The late-night world is full of new and new-ish players.
When you first check the internet in the morning, you might come across a clip of John Oliver picking apart a thorny topic in his dry comedic style on his HBO show. Or Stephen Colbert, who took over from David Letterman earlier this year, poking gleeful fun at Donald Trump. Or Jimmy Fallon playing a game with Adele. Soon “Daily Show” alum Samantha Bee will join the fray with her own show debuting next year.
But aside from the viral clips, which of these shows is actually worth your time? After giving some hosts time to settle into their new gigs and build a name against the veterans, Business Insider watched all the current major late-night shows on the air and assessed the best and worst of the pack.
Here’s what we found:
Coming right after 'The Daily Show,' Wilmore's 'Nightly Show' has an even more obvious liberal bent to its satire. Wilmore is willing to get vicious in attacking subjects, especially, of course, Republicans whenever they seem to misspeak. But he brings more authority and intelligence to this mockey than Noah, and deserves more ratings than he's getting. The big problem for 'The Nightly Show' is the latter roundtable section, a complete misfire in which multiple guests compete for time and seem to reiterate what's already been said. With a little revamping, Wilmore's show could be much improved.
Carson Daly's very late offering, 'Last Call,' feels like the gig that best fits the former '90s MTV V.J. He's come out of his shell on 'The Voice' and shows his chipper side in the morning for 'Today's' Orange Room. But 'Last Call' allows him to use strange camera angles, don his leather jacket, and give bands some exposure. From performances to interviews, the show plays with artsy technique and effects. It's not for everyone, but that's probably why it's at 1:35 a.m.
Seth Meyers went into the 'Late Night' gig with the force of 'Saturday Night Live' behind him. Lorne Michaels produces the talk show, too. If you believe that Meyers was the best news reader of recent 'SNL' history, then you probably get a kick out of seeing him behind the desk for the show's first half. That said, Meyers isn't the smoothest interviewer. He tends to wind up way too much before pitching his guests a question. But he's quick as a whip when it comes to returning with a joke.
The choice of Brit James Corden to replace Craig Ferguson on CBS's 'Late Late Show' was puzzling to some at first. But really, that time of the night is a good chance to test out new talent. The comedian is clearly comfortable as a song-and-dance man. He'll take any opportunity to show that off. Like on some British talk shows, Corden interviews his guests at the same time. That can make for some messy conversations when you really want to hear someone out. But it also can bring some great moments when all the stars are aligned.
Perhaps the first late-night show catering to the Millennials, '@midnight' combines the most trending topics from the internet with comedians to create a hilarious half-hour of television. Chris Hardwick is the perfect mix of geek and jokester as the host, not overshadowing the comics but also holding his own. If you are tired of the traditional late-night format, give this a try.
Sometimes on a Friday night you need to vent, and over on HBO, there's no one better to give you that release than Bill Maher. His venom is usually directed toward the Republicans, but in this current climate of gun violence and presidential hopefuls, he has enough hate for everyone. Sometimes his guests can't get a word in, but on the right night when there's a good mix of topics to discuss and guests who aren't scared by Bill, it can be a lot of fun.
He may have decamped from 'The Daily Show,' but it's fair to assume that many of Jon Stewart's most die-hard fans have drifted over to the English comedian's HBO program. Presented in a weekly format, 'Last Week Tonight' allows Oliver to unpack a complex, highly important political subject with the same kind of dry wit that made Stewart beloved -- though it can also sometimes come off as smug. If you didn't already understand what civil forfeiture is, he'll get you up to speed and make you smile.
There's no getting around the fact that Trevor Noah looks like a kid in his first suit. The new 'Daily Show' host is still very green -- the South African comedian had made a scant few appearances on the show before replacing Jon Stewart. But with most of the same staff in place, the writing remains extremely sharp, and Noah is charming enough delivering his lines. Things get significantly more awkward, however, during the interview portion of the show, when Noah can seem a little out of his element.
It's hard to find anyone who's having a better time on their show than Andy Cohen (sorry, Jimmy Fallon). The Bravo executive has turned himself into the emcee of all things Bravo with the wrap-up episodes of its 'Housewives' franchise. But now he's combined that lack of fear to ask the embarrassing question with his good nature to make 'Watch What Happens: Live' into a must-see. And it's even more fun when his guests are a little tipsy on the free booze they are given.
Conan O'Brien, along with Bill Maher, has been around longest on this list (they both started their first late-night shows in 1993). And for better or worse, it shows. O'Brien works the most loosely with his material, which allows for ingenious asides and bits of explosive physical comedy that make 'Conan' stand out. It is often laugh-out-loud funny. But the show's writing is not always the sharpest, and O'Brien can occasionally seem bored with the task of interviewing his second-tier guests.
Though Fallon replaced Jay Leno on the top-rated late-night show, and continues to deliver stellar ratings, he shares little with either his predecessor or Leno rival David Letterman. Fallon eschews many of the old standard bits and sit-down interviews in favour of involving celebrities in random games. They can be twee, but when they work, they really work, showing off much more of the celebrities' natural personalities than rehearsed anecdotes ever would (just watch Channing Tatum lie). Fallon is also an endlessly delighted host. He fawns all over his guests, telling each of them how much he loves them and their work, which can grow tiresome. But he has the pull to get the biggest guests of any talk show, which makes for reason enough to watch.
Jimmy Kimmel seems to be having the most fun of any of the current late-night hosts, which means we have fun watching it, too. He's a prankster, who relishes in the stock in trade of classic late-night shows, the man-on-the-street interview, asking regular people absurd questions that get absurd answers, and starting a possibly staged feud with Kanye West. And he's been lucky with his guests, getting the cast and filmmakers of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' and 'The Hateful Eight' to join for the party, and offer a few scoops.
Stephen Colbert's switch from his satirical conservative persona on 'The Colbert Report' to a more traditional late-night format on CBS (taking over from David Letterman) raised all kinds of questions: What would actual Colbert be like, and would he be as funny? It turns out 'The Late Show' gives Colbert the freedom to perform all kinds of hosting styles. He frequently launches into characters for sketches at the top of the show, to lambast the latest fallen Republican candidate, for example. But then he can also give sobering, thoughtful interviews, as he did with Joe Biden. Not quite everything on Colbert's new show works (we're looking at you, 'Big Questions') but most everything does, which on a nightly talk show is rare and wonderful.
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