Whether it’s Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Jimmy Kimmel, or Jimmy Fallon, you have a ton of different late-night talk show hosts to watch.
Late-night shows have been a part of American TV history for decades.
Although they’ve been around since the introduction of TVs and networks, they didn’t rise in popularity until Johnny Carson’s debut on The Tonight Show.
Today, almost every network or streaming service has its own late-night show.
Here are a few reasons there are so many late-night shows on TV.
Why Are There So Many Late-Night Shows? (5 Reasons)
One of the main reasons there are so many late-night shows is simply their popularity.
When a show features a charismatic host with jokes and coverage that appeals to people, viewers will tune in regularly.
They want to be part of the experience of hearing the latest jokes and seeing the latest antics.
Late-night shows have changed a great deal since the 1960s.
While many still practice the traditional sit-down interview style of the program, others have transitioned to becoming almost a game show.
Jimmy Fallon, for example, regularly comes up with games or challenges for celebrity guests to take part in.
Audiences like what they see, so they keep watching.
This means that the network earns a good amount of money, too.
Since networks need to fill their TV schedules to earn as much money as possible, having a popular late-night show take up the slot is a no-brainer.
Networks aren’t the only ones with late-night shows, however.
HBO has its own late-night show through John Oliver.
Netflix has tried its hand at a few different late-night shows, too, albeit not as successfully.
Almost every streaming service has attempted to include some form of a late-night variety show.
They do so because they know that audiences enjoy watching them.
That’s easy money to make if they can find the right host and theme for the show.
2. Changing Viewing Habits
Another reason late-night shows are common is the change in viewing habits.
Late-night shows get their name for airing late in the evening.
From the 1960s up until only a few decades ago, this attracted a rather niche group of viewers.
They were either those workers who held a different shift than the standard nine-to-five or workers who did work from nine to five and wanted to stay up to watch the comedy acts.
Work schedules have changed over the years, however.
With the introduction of computers and the internet, people are able to work at home more often than ever before.
Even the COVID-19 pandemic helped transform the working landscape.
Since people were home more, they were also able to stay up later.
This meant that networks had more of a demand to fill with more shows.
There was an audience just waiting for the latest show to entertain themselves with.
Generally, the work landscape has changed for almost everyone.
Aside from those who need to commute over long distances, many people don’t have to start working before the sun rises.
Thanks to cheaper electricity, businesses can afford to let their employees come in after the sun has risen.
This gives workers the ability to sleep in a bit longer.
That also means they’re able to stay up longer and watch late-night TV.
As the working environment and schedules continue to shift in the future, late-night shows will likely remain popular as more people can watch them.
3. Celebrity Interviews
Another reason there are so many late-night shows is the number of celebrity interviews that they conduct.
People want to watch their favorite celebrities.
They want to get to know them.
Late-night shows offer that opportunity through interviews that range from the light-hearted to the serious.
The interview also acts as a PR event for the celebrity to promote their latest film, show, book, or album.
Perhaps one of the reasons there are so many late-night shows is that it allows more celebrities to sit down for an interview.
A late-night host like John Oliver or Trevor Noah, for example, is going to have different celebrity interviews than a host like Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Kimmel.
There are several late-night shows because each one is trying to dig into its own niche.
Part of that niche includes interviewing specific types of celebrities.
Some may be more political in nature than others.
Some may simply want to promote their latest film.
Others may be looking for a way to get their name back in the spotlight.
Whatever the reason, late-night shows attract celebrities.
Celebrities attract viewers.
The tone of the show is also why there many different types.
While many of them seem similar based on the stances they take or the celebrities they interview, the actual tone or skits vary.
Stephen Colbert, for example, tends to lean more towards cerebral humor even with his celebrities.
Jimmy Fallon tends to lean towards the wacky and meme-worthy humor, especially with his interviews with his celebrity guests.
Networks and streaming services each need a late-night show to cover their audience base, especially when it comes to the celebrities that they invite for an interview.
There are several different late-night shows because there are several different types of celebrities and each attracts a certain niche audience.
To remain profitable, savvy network and streaming service executives know they need a specific type of host and show to support those celebrities and draw in viewers.
That means they make more late-night shows.
4. News Outlets
Many late-night shows act as alternative news outlets.
John Oliver’s show, specifically, goes over the headlines of the previous week and dissects them with brutal humor.
Other shows touch on headlines for comedic purposes.
However, there’s no question that some people rely on late-night shows as their main source of news.
These individuals may work a certain shift that makes them miss standard news reports.
They can get their news through various media apps online, but when it comes to television, late-night shows are their go-to news source.
Because late-night shows can act as news outlets, it only makes sense that there’s a large number of them.
Like standard news outlets, you have a news program for almost every channel.
With each channel doing its own reporting and investigation, it helps ensure that the news and information aren’t coming from a single, corruptible, source.
The same philosophy holds for late-night shows.
Because there are several of them, audience members are able to get different pieces of the news from various sources.
There are several late-night shows because they also act as news outlets.
Network producers and streaming services want to give each side of the news its own platform.
To do so, they need several different late-night shows.
A final reason there are so many late-night shows is sponsorship.
In most cases, a late-night show skit has some form of sponsor for that evening.
You can sometimes see it as a banner, a product display, or the host might even do a review of the product.
Sponsors want to get their brand in front of audiences.
However, they’re aware that they also need to market themselves in front of an audience that would actually have an interest in buying their product or service.
It would be silly for a sponsor to support a show with a young audience when their product targets seniors, for example.
Because of this, sponsors look for the best opportunity to spend their marketing budget.
Networks and streaming services want a slice of that cake.
They have several different late-night shows to ensure that they have almost every type of audience imaginable.
This ensures that when a sponsor approaches them, they have the perfect show in mind for them to sponsor.
While sponsors, themselves, don’t initiate new shows, producers keep them in mind when deciding whether to start a new late-night show or not.
Are Late-Night Show Ratings Decreasing?
There’s no question that, while there are a large number of late-night shows, their popularity is starting to wane.
One way to examine the decline is to look at Jimmy Fallon’s ratings.
When he debuted as the host of The Tonight Show in 2014, he brought in 11 million viewers.
His ratings in 2019 had fallen to just under two million viewers.
The other late-night shows haven’t fared much better.
It isn’t a case of viewers moving from one host to another.
They’re not watching late-night TV at all.
Here are a few reasons late-night show ratings are starting to decline.
There’s no question that YouTube has had an impact on the ratings of late-night shows.
One of the perks of YouTube is that it often shows clips or even entire episodes of late-night shows.
This encourages viewers to skip the commercials and watch the highlights of the show.
Not every joke is going to land at a show.
Not everyone wants to see an interview with a certain celebrity.
Thanks to YouTube, viewers can simply watch the parts of the show that they want to see.
The problem is that this encourages viewers to turn to YouTube instead of the network to watch their favorite hosts.
The show ends up losing its viewer base, and thus more money, as a result.
They don’t get paid for those YouTube videos.
The person who posts the clip does.
YouTube has pulled people away from their TVs and encouraged them to watch via the website instead.
Another type of social media that is pushing late-night shows towards their demise is Twitter.
The main audience for late-night shows is between 18 and 49 years old.
Those are also the ages of people using Twitter.
On Twitter, you can get anything from the latest news to some serious comedy.
The problem is that comedy arrives on Twitter before it comes to late-night shows.
Late-night shows are too slow for the modern age of the internet.
People hear jokes through Twitter and other sites before Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon tells them on their respective shows.
The joke falls flat because the viewer has already heard it 10 times on Twitter.
Some hosts even collect Tweets to joke about them.
The average Twitter user has likely already seen those Tweets, too, thanks to the algorithm pushing trending Tweets to the top of the list.
Thanks to Twitter, the jokes on most late-night shows end up becoming stale.
Since they’re supposed to be a comedy series, if the jokes are falling flat, then viewers aren’t going to stay up to watch the skits anymore.
The celebrity who arrives at the interview is also contributing to low viewership.
Back in the days of Carson, there were in-depth interviews with celebrities.
Audience members were able to learn a little more about their favorite celebrities.
It was a glimpse behind the veil of stardom.
These days, most of the interviews are superficial at best.
The hosts stick to the same questions that the celebrity has to answer night after night.
Sometimes celebrities get the chance to divulge some private information that matters to them, but usually, their interview only lasts a handful of minutes before they’re shuffled off for a commercial break or to play a silly game designed to humiliate them.
There’s also been a general shift in how audiences feel about celebrities, too.
A few years ago, perhaps even before the COVID-19 pandemic, audiences wanted to know everything about a celebrity.
It was easy to sell the lie that celebrities were just like everyone else.
The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, showed how very different they are from their fans.
As a result, there’s been some pushback against celebrities and how much the average viewer wants to know about them or cares about them outside of their projects.
There’s a chance that if late-night shows revamp their celebrity interviews, then they might be able to gain viewers again.
Even still, with the general population feeling lukewarm towards celebrities, doing so can be a risk.
4. Streaming Platform Struggles
Netflix and other streaming platforms face a unique challenge that’s costing them viewers.
They’re unable to market their new late-night shows as well as networks.
That’s because Netflix doesn’t host commercials.
At most, they can suggest a late-night show to you.
However, that’s only if you’ve shown interest in topics close to them.
Based on Netflix’s algorithm, you may never even see that they have a few different late-night shows on their platform.
If you do see a late-night show, then you may still not click on it to watch it because you don’t know anything about it.
Network shows have the advantage here because they can put clips of upcoming late-night shows in their commercials to promote them.
While you’re watching your favorite CBS or NBC show, you’ll see a clip of a late-night show and some of the features they intend to show.
It usually includes some of the funniest bits to encourage you to watch.
Netflix can’t do that.
While you’re binging a Netflix show, it won’t ever stop you mid-way through to show you some funny clips of their upcoming late-night show.
Because of that, Netflix isn’t always able to garner enough viewership for their shows to continue to budget for them.
As a result, they end up canceling the show and trying again.
This doesn’t give those who did watch the show and enjoyed it any confidence in watching late-night shows moving forward.
Why should they get attached to a host and theme of a show if Netflix is just going to cancel it?
Unlike network shows, Netflix doesn’t simply hire a new host to take over.
The entire show ends.
Streaming services face problems with viewership due to their inability to market them to new audiences.
There are a lot of late-night shows because they all cater to different audiences.
Networks who want to generate profit from their shows try to make new shows to further capitalize on new niche audiences who want a new theme, type of host, or different type of coverage.
While there are lots of late-night shows, their viewership has started to decline over the years.
The reasons listed above are some of the contributing factors to their decline.