Leslie Townes Hope (also known as Bob Hope) was a boxer before he became a comedian and actor on Broadway. As his fame grew, he began appearing on the radio, often being praised for his comedic timing and rapid fire delivery. However, by the 1950’s, his ratings began to suffer so he decided to switch his platform and focus on television. His radio show, the Pepsodent Show, in which he talked about politics within his stand-up, is whatstarted the idea of late night shows.
The very first of these late night shows were called variety shows, as they had different types of entertainment within the show itself such as music, comedy, acrobatics, magic and more. These shows were often given prime-time slots in the day, usually seven to ten in the evenings for families to watch after work and school. One of the earliest of the late night shows was the Ed Sullivan Show, originally called Toast of the Town. The show started in 1948 and lasted for 23 years. It was known for its many different performances, and helped American television pave the way for new types of late-night shows.
While there were many types of variety shows that went on and off the air, the first installment of The Tonight Show is what really propelled the late night show concept. It had an opening monologue, comedy bits, celebrity interviews and musical performances, which led to huge success all across America. One of the main reasons for this however, was the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an agency of the United States government created to regulate communication by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The FCC had lifted a ‘freeze’ on new television stations, which meant that now new stations were able to emerge, and this created a wild excitement for the television world. This phenomenon allowed for competition between late-night shows, some of the most notorious being Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Fast forward to today, where there are so many late-night shows, it’s hard to keep track. While each show is slightly different, the format of an opening monologue, comedy bits and celebrity interviews has barely changed. However, many shows now have news segments that inform their viewers of the daily headlines. These news segments started becoming more and more popular since 2014, and have completely exploded in the past few years giving biased, humorous reports to entertain the audience.
Late-night shows have grown immensely in the past few decades and will continue to do so. One of the many distinguishable aspects of late-night shows are their hosts, all of whom are male at the moment. However, on March 14, 2019, Lilly Singh, a well-known YouTuber, known for her name as Superwoman, is going to be the first female late night show host since Cynthia Garrett hosted Later in 2000-2001. This is a big step for gender equality within the workplace and will help pave the way for more women within this industry. So while late-night shows have developed into an overnight sensation, it does not mean they are at their final point in history.