Cable is shaping up to be a new frontier for latenight talkers.
With broadcasters NBC and CBS locked in with Leno and Letterman and syndicators hot on daytime talk TV, rookie latenight talent have been quick to set up shop in cable land.
Up next: FX will bow the “Orlando Jones Show” June 16 and MTV will give a second shot to alum Tom Green when “The New Tom Green Show” preems June 23 at midnight.
Programming execs and producers agree that cable offers what the Big Four can’t: Room to grow.
“A show on cable has time to find its legs,” FX VP of series development Nick Grad says. “And not be under that microscope that Jimmy Kimmel was when he launched with all the fanfare on a major network.”
(After receiving strong sampling with a post-Super Bowl premiere, ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” has tapered off in the ratings, settling for a 0.7/4 last month among adults 18-49.)
“I think if you’re on a major network, and you don’t come out of the gate with critical raves and good ratings, it’s really an uphill battle,” Grad says.
Healthier life spans are no doubt attractive for budding skeins, but so is the creative license afforded by cable dwellers, says Comedy Central’s senior programming and development VP Lauren Corrao.
News parody “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn” are among that cabler’s highest rated fare.
“These shows are truly an alternative to what’s out there right now,” Corrao says. “They’re not competing with Dave and Jay at their own game.”
Cable also lures the key 18-49 demo, consultant Ray Solley says. “Cable latenight has a relatively young core audience. If something works, you end up with a pretty good franchise to sell to advertisers.”
“The Daily Show,” in fact, is up 5% this year in adults 18-49, the only major late-night talker to show growth in the demo.
And there’s the added bonus of running repeats, which lets would-be viewers find new entries.
“I noticed that many times the rerun would get a higher rating than the original showing,” says “Jones” exec producer Eddie Feldman, who previously spent nine seasons on “Dennis Miller Live.” “There’s an opportunity for the shows to build loyalty.”
Giving gross-out king and MTV fave Green a second go-round was a no-brainer for the “Jackass”-fronting music network, which ran his first talker in 1999. “Green” exec producer and talk TV vet Burt Dubrow notes that the nurture factor is a boon for latenight.
“I’d like to think the cable world is more forgiving,” says Dubrow, who developed “Sally Jesse Raphael” and “The Jerry Springer Show.” “I did a daytime show not long ago where I was on the air for two days and the network already wanted to change my time slot,” he says.
Of course there have been casualties. A&E’s 2001 venture into latenight, “The Sandra Bernhard Experience,” was canned after a week. VH1’s “Late Night with Zach,” hosted by then-unknown comedian Zach Galifianakis, lasted a brief two months. And Kathy Griffin’s reality TV parody, “Kathy’s So-Called Reality,” ran for a season on MTV, succeeding “Green.”
But at the very least, certain cablers are offering its parent companies a place to give promising broadcast skeins a test-drive.
“Jones,” for example, was conceived as a possible latenight property for Fox should the show take off on its sister station.
“This was sort of a News Corp. synergistic plan. The show was hatched with the potential of moving over,” Grad says. “But Orlando fits the FX brand perfectly, so either way we’re happy.”