NBC Considers Demoting Late Night Lineup as Genre Faces Uncertain Future

NBC is mulling a shift away from the network’s once prestigious late-night television lineup.

Company executives are in discussion to turn over the 10 p.m ET national broadcast to affiliates to air local content. A report in the New York Times says the move could see “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” start at 10:30 p.m., a move away from the traditional late-night start time of 11:35 pm.

NBC views these options as means to cut costs as ad revenue continues to decline.

Fallon would not mistake an earlier airing of “Tonight” as a promotion. Do you remember the infamous “Jay Leno Show” that aired on NBC at 10 p.m.? You might not because it didn’t last more than a year as local stations screeched about its putrid viewership.

In addition, NBCUniversal would like to demote the 12:30 a.m. show, “Late Night With Seth Meyers” from NBC to the Peacock streaming service or MSNBC.

Nothing shows less of a vote of confidence than a network moving a program from broadcast television to a struggling streamer or cable news network with a median age of 65.

NBC isn’t the only network concerned with the future feasibility of the late-night genre. Late-night requires a large budget and staff. And the return on these investments have waned across the industry.

The late-night shows on network television generated $253.6 million in advertising revenue through the first six months of 2022, down 16% from 2021. Notably, “Late Night With Seth Meyers” failed to reach the $20 million mark.

Elsewhere, TBS calculated that it could no longer keep late-night afloat. The network canceled “Conan” last year and canceled “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” earlier this year. Samantha Bee had hoped calling Ianka Trump a “feckless c—” could offset her measly ratings. Unfortunately for her, TBS fired her anyway.

Networks used to have to force late-night hosts to retire. Today, they are leaving the space of their own accord. CBS’s” Late Late Show” host James Corden and “Daily Show” dork Trevor Noah both declined contract extensions and will leave their respective programs in the coming year.

There’s no one reason for the fall of late-night. There are several. Fewer people watch television than at any time before. Interviews, monologues, and sketches often play better in the form of on-demand social media clips than on weeknight television. Notably, “The Tonight Show” has 30 million YouTube subscribers.

But undoubtedly, the industry has struggled as it has pivoted more aggressively toward politics. The ABC, NBC, and CBS late-night shows used to distinguish from the “Daily Show,” Bill Maher, and John Oliver with an emphasis on not politics but pop culture.

Yet the current batch of late-night hosts grew as infatuated with Donald Trump and the culture war as the “political satirists .” This created a two-fold dilemma.

First, comedic shows are fearful to parody most social issues at the risk some corporate journalist would label them racist, homophobic, sexist, transphobic, or too white. We wrote a column on this phenomenon last week.

As a result, “comedians” don’t dare venture past jokes about Trump, white supremacy, and the unvaxxed. Political satire is now predictable, repetitive, and unfunny.

Second, viewers never bought into Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel as political voices. They don’t have the chops for it. Fallon and Kimmel are notoriously not all that bright.

The industry’s failures propelled Stephen Colbert atop late-night television. Last week, Colbert led all of late-night with 2.3 million viewers.

Colbert is not funny. He’s cringe and off-putting. However, he’s synonymous with political comedy. He used to portray a character on “The Colbert Report” — also named Stephen Colbert — whom he based loosely on Bill O’Reilly.

Unlike the Jimmys, the politicized state of late-night fit directly into Colbert’s wheelhouse. Thus he’s No.1 by default.

The weak competition from ABC and NBC doesn’t require Colbert to even produce comedy. Here’s Colbert taking Dr. Fauci to get a Covid booster last Thursday in what he considered a “worthy bit.”

If that — whatever that is — is the standard of late-night, NBC might as well cease operations and let Fallon fail at 10:30.

Long live the days of Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and Jay Leno.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers media, politics, and sports at OutKick.

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