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In the United States, late night television is the block of television programming airing after 11:00 pm and usually through 2:00 am. Traditionally, this type of programming airs after the late local news and features a particular genre of programming that falls somewhere between a variety show and a talk show.


Talk shows

Popular shows of the late night talk show genre include The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Late Show with David Letterman, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Famous former hosts include Johnny Carson and Jay Leno of The Tonight Show, Arsenio Hall of The Arsenio Hall Show, Tom Snyder of Tomorrow and The Late Late Show, Steve Allen, the father of the late night talk show and founder of Tonight (now known as "The Tonight Show"), Merv Griffin and Dick Cavett, early competitors with Carson, and Jack Paar, the man who followed Steve Allen as host of the Tonight Show and who is responsible for setting the standards for the genre.

Television networks typically produce two late-night shows: one taped in New York and one in Los Angeles. Most are taped late in the afternoon (with the exception of Jimmy Kimmel Live, which finishes taping about an hour before it goes to air). The fact that this limits accurate coverage of the latest news cycle is sometimes the source of ironic humor or notable delays (for instance, the death of Michael Jackson, a frequent butt of late-night jokes, on the afternoon of June 25, 2009 came after all but Kimmel had taped their shows, and as such, Kimmel was the only one to mention it that night).

Two prominent late night only cable/satellite channels currently air in the United States: Nick at Nite, a collection of mostly sitcom reruns from the previous decades that airs in Nickelodeon's channel slot between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. each night, and Adult Swim, a block of animated programming targeted toward young adults that shares time with the Cartoon Network channel slot each night.



Until September 2009, the Big Three major networks all began their late night programming at 11:35 p.m. Eastern Time each night, with the exception of Fox, which airs only one day of late night programming (Saturday) starting at 11:00 p.m. This is a half-hour to one hour after the end of prime time to allow local stations to air newscasts, and most stations (with a few exceptions) do. NBC, however, began following a significantly different model in September 2009, following severe losses of audience for its scripted dramas. Jay Leno, formerly the host of NBC's long-standing The Tonight Show franchise, has moved his show to the 10:00 p.m. time slot, ahead of the local newscasts on most stations in a time slot that competes with CBS's and ABC's prime time programming (though Fox affiliates will have cut to post-primetime news or sitcom reruns by this time). Beginning September 2009, Leno is now hosting The Jay Leno Show, which is mostly similar to Leno's version of Tonight with a few adjustments. This has made way for Conan O'Brien (formerly the host of Late Night, another long-running NBC late night franchise) to take over Tonight, while Jimmy Fallon has assumed hosting duties for Late Night. The remaining late night programs (Poker After Dark and Last Call with Carson Daly) will remain as is, and NBC has warned its affiliates not to preempt or delay Leno for local news.[1] After affiliates' fears of significantly lower ratings for local news were in fact realized, NBC announced it would indeed cancel its 10:00 p.m. experiment and move Leno back to his traditional start time of 11:35.[2]

Of the major networks, the Big Three (NBC, ABC, and CBS) program the late-night slot on weekdays, but only NBC and Fox have late night shows on Saturday. None of the major networks have late night shows on Sunday nights.

Typical format

These shows often follow the same canonical format:

House bands

Most shows in this genre have an in-house band that plays musical interludes. Popular late night band leaders include Paul Shaffer, leader of The CBS Orchestra/The World's Most Dangerous Band on Late Night and The Late Show with David Letterman; Max Weinberg, leader of The Max Weinberg 7 on Late Night and the Tonight Show Band on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien; Kevin Eubanks, leader of the Tonight Show Band and the Primetime Band and The Roots, famous eclectic hiphop band now host-band of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Usually the band leader is a major part of the show, and the band leader and host often exchange playful banter during the monologue and comedy segments; the band leader has thus taken over the part of being the host's sidekick, which in the past was played by Ed McMahon and Andy Richter, among others. Of the current late night talk show band leaders who play this role, Paul Shaffer is well-known for being a straight man to David Letterman. However, on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, Max Weinberg rarely speaks during the show, and his interactions with O'Brien are often short and awkward—a recurring gag on the show (Richter, now the announcer, is O'Brien's primary sidekick), and Kevin Eubanks is often the butt of Leno's jokes, particularly regarding drug-related stories. Most notably the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson does not have a house band, and Ferguson has often used that fact as a running gag in his show. (The Late Late Show has never had a house band with any of its three hosts, Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn, or Craig Ferguson, due to size restraints of the studio and in part because of the show's more low-key original format.)


Often, the show's announcer is also a major part of the show. Famous announcers include Gene Rayburn and Hugh Downs (both from the early years of The Tonight Show), Ed McMahon from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Edd Hall and John Melendez from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Bill Wendell and Alan Kalter from Late Show with David Letterman, and Don Pardo from Saturday Night Live. These announcers often have significant career accomplishments outside of their particular shows.

Other formats

There are also some daytime talk shows that air in late night, such as The Jerry Springer Show (because of the program's adult content). Most of the time however, daytime talk shows air in late night involuntarily because of low ratings in their original daytime slots, no room on their station's schedule in an appropriate timeslot, or to fill time otherwise taken up by infomercials or sitcom reruns.

A brief influx of game shows began to fill the late night airwaves in the mid-1980s, such as Tom Kennedy's nighttime Price Is Right, The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime, and High Rollers; these were shows that were targeted for prime time access slots but found that Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! had already cornered the market for that time slot. Virtually all of those game shows were cancelled after one year on the air.

Still other late night programs break the standard format; most notably, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a parody of an evening news program, while The Colbert Report parodies political talk shows. Fox News Channel's Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld uses a roundtable format which has a mix of news discussion mixed with comedy, although roundtable is only used in the descriptive sense; some guests appear on the program via satellite, while a regular on the show appears from another part of the Fox News studios.

ABC's Nightline has long been an exception to the networks' "comedy/variety" formula. Debuting in 1980, Nightline is a nightly half-hour newsmagazine that airs immediately after ABC affiliates' local newscasts. It has finished at or near a tie for second-place (along with Letterman's show) in the late-night Nielsen ratings in recent years.


  1. ^ Heslam, Jessica (April 13, 2009). "Channel 7 to broadcast Jay Leno show this fall". Boston Herald. Retrieved April 13, 2009. 
  2. ^

See also


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