The Changing Format of Late Night Talk Shows

As a big Colbert fan I am anxiously awaiting his start at The Tonight Show. Coming from a show popular with the millennial audience he no doubt knows a few ways to be engaging with how the younger generation views television. The other late night Jimmys (Fallon and Kimmel) have also innovated to the growth of social media and online extensions to maintain success.

Use of Social Media: social media is largely the way millennial connect with one another (Cohen, 2013). It is therefore important the late night shows understand how media is used to engage with the millennial audience. Jimmy Fallon for example has a segment called “Hashtags” where they use a weekly hashtag to get Twitter users to add jokes. He then reads them on air. Jimmy Kimmel uses “Mean Tweets” that shows celebrities reading mean tweets written about themselves.

Embrace The Digital Format: More and more television is being viewed online (Bilton, 2014). This is especially true for late night shows as people often go to bed before they start. Late Night Shows have therefore offered their full episodes online so people can watch. They have also short clips (usually no more than 2 minutes) on YouTube that can be easily viewed and shared. The Jimmy Kimmel “I Told My Kids I Ate Their Halloween Candy” segment is a popular short clip.

Internet Insiders: To stay relevant to their core audience Late Night Talk Shows have to be dialed into what people are talking about online. This allows them to keep references fresh in their monologues and keep viewers coming back. For example, Seth Meyer had Maya Rudolph playing former Spokane NAACP chair Rachel Dolezal as the internet had drawn comparisons between the two. Capture

Bilton, R. (2014). The shifting landscape of digital video consumption. Digiday. Retrived from

Cohen, C. (2013). How do Millennials behave on social, mobile, and the web. Millennial Marketing. Retrieved from

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12 Responses to The Changing Format of Late Night Talk Shows

  1. Gustavo says:

    It’s interesting to see how the power of social media has even changed how we view TV. The use of social media on late night shows creates a very real sense of live ‘social’ TV. The fact that you can essentially see something trending all day on twitter, then watch a spin off of it on late night TV is just about as close to live social media programming as you can get; that’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t call my self a big social media buff or a light night show viewer either but the tactics that late night TV uses to entertain viewers is intriguing. I just might have to catch the next episode.

  2. Caliah says:

    I agree with Gustavo’s comments! Additionally, this post caused me to think back on when I was younger and late night TV shows were for the grown ups and therefore not for me; so the integration of social media and the internet tactics mentioned made me feel like this “new wave” of late night TV has grown up with me, and now that I’m into adulthood I can relate. Therefore, these methods are clearly effective for maintaining growth in their audience base, if younger adults aren’t made to feel like their just watching their parent’s late night shows.

    Great conversation!

  3. Anastasia says:

    Hi Jessica,

    You are correct that social media is important, if not one of the most important, use for marketing late night programming. Old folks….I mean, seasoned folks… myself tend to go to bed before the shows begin (as you mentioned) or are too busy doing their USC MCM homework 😉 to watch the Jimmy’s or Meyers on late night. With social media playing such a dominant role in communication for millennials, as well as Gen-X’s, television shows and news programs have had no choice but to ‘get with the program’ (no pun intended) in order to stay relevant and to grow their audience base. Like Gustavo, late night shows were really designed for adult audiences when I was a kid, BUT I LOVED THE ARSENIO HALL SHOW. I would sneak and have my TV turned down really low so I could stay up late to watch and not be discovered. If we have social media or streaming services back then I would never had to ‘risk my life’…ahem….I mean, risk getting caught just so I could see the latest musical guest. BUT….it was worth it. 🙂

  4. Dawn says:


    Late night talk shows continue to encourage conversation on social media, and even weave social media into their shows to add additional humor and curiosity, as you mention. I am huge fan of the celebrity “Mean Tweets” from the Jimmy Kimmel show. What I think is most fascinating about this, is that it gives celebrities an opportunity to “fight back” when faced with criticism. I love Jimmy Fallon’s celebrity “Lip Sync Battles” as well, especially because several of the lip sync YouTube videos make great traction on Facebook and Twitter. By posting these short clips on YouTube, these highlights from the show can be replayed when convenient.

    Since John Stewart has now officially left the Daily Show (sadly), I look forward to seeing how late night television may spark even greater conversation during this upcoming election season. Jimmy Fallon will definitely come up with some great hashtags for audiences members to tweet about. Can’t wait!

    Thanks for starting the conversation… creative topic!

    -Dawn Stankus

  5. Kelly says:

    Hi Jessica,

    I enjoyed reading your post, as it shows how popular television shows are staying relevant in the digital age. Television late shows, and all shows in general, that properly integrate social aspects will increase viewership. It’s very interesting to note the ways television has transformed over the years, and how it will continue to change in the future. Today’s late show segments are effective because they take the time to research what consumers want to see. As competition for viewership increases, the shows that do the best job of integrating content across platforms will earn a competitive advantage.

    Nice work!


  6. Jessica says:

    Hi Jessica,

    Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for your post and for attaching the pictures that greatly illustrate your ideas. You made a few important insights on how Late Night Talk Shows can succeed. I agree that the growing influence of social media nowadays should not be underestimated and therefore can be used to expand the popularity of night TV-shows. It is also very true about being available in digital format – I am one of those watching my favorite talk-shows online. And being aware of the top news currently spoken about is another powerful instrument allowing to offer to the audience what is in their highest demand at the moment.

    -Jessica Q. Yang

  7. Tedria says:

    Hi Jessica –

    Great post! I think late night talk shows have to implement these components in order to stay relevant on television. I have also seen reality shows, such as Dance Moms, try to follow suit with the dynamic of utilizing social media and hashtags to engage with the different audiences they cater to. I believe these tactics are strategic and offer the public the chance to be a part of the show instead of just watch it.

    The millennial generation is all about convenience. Being that a lot of people take part in tuning into shows online or through mobile apps, this creates the opportunity for options and growth within the network. If their only option was to watch it via the television, I am not sure the ratings would amount to what they are today.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Samantha says:

    Hello Jessica,

    Awesome post! I’m right there with you – I can’t wait for Colbert to start.

    I think you are very right. Taking advantage of the digital format and social media is definitely the reason that people like Fallon and Colbert have remained relevant among millennials. It’s not just entertainment shows that are doing this – news networks like CNN and MSNBC are starting to pick it up as well, and I think it’s really cool that so many people are embracing it.

    It looks like other people have pointed this out as well, but millennials have little attention span – they need their information in short bursts or they’ll lose interest. It’s both a fault and a strength for advertisers, etc., but I think it’s definitely more of an advantage because so much can be accomplished using the digital platform.

    – Samantha

  9. Christina says:

    Hi Jessica, what a great topic! You’re so right that social media has changed the landscape for late night. Late night content is by nature very current and shareable, but social media forces it to be even more so. Like 140-character tweets, there is even more pressure for late night shows to turn out sound bites and clips. And hosts must compete for attention not only against each other, but also against all the other social media noise and commentary. Nice work!

  10. Christopher Papazian says:

    Social media in your case has become quite the standard to further promote these television programs and provide supplemental content to further engage audiences when the show is not being broadcasted. It was a great point that in the old days, these additional pressure was not present as I remember Johnny Carson each night during the 70-80’s and outside of in-network commercials and the occasional magazine tabloid mention that seemed to be about it.

  11. Yunhee says:

    If you look at the Today Show, they’re always getting content ideas from social media! I think it’s great that you see TV being influenced by viral social media content because they’re touching on the pulse of what’s popular and influential at the moment. I think the hashtags shows incorporate are very clever because you can engage in discussions about episodes and shows via social media and continue to extend your reach.

  12. Eric says:

    Hi Jessica,

    I definitely agree with you about how the landscape of late night television has changed. Not long ago, David Letterman was the king of late night comedy. David had some great jokes that kept up with current events. However, his biggest challenge was his competition such as the Jimmy’s and Cohen who avidly social media. Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Cohen all use social media and therefore have positioned themselves well with the next generation of viewers for late night comedy.