Josh Wolf was hanging out in a recycling bin while dressed in a gorilla suit the other day, recording the escapade on a GoPro mobile camera. “I had to have sweat out at least seven pounds,” he recalled.
If things go well for the comedian, doing that kind of thing will seem like just another day at work. Getting gussied up like a great ape is just one of the many wacky escapades one might see Wolf attempt on “The Josh Wolf Show,” the latest entrant (and the first on Viacom-owned CMT) into the increasingly crowded arena of wee-hours TV. The show debuts tonight at 11 p.m., and Wolf promised a steady spate of comedy he described as “intelligently stupid” along with a “show and tell” segment in which he might try anything – even actual jousting.
Everyone who mounts one of these programs must tilt a lance, of sorts. Latenight audiences have splintered again and again over the past two decades as more networks try to get in on attracting crowds toward the end of the day — and getting viewers to turn to their particular program as a habit. Getting a sizable amount to follow any one program is a battle. The recent departures of David Letterman from CBS and Chelsea Handler from E!, along with Jon Stewart’s decision to step down from Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” on August 6, have only accelerated the push.
“There’s never been a host like Josh, and we feel his sensibility will resonate with an audience that’s currently underserved in latenight,” said Jayson Dinsmore, executive vice president of development for CMT, in response to a query by email.
Not only is CMT getting in on the game, but so is MTV, which has announced two latenight concepts slated to debut later in the year (one involves getting a celebrity to play host to a program set up in someone’s apartment on the spur of the moment). National Geographic Channel recently granted a second season to “Star Talk,” a weekly latenight show featuring astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson — just days before the first season began.
“The odds are better that shows that latch onto a smaller audience, especially if it is dedicated, can still succeed today,” said Derek Arnold, an instructor at Villanova University’s Department of Communication. The hope, he said, is to build a consistent base — not the biggest — and then use what is hopefully a niche audience drawn together around a specific interest — to lure advertisers. The rise of social media has made it easier for TV networks to promote these programs in broad fashion.
At CMT, Wolf’s show is “part of a rich new pipeline of ideas that we believe will steadily broaden and grow our audience even more,” said Dinsmore. The network is also preparing to launch a new scripted comedy starring Billy Ray Cyrus.
Wolf’s program will boast a few new elements. CMT will air the show Thursdays through Sundays, meaning that Wolf will have the latenight playing field largely to himself on two nights of the week, unless one counts John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” on HBO as a sort of competitor.
The program, Wolf said, will be “looser” and more “fast paced” than some of his broadcast-network counterparts. He intends for the first two segments of the half-hour program to be devoted to panels that could feature comedians or celebrities. Subjects could run the gamut from a high school in the Northeast U.S. banning dodge ball to the Boy Scouts outlawing water guns. A third segment will feature Wolf’s show-and-tell efforts, a segment he hope will have only minimum editing, if any at all. On some episodes, Wolf said, the last segment will feature music in what he vowed would be a “unique and different” way.
Being on CMT doesn’t mean “The Josh Wolf Show” is broadcasting only to Nashville and its adherents, he said. “I think the mistake I would make is to try to cater to a crowd. All I can do is do what I do.”
TV viewers may know Wolf from his appearances hosting an after-show during Discovery Network’s famous “Shark Week” or from another popular latenight spot: Chelsea Handler’s “Chelsea Lately” on E!
Handler, who is the program’s executive producer, believes Wolf has broad appeal. He’s logged miles with popular comic Larry the Cable Guy, loves sports and has spent much time as a single father — all elements, Handler believes, that will give him the chance to stand apart from the crowd. She believes he will prove winning to both CMT fanatics and a wider crowd that could range from women to sports nuts.
The recent churn in the time period gives people like Wolf even more of a chance, Handler said in an interview. “A lot of people have turned over, and there’s been a changing of the guard,” she said. “There is a leeway, an opening for something different on television, especially at that time of night when people are winding down and going to sleep.” Wolf will have to hope TV viewers looking to call it a night will include him in their ritual.