Tuesday, June 19, 2018
TV and Media

Colbert, Stewart, Maher, Bee: It's the RNC!

A few months ago, Bill Maher, the host of HBO's topical comedy series Real Time With Bill Maher, proposed to the network that it add special live episodes on Wednesday and Thursday nights to follow the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

Maher said he believed this strategy would help his show capitalize on the intense interest in this year's conventions and distinguish itself.

"I thought maybe we'd have this all to our ourselves," he said, adding with a chuckle, "I guess that was too good to be true."

Indeed, it was. Real Time, CBS's Late Show With Stephen Colbert and NBC's Late Night With Seth Meyers are all planning live episodes following convention broadcasts in these two weeks, as is Comedy Central's The Daily Show, with host Trevor Noah.

Additionally, The Daily Show will be presented from Cleveland (Republicans) and from Philadelphia (Democrats) and is enlisting its team of correspondents to file satirical reports from the road. TBS's Full Frontal With Samantha Bee is producing dispatches from the conventions for its regular Monday shows and adding an episode Wednesday.

While these programs are scrutinizing speeches, delegates and party officials, they also have the opportunity to establish their hosts as the comedic conscience for this political era — to own that role as Jon Stewart did over 16 years as host of The Daily Show.

The competition will not be simply about having the best one-liner or viral video. These shows are trying to define themselves and claim their turf in an increasingly fragmented category.

"The stakes are tougher for everyone," said Kent Alterman, president of Comedy Central. "I don't think it's a zero-sum game. Good comedy comes from strong, singular points of view and there's room for more than one."

The Daily Show has made its robust convention presence a hallmark of the program.

But now, the stakes are higher for the show, and for Noah, who succeeded Stewart in September. On Thursday, for the first time in 16 years, The Daily Show received no Emmy Award nominations.

Alterman said he expected Noah's tenure would be "an evolution," just as it was for Stewart.

"The show that Jon inherited was much different than what it became — that's just a natural process," Alterman said. He added that Noah's convention coverage "will be satisfying for people who have been really watching, and hopefully an opportunity for people who haven't been paying attention to check back in."

Adam Lowitt, a Daily Show executive producer, explained that the ability to be on site can drive the program into "peak performance."

No Emmy nominations went to Colbert's Late Show, either, and the program, which made its debut in September, has had difficulty finding its footing since its host was recruited from the Comedy Central news satire The Colbert Report.

The Late Show live convention coverage is expected to feature some limited involvement from Stewart, now one of the show's executive producers, who has largely stayed off camera.

Programs like Full Frontal, which made its debut in February, are throwing themselves into the scrum for the first time. Jo Miller, a Full Frontal executive producer, said that in Bee's visits to past conventions as part of The Daily Show, she proved her talent for finding comedy in dry and seemingly dull settings.

"There's no way we were going to miss letting her loose on conventions that are actually, inherently interesting for once," said Miller, who worked with Bee at The Daily Show.

Ratings, too are an undeniable incentive for these programs, which hope to draw in fresh viewers who stick around after the official convention proceedings are over.

"Who can blame us all?" Maher said. "Once we saw that the Republican debates got an audience of 24 million people, who doesn't want a part of that?"


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