Magazine article Variety

Late Night's Live Bait

Magazine article Variety

Late Night's Live Bait

Article excerpt

WHO WOULD SIT IN AN NBC waiting room for hours as the clock ticks past midnight? Dozens of people, as it turns out. The crowd hunkering down at NBC's 30 Rockefeller Center headquarters in New York City on the night of July 22 came to watch the "Late Night With Seth Meyers" crew make fun of the day's convention on live TV immediately after Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination. But Trump's speech dragged on far longer than expected, delaying the local news that followed, and pushing schedules so far back that "Late Night," in its first live broadcast in the show's three-decade history, didn't get started until about 1:20 a.m. EST. (Meyers'show normally tapes in the early evening and airs at 12:35 a.m.)

To make the live show happen, staffers rejiggered their routines completely, and extra cue-card writers were brought in so riffs could be readied for the host as quickly as the writers, watching the convention coverage live, could come up with them.

"The idea of getting so close to the source was irresistible," says "Late Night" producer Mike Shoemaker.

Beneath the ripped-ffom-the-headlines humor is something quite serious. The battle to win TV's late-night wars has grown as fierce as the one brewing between Trump and Hillary Clinton. TV's late-night crowd sees the time between the start of last week's Republican convention and the end of this week's Democratic event as a makeor-break period. With so many hosts tossing zingers, it's getting hard to stand out.

"Every day you're on, you have to give people a reason to come and watch you that's diff erent from your competition," says Chris Licht, executive producer of CBS'"Late Show With Stephen Colbert."

And so TV's wee-hours watchers have a surfeit of delights in July: two weeks of live shows from Colbert; one live "Late Night" during each convention week; two weeks of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" on the ground at the conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia; extra episodes of Bill Maher's five "Real Time" on HBO; and an election-themed special from TBS'Samantha Bee. ABC's Jimmy Kimmel dispatched a correspondent to the proceedings. Even "Saturday Night Live," normally on summer hiatus, is getting in on the action, sending "Weekend Update" anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che for live post-midnight berths on MSNBC from each convention once each week.

"The'live from'is a like a shot of adrenaline," says Ira Berger, director of national broadcast buying at the Richards Group, a large independent ad agency based in Dallas."The hope is that it brings some much-needed attention and new viewers, and those new viewers stay with the show post-convention."

CBS is eager to see Colbert strengthen his show's ratings. Licht, the former executive producer of "CBS This Morning," was brought in in April to help Colbert, who was taking on too much responsibility behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, NBC is pushing Meyers as a new force in political comedy. HBO livestreamed Maher on YouTube, an attempt to dangle his edgy commentary to a crowd that doesn't subscribe to its pay-cable service, as the Time Wamer-owned unit vies with Netflix and Amazon. And Comedy Central is making the case that Noah is finding his voice after inheriting the "Daily Show" job from Jon Stewart.

Indeed, it's Stewart's shadow that hangs over the entire circus. This is the first election in several cycles that has not had him at "The Daily Show" desk offering the pointed commentary that made him a mainstay among a certain generation of latenight watchers. …

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