×

Netflix, Hulu Enter Late-Night Fray With Shows From Sarah Silverman, Bill Nye

Late-night comedy shows have flourished in the Donald Trump era. “Saturday Night Live” is enjoying its greatest critical acclaim in years. Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon have revived the heyday of late-night ratings wars, with the former edging out the latter in total viewers for the past eight weeks.

But with the rise of shows like John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” at HBO and Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal” at TBS, the field has become crowded. And now Netflix and Hulu are joining the fray — moves that speak to the growing need for streaming services to compete with cable and broadcast rivals on all original-programming fronts.

Hulu last week announced it had picked up “I Love You, America,” a new political-comedy show starring Sarah Silverman. Later this month, Netflix will premiere the second season of its first comedy talk show, Chelsea Handler’s “Chelsea,” and debut “Bill Nye Saves the World,” a celebrity-guest-filled series with the longtime science-TV host.

This follows the November bow of Amazon’s “The Grand Tour,” a motoring and travel show with strong late-night elements — though not overt political humor — from the team behind “Top Gear.”

Speaking to the preponderance of new late-night shows on the streaming services, Katz Media Group’s Stacey Lynn Schulman observed, “More than anything, it’s a comment on the fact that they’re programmers.”

Indeed, while the digital players started as aggregators of content produced for linear networks, they’ve since ventured into producing their own original scripted series. Now, as they look to compete toe-to-toe throughout the MVPD ecosystem, they’re being compelled to expand into formats like reality, stand-up, variety, and talk.

“Moving into something like what has traditionally been a late-night TV show [via] a distribution channel that has no time or scheduling limitations draws a different audience than the typical drama or comedy profile,” Schulman says. “It shows that they’re programming for different audiences with different formats.”

Hulu has some experience with those formats and audiences. The network carries clips from “Saturday Night Live” and several late-night series including NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and has seen viewers gravitate toward that content. Original programming chief Craig Erwich has been looking to launch an original series that could capitalize on that
interest.

“This has been high on our wish list for a long time,” Erwich says. “The problem is you can’t just go out and invent something like this, because there are very few talents like Sarah.”

Silverman met with Hulu just six weeks ago to pitch “I Love You, America,” and the company began an aggressive pursuit of the project. The weekly show will mix studio and field pieces in a way that won’t feel foreign to viewers of “Full Frontal” or “The Daily Show,” but will be rooted in Silverman’s comedy style and experience, for instance, as a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

While shows like Silverman’s — or Hadler’s Netflix series, which this season changes from three nights a week to one — provide additional bait with which to lure subscribers to spend more time watching the service, they also do so at a cost much lower than that of premium scripted series such as Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” or Netflix’s “The Get Down.” (The latter cost more than $100 million to produce.)

Scripted series on digital have a further hurdle to overcome: A study last month by Katz looking at 2017 Golden Globe-nominated TV shows found that series from Netflix and Amazon typically lagged well behind cable and broadcast shows in viewer awareness. Of those polled, 71% said they had never heard of Netflix’s “The Crown,” compared with just 33% for NBC’s “This Is Us” and 6% for HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

But adding a late-night talk show to the mix — even one on a subscription video service with no late-night peg — could give streamers a marketing hook.

“Once you have late-night talk, you have stars that rotate through it,” Schulman says. “It becomes a promotional vehicle for your content and your stars.”

More Digital

  • SAG-AFTRA HQ

    SAG-AFTRA Ends Long Strike Against Ad Agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty

    SAG-AFTRA has ended its 10-month strike against Bartle Bogle Hegarty after the advertising agency agreed to sign the union’s new commercials contract. The union instructed its 160,000 members in September not to accept any work for BBH, which had been signed to SAG-AFTRA’s commercials contracts since 1999. The strike came two weeks after BBH publicly [...]

  • FaceApp is displayed on an iPhone,

    SAG-AFTRA Warns Members About FaceApp Terms of Use

    SAG-AFTRA is warning its 160,000 members about the “overreaching and invasive” terms of use for the FaceApp mobile application. FaceApp, developed by Russian company Wireless Lab, uses neural network technology to automatically generate transformations of faces in photographs. The app can be used to make users appear older, younger, or change gender. The terms include [...]

  • J. Cole

    Apple Music Launches 'Rap Life' Playlist

    Apple Music announced the launch of “Rap Life,” a new global playlist focusing on contemporary rap artists and culture. It replaces the former “The A-List: Hip-Hop” playlist. Said Ebro Darden, Apple Music’s Global Editorial Head of Hip-Hop and R&B: “We flipped it to dig deeper into into the lifestyle [and to] keep pushing the culture [...]

  • Billie Eilish

    ARRI, Mobile TV Group Back New Venture Revitalizing Streamed Concerts

    A new venture looking to bring a fresh approach to live-streaming concerts has gotten the backing of hardware heavyweights ARRI and Mobile TV Group. Wide+Close is launching with the mandate of shooting music performances with film cameras and cinematographers in order to give the content a more cinematic feel. “We want to take concert filming [...]

  • Fortnite Battle Royale

    How 'Fortnite' Fans Can Earn Loot by Watching YouTube Videos

    Epic Games and YouTube have teamed up with a special offer for “Fortnite” players — giving players of the popular battle-royale game rewards when they watch “Fortnite”-premiered content on the video platform. The catch: You have to watch at least 20 minutes of “Fortnite” special content or live esports broadcasts to receive the loot. Under [...]

  • Roku headquarters

    Roku Plans to Expand to Brazil, Other Countries (EXCLUSIVE)

    Roku plans to expand to multiple new territories in the coming months, Variety has learned. One of the first new markets for the company will likely be Brazil. An international expansion could help Roku grow its customer base, which in turn should lead to growing advertising revenues. Roku executives have been hinting at plans to [...]

  • Google Stadia Pro to Include 1

    Google’s Stadia Game Streaming Service to Include Free Monthly Game

    Google has been busy sharing additional details about its upcoming game streaming service Stadia, clearing up some confusion in the process. Stadia’s pro subscription tier, which will cost $10 per month, won’t be a Netflix-type subscription service. However, subscribers will get free games at the rate of about a title per month. That’s according to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content