Miami Herald

‘Midnight,’ Stewart’s return show late night TV’s slow evolution


Change comes slowly to late night television. Talk-show hosts occupy their seats for years and years and, on the whole, leave only when they’re ready.

Having spent nearly a year and a half not deciding on a replacemen­t for Trevor Noah, its host since 2015, “The Daily Show” has turned again to Jon Stewart. Stewart, 61, who presided over the show for 16 years, has become the program’s regular Monday night host this week, and also an executive producer. (Guest hosts and “Daily Show” “correspond­ents” will fill out the rest of the week.) It remains to be seen whether this step backward is a step forward, or a step forward that’s just a step back.

Meanwhile, over on CBS, where James Corden left “The Late Late Show” after eight years, talented young comic Taylor Tomlinson, 30, has taken over the time slot. This struck me as good news both for her youth and because you can count the number of women who have hosted network late night shows on the fingers of one hand. I was excited to see what she’d do with the medium. Imagine my disappoint­ment, then, when “After Midnight” proved to be not a talk show but a revival of an old Comedy Central panel show, “@midnight.”

I’ve got nothing against “After Midnight,” per se, which capably fulfills its brief, gives work to comedians I like and for all I know hits a bull’s eye on its target market. It might run until there is no more internet to mock.

Still, it strikes me as a missed opportunit­y, a tightly formatted, conservati­ve choice for a sector of television that has been historical­ly open to, even relied on innovation; sillier and more serious than prime time, it’s a place for Closer Looks, for toy instrument­s and in-depth discussion­s, robot co-hosts and personal revelation­s, among many other things you would never find in prime time. Political satire, which to greater and lesser degrees is an aspect of most late-night shows, doesn’t exist before 11 p.m.

New late-night hosts have typically arrived with their own creative team and after a period of adjustment — during which they may receive skeptical, often negative notices from viewers and reviewers — establish an identity, a rhythm, bring dumb ideas to productive life and discover the bits and characters that keep an audience coming back.

The world has changed, of course, around these shows, which date to the dawn of the medium. (“The Tonight Show” turns 70 this year.) Until the adoption of the VCR, late night television was available only at night.

Bowing down to the new clip economy, the broadcast networks have all made their deals with that devil, creating their own streaming platforms: You can get CBS through Paramount+ and NBC via Peacock and ABC and Fox shows from Hulu, and watch them whenever and wherever you want. And every late night show has a presence on YouTube.

As a show on CBS, “After Midnight” comes with a certain prestige; Tomlinson’s stewardshi­p would not be such big news were it being shown on Comedy Central. It is in that limited sense important, and I certainly wish her success. Do I wish she were hosting a show of her own devising? Something I hadn’t seen before, whatever it might turn out to be, for better or worse, less or more to my taste, something that might become really important, in some unpredicta­ble way? I do. I’m a dreamer. But that is for another day — that is to say, night.

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Jon Stewart

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