Late night TV, as form, hasn’t changed significantly since it first hit small screens in the 1950s. Current programs, from the likes of “Conan” to “Late Night with Seth Meyers” typically follow a familiar formula. They usually involve a host interviewing an esteemed guest, a video sketch, music, observational comedy and politically-tinged satire. Like with many things, what makes a late night talk show stand out is not necessarily its departure from a well-worn format, but rather, the cult of personality that it creates. And of course, the precise sting of the host’s zingers. Who could forget Conan’s recent roasting of Kumail Nanjiani, when he cancelled thirty minutes before the show was set to go live?
Stemming from the variety show format, late night TV has remained a mainstay of American television and continues to entertain viewers, and even inspire burgeoning comedians. When Nanjiani apologized to Conan on Twitter, he said that the show was “the reason [he] started comedy.”
Emmy nominated actress and executive producer Mindy Kaling, a one-time “Conan” intern, has been a particularly vocal champion of her former boss. It wouldn’t be a far stretch of the imagination to assume that her Sundance comedy “Late Night” was nurtured as the result of evenings spent watching late night TV.
Part of what makes the form unique is that it seeks to both entertain and educate. In recent years, programs like “The Daily Show,” “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” have intrenched themselves into the news cycle. Many viewers turn to late night as a way of learning about the major political and cultural events of the week; audiences chuckle as they process and wrestle with current events.
Women in Late Night
Traditionally, however, the late night talk show has been slow to feature women at the helm. There has only been a few female hosts in its long history, including Joan Rivers from “The Late Show with Joan Rivers,” and Cynthia Garrett of “Later.” But within the past few years, network executives have responded to a desire for more women-led late night. Samantha Bee has amassed a strong following with her upbeat and sardonic hosting style, while newcomer Busy Philipps, whose E! Network show “Busy Tonight” was cancelled this past May after its first season, was a welcome addition. Thankfully, she is reportedly searching for a new network to house her show. And YouTuber Lilly Singh will be getting her own NBC show, “A Little Late with Lilly Singh,” taking Carson Daly’s former time slot.