If I May: Late Night, Revitalized Today
Issue   |   Tue, 10/03/2017 - 23:14

I discuss late-night television in this column often, and each time, I think to myself: “Is this really worth writing?” When I first became aware of late-night TV, it seemed as if the medium as a whole was on the decline. The titans of the late-night timeslots were starting to retire: first Leno, then Letterman. The man once tapped as the future of late-night, Conan O’Brien, was on a lesser network (TBS), and hosts like Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel were getting notoriety for their gimmicky bits that made for eye-catching YouTube content. The monologue, once the staple of late-night television, seemed to become the least important part of the show.

However, since the beginning of the 2016 primaries and especially during the presidential election and the months since President Donald Trump’s victory, the significance and importance of late-night TV has grown immensely, at least to me.

While much of the viewing of late-night content is still happening online, the type of content that is popular is changing. Now, instead silly guessing games involving celebrities, the top videos in a YouTube playlist titled “Catch Up on Late Night” includes hosts tackling more serious issues. For example, this past Tuesday, the playlist included multiple videos of Seth Meyers’ “A Closer Look” segment, in which he examines a particular aspect of a usually political issue in depth to give the viewer a greater understanding of it. Another video is from John Oliver’s latest episode of “Last Week Tonight,” where Oliver routinely takes fifteen to twenty minutes to present a comprehensive view of an issue, most recently forensic science.

Perhaps the most significant video on the playlist, though, is the one at the very top. It’s a clip from Monday night’s episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” In it, host Jimmy Kimmel uses his monologue as an opportunity to speak for nearly 10 minutes about the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. Kimmel, originally from Las Vegas, repeatedly gets emotional during the clip as he discusses the United States’ undeniable gun problem. At one point, he even mentions by name senators who receive a great deal of money from the NRA. Kimmel was able to use his platform to send a major message that will be seen by millions of Americans; the moment was both powerful and impressive.

These examples are just from the past couple of days. For months now, late-night hosts have been using their platforms to criticize and comment on today’s politics. While the traditional monologue has lost its significance, hosts today are adjusting their monologues to call out the president’s hypocrisy, urge Congress to take necessary action and draw the population’s attention to important issues. While just a few years ago it seemed that late-night TV was dying, ever since Trump came on the scene, late-night has been vaulted into a new degree of importance in American culture.