I have a love hate relationship with late night American chat shows. They never caught on in the UK (although Channel 5 did try it with Jack Docherty when they launched In 1997) but they have been an institution in the US since the 1960’s. You may remember I blogged about our trip to see Jay Leno’s recording of Tonight back in 2012 . lt’s all change now and Leno has retired (again) and Jimmy Fallon is now King of late nights.
The big change though has been the coast it comes from. Leno was West coast in LA, whereas Fallon come out of the Rockerfella Centre in New York. The other thing that Fallon brings with him is the Saturday Night Live (SNL) pedigree (another programme I have a love hate relationship with. It has been the big break for some great comedians (Will Ferrell,Tina Fey, Amy Pohler etc), has some excellent writing but the fact that the cast read off cue cards just lets it down IMHO). Fallon has also taken SNL’s exec producer Lorne Michaels so it has that East coast edge…sort of.
Most nights that I have been writing this blog I’ve been watching Fallon (either that or listening to the Archers. Rock’n’roll) as I normally only get to writing at around 10:30. The format of Tonight is much the same:
First guest (big name)
Some kind of feature
Another guest (slightly less well known….or completely unknown to me in some cases)
I guess at heart it’s a good old fashioned variety show, but to the British palette it can be all a bit….well…cheesy. But let’s go with the positives, a lot of the gags are good, but they are spread a bit thinly. I counted 11 writers on the programme, which equates to 1.5 gags per writer. Some of the features work, others don’t. It is on five nights a week, you can’t expect a perfect hit rate, but I guess what is that most different to UK chat shows is how they treat the guests.
Last night Fallon had Donald Trump on. The audience whooped with delight. They also whooped with delight when he told them that Hilary Clinton was coming on soon, so I don’t think they were whooping on party lines, just the fact that he had the two biggest names in politics on his show. So Mr Trump comes on; doesn’t fire anyone; isn’t racist; doesn’t threaten to build a wall. Jimmy shows him a picture of his old home. Donald gets a bit dewey eyed and cracks a joke about wanting to buy it back. Then comes the piece de resistance (which a lot of you will probably have already seen). Jimmy asks if he can ruffle Donald’s hair, which he did to rapturous applause. Trump laughs but as the camera pulls back as they go into an ad break, you see Trump say something to Jimmy and Jimmy’s face change somewhat. Perhaps the gag wasn’t such a good idea.
Compare that to the way that Nick Clegg, Jeremy Corbyn or even Boris Johnson’s dad were treated on the Last Leg. No hair ruffles, but boy were they put through the comedy ringer. I suppose that NBC is a very mainstream channel and that audience wants something more palatable and tame than what Channel 4 can offer, but it does all feel a bit sycophantic to me.
After the late show is the late, late show (11:30). NBC sticks with SNL alumni with Seth Meyers but CBS have really gone out on a limb with James Corden. Yes our James Corden. Smithy. Him. Of course he really isn’t Smithy (from Gavin and Stacey) he’s a bona fide thespian. We tend to forget that he’s appeared at National Theatre in the History Boys and he really made a name for himself in One Man, Two Guvnors (which bizarrely enough I saw an advert for on the metro yesterday). We tend to just remember him for presenting The BRITS and a really not very good sketch show with Mathew Horne. (If you get a chance check out the interview he did with John Bishop on Dave (I think). The interview was like being mauled by a Labrador puppy (I think John has been getting lessons from Jimmy) but JC came across a really nice bloke (but I wish he had said Pam-e-la at least once)).
James is not the first Brit the Americans have tried out in that most desirable midnight slot. He took over from Scot Craig Fergusson who commanded that slot for 10 years. The thing that has shot JC to fame has been car pool karaoke where he drives celebs around and gets them to sing along to the radio (a bit like Peter Kay does in Car Share, but JC claims it goes back to that Smithy/George Michael sketch from Comic Relief). It’s a bit weird watching him in front of a studio audience as he seems to be playing the role of an English actor playing the role of and American chat show host. Oh hold on, he’s a thesp isn’t he. That explains it. He also stoops too much as if his suit is a we bit too tight (which it is). I’m sure, like me, he has no idea who half his guests are, but being an actor he hides it better than I ever could. His strength is definitely when he is being himself in the film inserts when he is pretending to be Jimmy Fallon in the studio. Anyway, less of my moaning. Time to find out how the trial is going in the Archers.
By the way, if you want a witty look at UK television you should check out the Shouting at the Telly blog at shoutingatthetelly.com It doesn’t appear to have been updated for a while though. Perhaps the person that writes it is on holiday. 😉
Tomorrow: You say metro, I say metra.