The author of this opinion piece is an academic from the the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her basic argument is that ironic liberal comedy isn’t as popular as it once was and that’s bad news for reasons she never bothers to explain or justify. But as I hope to show in a moment, even this argument such as it is, seems to ignore a lot of relevant facts in order to reach what feels like a predetermined conclusion.
Trevor Noah recently surprised fans (and, according to some accounts, also Comedy Central management) when he announced plans to leave “The Daily Show.” His departure is one of many notable personnel changes in late-night television: James Corden will leave “The Late Late Show” next year, TBS canceled “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” and Desus and Mero broke up with each other and their hugely successful Showtime late-night show beloved by a diverse viewership of millennials.
Prominent entertainers leave jobs all the time, but media watchers see something more systemic in the recent spate of departures. Dylan Byers describes the “contracting genre” as an economic problem: “The eight-figure late-night host increasingly doesn’t match the new economics of the late-night business.” The economics used to look like big advertisers paying for a captive audience that tuned in for pulpy takes on mainstream American culture.
But audiences have not been flocking to late-night television for some time. Advertisers have continued to support the time slot not necessarily because it works but because there was little else competing for the late-night audience. Throwing good money after bad, as it were. That cannot last forever.
I don’t disagree with the economic part of her argument. There are more cord cutters these day. More people subscribe to services like Netflix and Disney+ (both of which have tens of millions of subscribers) and don’t want to pay for traditional cable. Here’s a chart showing cable (pay TV) subscribers from 2013 to now and extending the trend into the near future.
So, yes, this is happening and clearly that likely means lower ratings for traditional television which are usually a part of these cable packages but which are not included with Netflix. As the author sees it, there was a golden age of liberal infotainment thanks to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show.
With Jon Stewart as host, “The Daily Show” innovated a formula for liberal satire infotainment…
Unfortunately, outrage makes more money, and today’s conservative media is much better at outrage. Dannagal Goldthwaite Young, a communication professor at the University of Delaware, wrote “Irony and Outrage: The Polarized Landscape of Rage, Fear, and Laughter in the United States.” She said that “The Daily Show” is an exemplar of what political media became in the 1990s. “Entertainment wasn’t expected to ‘stay in its lane.’ It was expected — encouraged even — to blur the lines between fact and fiction, entertainment and politics, art and social justice,” she writes. The show’s mockumentary style and satirical stance updated 1960s counterculture critique for the postmodern, post-internet age…
The irony isn’t lost on me that conservative audiences complain about how vilified they are in popular culture. Conservative media seems to be doing quite well. Joe Rogan and Ben Shapiro are two of the most popular podcast hosts in the nation. There is no liberal counterpart to either. Fox News lost some of its big names when Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly left in 2017. But while MSNBC looks for its footing after Rachel Maddow’s exit on most weeknights and as CNN pivots to centrism, Fox is beating them both in ratings.
Maybe I’m missing some nuance of how the author is dividing up the world of comedy and outrage, but it’s certainly news to me that liberal entertainment like the Daily Show didn’t rely on outrage or alternatively that conservative entertainment doesn’t rely on humor and satire. Here I have to give credit to a commenter who made the point.
I’m sorry but this article displays only a surface level understanding of conservative media. First of all, Joe Rogan is not conservative by any means. He is merely willing to listen and talk to conservatives. His show is closer to Howard Stern of the 90s- a show that was considered liberal then btw. There’s also plenty of similar shows to Ben Shapiro, Pod Save America being one of many.
And yes Fox News beats other tv news outlets- mostly because we’ve silo’d all of the conservatives to there. Look at the four late night talk show hosts. They’ve ALL devolved i to easy anti conservative jokes during the Trump administration. There’s nothing to differentiate them…
Has the author ever heard of conservatives like Steven Crowder? On the the other hand, has she seen Cenk Uygur’s show or Pod Save America or Chapo Trap House? These left-wing shows aren’t exactly humorous but they are pretty popular on the left and have been around for several years now. She also fails to mention one of the shows that is doing well on Fox News is Gutfeld! which has been beating the other late night comics in the ratings.
Last week, Fox News Channel’s late night show Gutfeld! marked its sixth consecutive week as the most-watched show in all of late night, beating CBS’ The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live—with FNC outpacing the broadcast networks even through their fall premieres. So what explains the ratings power of a show that only debuted a year ago?
“I think after 18 months it’s become appointment viewing,” said Tom O’Connor, executive producer of Gutfeld! “Part of the reason for that is the audience has really connected with some of the new guests we’ve introduced them to, but also they’ve gotten to see some FNC stars let their hair down for an hour.”
There’s some outrage on Gutfeld’s show but there’s also a lot of broad humor and satire. And more to the point, look at what he’s competing against. Again, some of the commenters made the point the author seems to have missed about what has happened to left-leaning comedy over the past several years.
Much of late night tv has turned into nothing more than progressive hectoring. It’s endlessly repetitive and tedious to all but the most devout.
I am a moderate republican who stopped watching these shows a long time ago. Not because I don’t agree with their opinions, I loved Jon Stewart; it’s because they aren’t funny anymore. I can get my fill of political discourse elsewhere. David Letterman and Jay Leno were hilarious. Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee used to funny people, they have turned into unfunny scolds.
There was always a political tilt to late night TV, but sometime in the mid 2010s it shifted from actual joking to downright lecturing. The speed at which the culture war changed long held positions on topics was shocking to people. Certain positions that were mainstream 5 years ago became literal “bigoted” positions overnight. It turned a lot of people off. Trump is everything wrong with everyone wrapped up into one human, but did the majority of people want to tune in and hear that rehashed endlessly every night?
You never knew Johnny Carson’s politics. He skewered left and right equally, when he addressed political figures at all. And everyone loved him.
The decline starts when late night became just another soap box for one side only.
I could keep going:
I am liberal through and through, but I can tell you that the far left is where humor goes to die just as much as the far right. The college classroom has drastically changed from when I started teaching 20 years ago. There is no laughter anymore (and no debate, either) because the students are terrified of offending anyone or being thought of as ‘insensitive’ and un-woke.
They simply do not understand satire, and they analyze every comment, every TV show, every joke and every utterance through the social justice lens taken to ridiculous (dare I say, laughable?) extremes. It’s made large swaths of the progressive left utterly humorless.
What about all of the great comedians the left has tried to cancel in the last few years? No mention of the outrage over Dave Chappelle or other famous comics crossing cultural lines the left complained just weren’t funny. No mention of the famous comics who have warned about the left’s political correctness.
No mention of the Babylon Bee which put out loads of satire and which was frequently censored or fact-checked by the media as if satire wasn’t acceptable. The author of this piece doesn’t mention that or any of the anti-comedy outrage coming from the far left, especially on college campuses. Given the topic of this piece it all seems like a pretty significant oversight.
The recent reincarnation of Jon Stewart on a show a bit like the Daily Show minus most of the comedy and with lots of added outrage and struggle session dynamics is a pretty clear sign of how the left’s approach has changed lately. I’ll close this out with one more comment.
Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee – they traffic in outrage as much as, or more than, any of the independent or right-wing media figures you reference. And they’re not funny anymore – they take themselves way, way too seriously.
I can’t get through Oliver’s show anymore, or Noah’s – the tonal shifts are just too jarring. Now we’re silly! Now wait, this is serious and important! Now you can laugh again! It’s too slick, and it misses the mark.
There’s a lot of left-wing outrage out there the author is overlooking and a lot of conservative satire as well. Until this author can acknowledge both, she’s not really talking about the real world.