The biggest, gaudiest two weeks of the late-night TV year have arrived: The major political conventions are about to begin.
An unusual 2016 election cycle promises that the conventions themselves will be gifts that keep on giving. Will there be another Clint Eastwood and the empty chair moment? Possibly. But late-night hosts don’t need a chair or Dirty Harry to fill up all the hours they must fill this week. Conventions, both Republican (July 18-21) and Democratic (July 25-28), offer what’s called “found” comedy, and the late-night hosts should find plenty.
“The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (11:35 p.m., CBS/2) will air live editions from New York starting Monday. Jon Stewart (also an executive producer of “Late Show”) is expected to be a guest on Monday.
“Late Night With Seth Meyers” (12:35 a.m., NBC/4) will also air a special live edition (from 30 Rock) on July 21.
Meanwhile, both Bill Maher and Samantha Bee will air extra editions over the next couple weeks. “Real Time With Bill Maher” (11 p.m., HBO) — which will continue to air Friday editions — will add a pair of half-hour shows on July 20-21 and July 27-28.
Bee’s “Full Frontal” will air “A Very Special Full Frontal Special” on July 18, 20 and 25 (10:30 p.m., TBS); portions of the RNC editions have been pretaped.
Then, continuing a decades-long tradition, Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” will decamp to both Cleveland and Philadelphia — the only late-night show to do so. Regular editions will air Tuesday-Friday (July 19-22; 26-29) at 11 p.m. (with live shows July 21 and 28) along with two clip-based specials (July 18, 25, also at 11 p.m.). Numerous “multiplatform” programs (including on Snapchat and Sirius XM) will be streamed.
I spoke last week with “TDS” executive producer Steve Bodow about what to expect:
Obviously, the single biggest difference for you and “TDS” during these conventions is a new host. What have you warned Trevor (a native of South Africa) about what to expect?
Not just warning him, but explain a little bit about the tradition — that there are two competing festivals, Woodstock and Coachella, in two different houses, and these two festivals go back to back, and that what we’ve been seeing all year are their competing visions and the idea of what the country is and where it’s going. And these weeks distill all that down to the very essence of it all — that you’ll see it in its purest form, the crack cocaine of politics.
These conventions can also be long, tedious and heavily preprogrammed. What’s so funny about them anyway?
Each convention has a very interesting and inherently funny overall narrative. The Republican Party has been victim of a hostile takeover, and I think a lot of the funny throughout the week will be how they wriggle and writhe and get comfortable with the fact that Donald Trump is their new standard-bearer. And large numbers [of party officials] will not show up to their party to watch them reconcile. This, too, will make for great comedy.
Hillary [Clinton] has been trying to get to this place for so long, and can she really unify the party that was so completely behind her, and then [the race] turned out to be a real squeaker. Even with Bernie’s [Sanders] endorsement, will people still support her and how enthusiastic will the support be?
Naturally, something unpredictable might happen, too?
It’s great for us when people overreach or go off script. Clint Eastwood, the surprise guest speaker who ended up doing this bizarre rant at an empty chair that he kept calling ‘President Obama.’ It wasn’t just one of the highlights of the year [in 2012] but of the whole fourteen years we’ve been doing this. [And] Trump is such a unique character, and he has different values — not in the moral or ethical sense, but in the entertainment sense. He understands entertainment and how to produce [TV]. I have to think he and his people will bring that to bear, too.
How do you feel Trevor’s first year has gone? He got roughed up by a few critics, I recall, early on, but I think he’s turned into a very good host, and the show feels pretty seamless right now.
Certainly he was taking over a tough job, but we’re pretty pleased with how things have been going. He’s charismatic and funny. And as far as the reaction, lots of people are watching the show who are considerably younger and lot more diverse than when Jon [Stewart] was here. So it was all to the good in bringing someone like Trevor in here.
These next two weeks certainly aren’t “make or break,” but they are clearly the most important two weeks of his tenure so far in terms of added visibility. How have you advised him?
In fact, the biggest moments aren’t ones that you necessarily know are coming but the ones you don’t and which might also supply a big opportunity for us. The big moments for him as often as not are those things that come at a surprising time but are not necessarily funny. The terrible shooting violence [in Dallas, Minnesota and Baton Rouge], for example, when he rose to the occasion. He felt very deeply about that.
I’m certain one of his great challenges this year has been that constant refrain among Jon Stewart fans — that he’s not Jon Stewart. Many of them sorely miss Stewart’s cathartic fury, but “cathartic fury” is not what Trevor does.
A few things are going on there. Jon did express that at times, but I was here for more than 2,000 episodes, and over many, many of those episodes, there was nothing approaching cathartic fury, but people still tend to remember those moments out of proportion. They just didn’t happen as often as you might think. Second, Trevor is temperamentally a different person. He just is, and there are times when that approach serves us very well. There are other times when people want a hotter reaction, and he’s not always going to offer that. Sometimes it’s just a matter of the kinds of issues he’s passionate about, and they’re different from the ones Jon might have had. But this is a younger audience and a more diverse one that is connecting with Trevor and wasn’t necessarily connected with Jon Stewart. They’re relating to what Trevor is bringing. He’s a different guy with a different audience.
It takes a while for someone who’s new to American television to find an audience, but we know we’re headed in the right direction. We know this is long term, and we know this is going to be great, and I think most nights are pretty great already. It was a tough first year, but also fun and rewarding. We all love Jon and miss him all the time, but we all still really enjoy getting to do this and do it with a new person.