The ViacomCBS cable outlet will expand Trevor Noah’s late-night showcase to 45 minutes per night during production that takes place during the coronavirus. It’s the first time since the franchise launched in 1996 with Craig Kilborn that it will get that much time allocated to it. The new parameters start this evening with the show’s 11 p.m. broadcast, expanding duties for host Noah, the show’s array of contributors, and its writing and production staff.
The 45-minute timeframe is not expected at present to last beyond the show’s pandemic efforts, which are being done remotely, without a live audience or a studio. Comedy Central intends to follow the 45-minute “Daily” with airings of other programs like “Crank Yankers” or repeats of “The Office.”
The programming move shows Comedy Central testing a new wee-hours strategy. For years, “Daily Show” was paired with great success with “The Colbert Report,” a half-hour orchestrated by former “Daily” contributor Stephen Colbert. He played a bloviating political commentator, a smart move as cable news grew more partisan while MSNBC and Fox News Channel gained audience. That format dovetailed well with Jon Stewart’s tenure at “Daily,” which has often portrayed itself as a satire of a typical newscast.
Yet Comedy Central has faced headwinds in late night since Colbert left the network in 2014 to seize the reins of “The Late Show” on CBS. Two new programs featuring “Daily Show” alumni – Larry Wilmore and Jordan Klepper – did not perform to executives’ expectations when they were set to follow “Daily,” and Comedy Central recently decided not to bring back David Spade’s “Lights Out,” which launched in the 11:30 p.m. slot in July of last year. Spade’s program was hatched as a bid to capture viewers who had plenty of alternatives to political comedy in late night. But the show was launched during the tenure of former Comedy Central chief Kent Alterman. Since Viacom and CBS merged, programming executive Chris McCarthy has taken oversight of the comedy-focused cable outlet.
“Daily Show” is Comedy Central’s signature program, and has been an instrumental part of the overall business of the former Viacom. “Daily” brings in a younger cohort of viewers than most of its late-night competitors, and by extending to 11:45 p.m., it will compete more directly with the TV’s three biggest late-night programs: NBC’s “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and CBS’ “Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” Where that last show was once a competitor, Colbert and Noah now work for the same media conglomerate, ViacomCBS.
One other late-night program has tweaked its length as the format grapples with broadcasting during the coronavirus pandemic, which has scuttled normal production of all the shows in the genre. Most late-night shows depend heavily on having a live audience gather in a studio to provide energy, atmosphere and instant feedback. At ABC, Kimmel has been hosting a thirty-minute show during the pandemic, a move that allows the Disney-owned network to give an earlier berth to “Nightline,” the long-running newsmagazine that has focused entirely on coronavirus in recent weeks.
“Daily Show” has changed, too. These days, Noah holds forth from remotely from what appears to be an apartment, in a program the network now bills as a “Daily Social Distancing Show.” The host has landed early interviews in late-night with Dr. Anthony Fauci and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Comedy Central says the program this year has seen a 24% uptick in viewers between 18 and 34.