The Late Late Show UK… Can ITV get themselves a winner?

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In a week which has seen many television lovers crying into their creme patisserie with the whole GBBO transfer to Channel 4, it’s perhaps a great time to unveil a new show on the other big commercial platform that isn’t a name being transferred over, but something new.. well sort of.

It has been revealed that ITV have commissioned a new daily late night entertainment show which they hope will capture the nation in much the same way as the likes of The Late Late Show and Late Night With… do in America. Obviously looking to capitalise on the success of James Corden with the Late Late Show, ITV are seeking to try something a little different and they must be applauded for that – but the big question is will it work? And maybe more importantly, how do we make sure it works?

The Late Late Show and Late Night With.. are institutions in America. They have been running for years and have seen the real cream of the crop host them. You’ll know the names, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Craig Ferguson, Carson Daly, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert – they are all superstars in their own right and of course James Corden is in that bracket now. These shows are true monsters, attracting big audiences and superstar guests. So just replicating the format has got to be a surefire winner in the UK right? Well maybe not.

A great late night show has a unique formula, its not just the host – who has to be a great talent to translate the content to the audience – but there are many other ingredients that will make a late night pie extra tasty.

As radio technologist Gav Richards said to me on Twitter, the show needs (along with a prime host), “a good team of comedy writers, half decent guests, a set that doesn’t look cheap.” The presenter is one huge ingredient, but the presenter not only has to be good on their own, but also be able to convincingly convey comedy written by others. These shows in America work very well not just because of the natural talents of the presenter and their fantastic work on camera, but they work because there’s a sharp team of funny, pop culture obsessed, clever writers helping mould the clay that forms the show. They provide the monologues, help craft the sketches and provide dialogue which gets the laughs from the audience. This unseen team of clever folk are the cogs that make a show like this so slick and fun. It really helps to have natural talent – and the likes of James, Jimmy and Conan are perfect due to their own comedy and writing backgrounds, but this team absolutely need to be on point. Go on air with duff material and then a chunk of the audience are not coming back the night after.

The other elements mentioned need to be right too. Lets have a set that doesn’t look rubbish and not like its furnished from Poundland. Yes this show may be about the talent on it, but if it looks crap, people believe its crap.

Getting great guests out of the gate is important too. If someone tells you, “oh did you hear Beyonce is going to be on Late Night… tonight?” You’ll be interested because Queen B is a big name. If you were told, ““oh did you hear Beyonce is going to be on Late Night… tonight AND she’s playing her new song” then you’ve got another hook. Getting the big names at the start will help the show even further, establishing credibility and hopefully giving some great talking points.

Creating viral moments on this show is going to be another key focus on the show. Look at how huge Carpool Karaoke has become, its a free advert for the show that is shared by thousands every day/week on social media. You may not have watched the full show yet, but you know about it and if you’re about you may be more inclined to watch live so YOU can be the first of your friends to get that clip going viral or just out of plain interest, you may just hit that series link button.

It is fairly obvious to say that getting the host right is paramount. ITV must choose someone who can work within the format, yet push the boundaries. They need to find someone who is sharp witted, funny and genuinely likeable. This appointment will be key as the host could be a reason turn off as much as they would tune in.
The biggest obstacle I see though is making the audience have this programme become a huge part in their viewing habits. We’ve all got viewing or listening habits. Think about your routine when you get in from work. You may catch up with Sky Sports News/BBC News whilst dinner, (tea for us Northerners) is cooking, then you may sit back and watch the soaps or slip into a Big Bang Theory repeat hole. It gets a bit later and you may spot a game you want to watch or a special programme, then you may just reach for Netflix/Amazon Prime to restart that binge viewing of Narcos or whatever, then its bedtime. This is where ITV need to break that chain and make the late night show a viewing habit. Eventually this show would look to be ingrained in your mind and you shouldn’t even need a series link to never miss an episode.

Of course we’ve tried this format of sorts in the UK, Friday Night with Jonathon Ross, TFI Friday, The 11 O’Clock Show, Frank Skinner Show and others. There’s been success and there’s been failure and ITV know it all too well – remember Chris Evans’ late night ITV show? The network have to get this right out of the box to be a success.

Just as an aside… could Saturday Night Live work in the UK? Thoughts please.

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