Late night get­ting LESS PO­LIT­I­CAL

New cast of char­ac­ters not as par­ti­san

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - ENTERTAINMENT -

fair-minded,” said Ni­colle Wal­lace, co-host of The View and a cam­paign ad­viser for Repub­li­can can­di­date John McCain and Ge­orge W. Bush. “From where I sat on the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum, he was in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant.”

Not so much Leno’s CBS ri­val Let­ter­man, who on The Late Show was a scathing critic of Ge­orge W. Bush and Dick Cheney and re­lent­lessly ridiculed McCain for can­celling an ap­pear­ance on his show dur­ing the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

Leno was suc­ceeded by Jimmy Fal­lon, who so far seems re­luc­tant to al­low par­ti­san ran­cour to spoil the fun­house at­mos­phere of his show. His em­pha­sis on games and mu­si­cal par­o­dies means fewer punch­lines drawn from the head­lines.

Lichter found that, while at Late Night, Fal­lon had about half as many po­lit­i­cal jokes as Let­ter­man or Leno — a trend that ap­pears to have con­tin­ued since he moved to Tonight last year. As an in­ter­viewer, he seems averse to con­fronta­tion. Per­haps the most con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject to come up in his re­cent con­ver­sa­tion with Jeb Bush was the use of peas in gua­camole (Fal­lon is for; Bush against).

This Septem­ber, two more big changes are in the off­ing that could re­duce the Belt­way chat­ter in late night.

On Sept. 8, Col­bert will take over for Let­ter­man, leav­ing be­hind his highly po­lit­i­cal Col­bert Re­port per­sona.

At Com­edy Cen­tral, Col­bert en­gi­neered a new form of par­tic­i­pa­tory satire with his Bill O’Reilly-es­que char­ac­ter, run­ning for pres­i­dent twice, form­ing a su­per-PAC to ed­u­cate view­ers about the Supreme Court’s Cit­i­zens United de­ci­sion and even tes­ti­fy­ing on Capi­tol Hill — in char­ac­ter, nat­u­rally — about mi­grant work­ers.

“Col­bert’s the most overtly po­lit­i­cal talk-show host,” Lichter said, “and he’s walk­ing into a show that is the most dif­fer­ent from what he’s done be­fore.”

Based on a spoof of GOP can­di­date Don­ald Trump Col­bert re­leased online in June, his ap­petite for po­lit­i­cal satire ap­pears to re­main strong, but sim­ply by virtue of host­ing an hour-long net­work show, he’ll prob­a­bly have to di­ver­sify.

On Sept. 28, Trevor Noah — a rel­a­tively un­known comic from South Africa whose standup draws from his ex­pe­ri­ences as a mixed-race child raised dur­ing apartheid — picks up the man­tle of The Daily Show from Stewart. He will bring a unique take on race and cul­tural iden­tity, if not an ex­haus­tive un­der­stand­ing of Amer­i­can elec­toral pol­i­tics, to the job.

When Stewart took over from Craig Kil­born in 1999, few could have pre­dicted the host of the short-lived Jon Stewart Show would make The Daily Show es­sen­tial elec­tion-year view­ing. And per­haps even fewer might have guessed he’d be­come “a thought leader for this gen­er­a­tion,” said Michael Steele, for­mer chair­man of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee and once a fre­quent tar­get of Stewart’s mock­ery.

Though Stewart has con­tin­u­ally balked at the idea he is any­thing more than a co­me­dian, as host of The Daily Show, he has gained such stature the New York Times likened him to a “mod­ern-day equiv­a­lent of Ed­ward R. Mur­row.” In 2010, Stewart at­tracted a crowd of 200,000 to the Rally to Re­store San­ity and/or Fear on the Na­tional Mall.

Stewart’s ab­sence is go­ing to be felt acutely in 2016, par­tic­u­larly by those on the left who saw him as a gal­va­niz­ing fig­ure and helped many of his seg­ments — in­clud­ing, most re­cently, his heart­felt lament over the church shoot­ings in Charleston, S.C. — go vi­ral.

“The truth is that the loss of the ex­ist­ing Daily Show and The Col­bert Re­port has taken away a big, one-two pol­i­tics-cen­tric punch in late night,” said Frank Rich, a colum­nist for New York mag­a­zine and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the White House satire Veep.

“No one else is as po­lit­i­cally at­tuned as those two shows.”

Still, it’s not as if Stewart be­came a hugely in­flu­en­tial fig­ure overnight. Among late night’s new class, there are al­ready sev­eral wor­thy con­tenders for his throne.

On Late Night, Seth Mey­ers pep­pers his mono­logue with top­i­cal wise­cracks in­flu­enced by his years as an­chor of Week­end Up­date on SNL. He’s also turned the show into some­thing of a po­lit­i­cal sa­lon, with guests in­clud­ing Vice-Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and pres­i­den­tial con­tenders Ted Cruz, Carly Fio­r­ina and Bernie San­ders. Stewart pro­tege John Oliver has earned raves for his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, which spe­cial­izes in deep-dive in­ves­ti­ga­tions of news top­ics.

Another open ques­tion is how much can­di­dates will be will­ing to visit late-night shows — some­thing Obama, to the dis­may of his crit­ics, has done with un­usual fre­quency. In March 2009, he be­came the first sit­ting pres­i­dent to go on a latenight pro­gram, and has since vis­ited nearly ev­ery couch on broad­cast, ca­ble and even online out­lets such as Be­tween Two Ferns. By do­ing so, Obama has “ex­panded the reach of the bully pulpit,” said Demo­cratic strate­gist Donna Brazile.

Late-night tele­vi­sion pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for but­toned-up can­di­dates to show a “softer side” of them­selves to a mass au­di­ence, said Steele. “One ap­pear­ance on The Tonight Show will reach more peo­ple than your big­gest mass mail­ing. It is smart pol­i­tics to sit in the chair for six or 10 min­utes.”

Though Jeb Bush bravely slow-jammed the news with Fal­lon in his Tonight Show ap­pear­ance in June, it’s un­clear whether his im­age-con­scious GOP ri­vals — or the fa­mously con­trolled Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton — will be as will­ing to yuk it up with late night’s less- es­tab­lished tal­ents.

Not­ing most politi­cians are pretty clue­less when it comes to pop cul­ture — “They have their aides to tell them what to put on their iPhones” — Rich pre­dicts 2016’s can­di­dates will be even more wary. “The fact that there’s go­ing to be a new cast of char­ac­ters in late night, they’re not go­ing to want to go on those shows.”

They are, how­ever, cer­tain to pro­vide plenty of fod­der — es­pe­cially Trump, whose cam­paign has al­ready been such a com­edy gold mine Let­ter­man was briefly lured out of re­tire­ment to de­liver a Trump-themed Top 10 list in a sur­prise ap­pear­ance this month. (“I have made the big­gest mis­take of my life,” he said of leav­ing The Late Show be­fore the real es­tate ty­coon en­tered the race.)

“Here’s the bot­tom line,” said Macks, “there’s not go­ing to be a short­age of ma­te­rial.”

EVAN VUCCI / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama talks with host Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last week.

DOU­GLAS GOREN­STEIN / NBC

For­mer Florida gover­nor Jeb Bush (left), a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, ap­pears on

The Tonight Show Star­ring Jimmy Fal­lon ear­lier this month.

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