By Debbie Bray

The most recent British experiment in late night TV – otherwise known as The Nightly Show – has just come to an end. Fronted by a rotating cast of celebrity hosts, ITV’s eight-week long run attempted to imitate the weeknight chat-show format that has been incredibly successful in the USA.

The Nightly Show started off strongly back in February – capturing 2.9m viewers for its first episode. However, sour reviews and schedule reshuffles led to the majority of episodes falling far below the 10pm slot’s 2.1m average. While ITV may be poised to bring back the show for a second round (albeit 30 minutes later in the schedule), it doesn’t seem that The Nightly Show was able to capture that much-lusted after American late night spirit.

So what went wrong?

Format Differences Between the UK and USA

In the UK, the straight-talking, journalistic style of hosts like Parkinson and Wogan, laid the foundation for modern chat shows – a style in which interactions with the guest(s) constitutes the heart of the programme. While more recent hosts such as Norton and Carr have departed from the more traditional, straight-forward format, there remains a compulsory emphasis on the guests in these programmes that holds them together.

Conversely, American late night presenters have historically offered more variety in their late night shows. From Conan to Fallon, the ubiquitous stand-up intro, cue cards, and house band point to their shared ancestor in Johnny Carson’s entertainment-driven Tonight Show. While guests are still an important part of the line-up, they don’t constitute the entire package. Back-and-forths with the compere, commentary on newsworthy items, and pre-filmed gags flesh out the programme, each eccentric segment bound together by the host.

The Nightly Show’s presenters never managed to hold the show together with the same cohesion or energy. Hesitant, patchy, and flat – those were some of the ways reviewers described the first week of ITV’s programme. This lack of cohesion wasn’t helped by the weekly rotation of hosts, who were never given enough time to find their feet. In trying to emulate its cross-Atlantic cousins too closely, did The Nightly Show’s hosts end up floating limply somewhere in between these two styles of presenting?

Struggling with Star Power

Interviewing well-known, celebrity guests is the bread and butter of talk shows. This is particularly true of nightly programmes which need to maintain a constant churn of A-list names across their couches.

Does the UK have enough internationally recognised talent to sustain this?

One of the major criticisms of The Nightly Show was the distinct lack of big-name celebrities. Guests like John Legend and Roger Daltry might be charismatic, entertaining figures, but they hardly compare to the likes of Madonna or the Obamas who have appeared in James Corden’s ‘Carpool Karaoke’ sketches.

As Lyndsay Duthie – lecturer and TV executive – recently stated in an interview for the BBC: “the US talent pool is much bigger than that of London, particularly around the LA and New York catchment areas where these talk shows are filmed.” Undeniably, this gives American chat programmes an advantage over their British equivalents.

Challenging Late Night Habits

For many in the UK, the BBC’s 10 o’ clock news heralds the final hour of TV viewing. Not only was The Nightly Show competing with an audience accustomed to tuning into their news at 10pm (a need fulfilled by ITV’s previous slot-holder), but they may have also been fighting lifestyle habits as well.

Over 60% of Brits go to bed between 10pm and 12am each night, with an average across the nation of 11:15pm (Sleep Council). In the States, however, television viewers are just getting started – there’s still an hour and a half before the heavy hitters of late night TV begin to broadcast. These programmes are attracting significant viewing figures: Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, broadcasting at 11:35pm (EST), attracted an average of 3 million viewers in the last week of March, and almost 1.5 million viewers regularly tune in for Corden’s programme an hour later.

With much of the British chat show talent driving viewing through the weekend, do the British just not have as much of an appetite for late night weekday programming?

Where Does the Nightly Show Go From Here?

We’ll be keeping our eye on The Nightly Show, and other efforts to execute a late night chat show on British screens. Our research has shown that there is an appetite in the UK for American-style content. This is particularly true among younger viewers as YouTube has given a UK audience access to these US shows at a vast scale. But….

  • How will UK broadcasters fit these shows around UK tastes and UK bedtimes?
  • How will they balance chat, comedy, satire and music?
  • How will they compensate for the lack of star volume?

Although many of these problems seem difficult, one thing seems certain: producers will continue to try and solve them in order to replicate a shiny cornerstone of US television in UK schedules.

By Debbie Bray, Co-founder, Hook Research

Hook Research is a media research and content development agency. We are proud to provide consumer insights and brand strategy to some of the biggest organisations across media, youth, and entertainment all over the world. Want to have a chat about how we can help your business? Get in touch at enquiries@hookresearch.co.uk

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