Russell Brand premiered a new late-night series in the US last week. Brand X With Russell Brand, which airs on FX in the States, mixes Brand's stand-up with political satire and audience participation. I watched the premiere episode, and it stank. It's nothing to do with Brand's hosting abilities; he actually came off as sincere and likeable. Unfortunately, all the charisma in the world couldn't hide the fact that the audience were noticeably uncomfortable and Brand's 'assistant' Matt appeared to be on some kind of tranquiliser. I didn't even get through the entire episode. I switched to The Daily Show instead, which made me realise something: there is an incredible amount of late-night television in the States.
On top of Brand's series, and Jon Stewart's Daily Show, there is a veritable smörgåsbord of shows that are broadcast when everyone should be in bed. The most well-known late-night shows are the ones shown on the main networks, like The Tonight Show, The Late Show, Late Night With... etc. These veteran programmes follow the same basic format: a topical monologue followed by scripted skits and celebrity interviews.
However, in recent years, the rising popularity of cable television has produced some shows that have successfully tweaked the format. Some, like the aforementioned Daily Show and The Colbert Report, have ventured into news commentary while maintaining comic roots. Others, most notably E!'s successful Chelsea Lately and Bravo's Kathy, have chosen to focus more on popular culture, with a selection of comedians giving their views on recent hot topics. Whatever the format, though, there is a lot of choice when it comes to late-night viewing across the pond.
So, why isn't the same thing happening here? Why do we get stuck with repeats of terrible films while our American cousins are spoiled for choice?
It's not as if we don't have any shows that are similar to the late-night programmes; we do. Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton, Paul O'Grady and Alan Carr all host shows that are similar in style to The Late Show and The Tonight Show. However, there are three main differences that have to be noted. Firstly, the British shows are broadcast only once a week, while the American ones run Monday - Friday. Secondly, the four aforementioned British series are broadcast sporadically throughout the year. The American ones, on the other hand, are shown all year round, with short breaks during the summer and at Christmas.
Lastly, and most importantly, our shows are too guest-dependent to be truly entertaining. For example, I watch Chelsea Lately quite frequently because I know that it will be entertaining, no matter who the guest is. This is because of the roundtable discussion at the beginning of each episodes, in which a panel of guests discuss the latest showbiz stories. Unlike Graham Norton's show, equal weighting is placed on this early part of the show as there is on the celebrity interviews. I don't know about anybody else, but I won't tune in to The Jonathan Ross Show if I'm not a fan of any of the guests, as there isn't really much else to offer. So what are we going to do to fix this?
I know what I would do. My first move would be to get rid of 90% of the celebrity panel quiz shows that dominate the idiot box. Just off the top of my head, you've got Have I Got News For You, QI, Celebrity Juice, 8 Out of 10 Cats, Mock the Week, Argumental and many, many more. If we get some of these out of the way, there will be enough room on the schedule for some nightly, comedy-chat shows. Furthermore, the people who are on the panel shows can move to the new ones as hosts and guests. They must be pretty cheap to produce as well. All you need is a sofa, a desk and an audience. It's really that simple.
If any television executives are reading this, I implore you to see some sense and give me something to watch when I'm up late, wondering how I can avoid failing at life. Just give me a British Chelsea Lately and I'll be a happy man. I'll even host it for you, because I'm just that kind of guy...