Jimmy Fallon’s late-night audience is now about 2 million. When he began his show, it was an audience of 11 million.
But he’s not alone.
All late-night talk show’s audiences are down considerably and there are many reasons.
Too many shows, too many clips of its best moments can be seen online….streaming…and frankly, boredom.
Look, I’m a political person and I loved great political humor when it was beginning. But every night, every SINGLE night the late-night monologues are almost all about politics…and I think people are weary and turned off.
There’s plenty of places to hear and see what’s going on in politics besides late night shows, and I believe that people want to be entertained at 11:30pm or later.
Seth Myers is an extremely funny and talented person, but most people, if they know him at all, know him for “A Closer Look,” which usually hammers away at Trump and the Republicans and the outrage. I can’t remember anyone telling me they remember a single interview from Seth Myers show.
When Johnny Carson was the greatest figure on late-night, he would occasionally offer satire and jokes about politics. But most people who watched remembered him as “Carnac” or “Aunt Blabby”, or “Art Fern”. And Johnny was a congenial interviewer who loved his guests to score…like Rodney Dangerfield did about 80 times on his set.
And Dave? Don’t even get me started.
Sure, Letterman mocked Bush, Trump, and Clinton, but more people enjoyed his wacky “Stupid Pet Tricks”, “Top 10 Lists”, throwing stuff off buildings, and other silly things.
I think we miss “silly” and “goofy”.
I think we looked for late-night shows to entertain us, make us laugh, make us remember that life shouldn’t be looked at so seriously. I think of all those Letterman and Conan shows with Norm McDonald, and people who were offbeat, like Bruce Willis, and Bill Murray, and Martin Short, who came to “play” on the show. They came prepared for comedic anarchy to do anything that would upset the status quo.
Johnny could also be warm and engaging with guests. His relationships with people like Jack Benny, or Jimmy Stewart were interesting, and congenial, and America misses that. I don’t have any evidence of this, but I think Americans miss congeniality on late night shows.
I wonder if late night talk will even be a “thing” in a few years.
Recently, James Corden left his late-night show. I never saw a full episode, but I, like most people, enjoyed his “Carpool Karaoke” segments…and it caught on with scores of superstars who joined him.
I always thought there were only 3 “Kings” of Late Night. First, Steve Allen. Then Johnny. Then Dave. I did love Conan too, but he was a bit harder to access nightly…easier now with YouTube.
Anyway, I have to say this. I think all the late-night hosts have skills, and talents, and Colbert is a fine interviewer too, because he’s so smart and humane. But I have NEVER watched a full late-night show since Letterman left. Not on any network. Maybe it’s my age, but I cherish going to sleep by 11, and nothing those shows offer me makes me want to stay up.
I think the “Golden Age” of late night has come and gone. And today’s late shows are often the same tired jokes and outrage.
I think I’d rather go to bed.
And obviously, judging by the ratings and dwindling audience numbers…I’m not alone.
By Roy Firestone | May 2, 2023
Emmy Award Winning Journalist