For at least one evening, worlds are colliding in late-night TV.
Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel decided to switch up their hosting duties on April 1, with Kimmel traveling to New York to lead NBC’s “Tonight Show” and Fallon journeying to California to host ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” The studio audiences attending each broadcast were not informed of the move ahead of time, leaving them just as surprised as the TV viewers who tuned in Friday night. The Red Hot Chili Peppers served as musical guests for both programs.
While such stunts are rare — each late-night program vies with the others for viewership and social-media activity — they are becoming less unique. In 2018, Fallon and Stephen Colbert used the same opening segment on “Tonight” and CBS’ “The Late Show,” which depicted the duo and Conan O’Brien poking fun at former President Donald Trump and some of the terms he used for various late-night hosts. Colbert visited Fallon during his first “Tonight” broadcast in 2014, dumping a bag of coins all over him. Likewise, Fallon took part in a sketch set in a late-night locker room early on in Colbert’s tenure at CBS.
The hosts have also convened for advocacy and advertising. In September of last year, Colbert, Fallon, Kimmel, Seth Meyers, James Corden, Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah all highlighted the issue of climate change on a specific Wednesday night. And in December, Noah, Colbert and Corden — all backed by networks owned by Paramount Global — agreed to weave a promotional message from Google into each of their programs, part of a bid by the parent company to burnish its late-night portfolio to Madison Avenue.
All the cooperation speaks to a new relationship among the programs that has sprouted in the days since David Letterman and Jay Leno exited “Late Show” at CBS and “Tonight” at NBC. In their era, relationships among the hosts were testy. Even Kimmel was public about his dislike of Leno in the days when the host took back his seat on “Tonight” after it had been given to O’Brien.
In an era when viewers are able to flock to programs more tailored to their interests, however, the number of late-night efforts has only increased. In addition to the aforementioned programs, wee-hours viewers have able to shows led by Bill Maher, John Oliver and Desus Nice and The Kid Mero. There have also been attempts from Larry Wilmore, Jordan Klepper, David Spade, Robin Thede and Lilly Singh. As more shows have sprouted in recent years, many of their producers keep open a texting backchannel to compare notes and strategies. Gifts are sent to shows that are about to end, and producers have compared notes about how to operate their programs in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Late-night hosts aren’t the only ones cooperating in new ways as the business of TV keeps changing. When the USFL spring-football league debuts on April 16, both NBC and Fox will telecast the event with NBC Sports producing pregame, halftime and postgame coverage and Fox Sports overseeing the telecast of the game itself. Fox owns a stake in the league, but NBC shares some of its broadcast rights. Both networks will air the same commercials.