The global demand for late night talk shows

15 May, 2021

Ever since the late night talk show genre was popularized by Johnny Carson in the United States during the early sixties, the format has changed significantly. These days audiences tune in for news, sketches, music performances and celebrity interviews that are moulded by the personality of the host. Late night talk shows allow audiences to easily connect with the format in part due to the fun structure that doesn’t require much concentration to view. With the Covid-19 pandemic interrupting numerous late night broadcasts, what does the current demand for the genre look like?

Current late night trends

Over the last 30 days The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon was the most in-demand late night talk show worldwide, having 25.49 times more demand than the average television show. The show’s recent return to studio, with small audiences along with consistently funny segments and interesting guests, most likely contribute to this number.

Next is The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, which has 17.56 times more demand than the average television show. Since its arrival in 2015, the talk show has been steadily in demand whilst also ranking in the 97.64th percentile within the comedy genre. This means that the show has higher demand than 97.64% of comedy series worldwide. It is likely that this demand comes from the popular political satire segments that Colbert performs on the regular.

The third most in-demand late night talk show in the world over the last 30 days was The Daily Show hosted by Trevor Noah. It had 15.83 times more demand than the average television show during this period. Airing on Comedy Central, this late night show has most likely seen consistent global demand due to Noah’s in-depth news satire segments. With the golden age of rating battles between David Letterman and Jay Leno well and truly over, these numbers are still high considering a large percentage of late night audiences have switched over to digital platforms such as YouTube.


The late night genre is more in-demand in the United States as these shows are aired by American broadcasters, which likely restricts global demand as the shows are generally only available to those who subscribe to cable television networks. This is evident in the data: Over the past 30 days the most in-demand late night talk show, The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, in the 99th percentile in the variety genre. This is a large contributing factor behind producers attempting to create viral segments where they can reach global audiences on YouTube for further exposure for the show.

The map below shows the global demand for The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. The show had 23.51 times more demand than the average television show in the United States over the last 30 days, which is understandable considering it is an American show. This number is almost double that of the next country Germany, where it had 13.65 more demand than the average television show. Indonesia surprisingly enough sits at third over the last 30 days, with The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon having 10.01 times more demand than the average television show. These all land in the outstanding category, where only 2.7% of all series live.


Late night competition

Although it falls under the comedy genre, it would be hard to leave out Saturday Night Live when discussing the demand for late night television. Elon Musk's recent appearance spiked worldwide demand for the show due to his international profile, with SNL peaking as the number one TV show in the world. Whilst another late night competitor, the fact that the sketch comedy show airs on Saturdays instead of weekdays means it doesn't clash with any of the talk show slots.

As increasing number of people turn to streaming services to consume television shows, this immediacy and freedom has made it difficult for late night talk shows to keep up. This is evident in the fact that over the last 30 days in the comedy and late night genres worldwide, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and The Daily Show ranked 29th, 58th, and 73rd respectively.

What does this tell us?

Audiences are now seeing a shift in the late night model. In order to stay relevant, Conan O’Brien recently announced a move from TBS to HBO Max for example. This highlights the continued need for traditional media companies to go digital, especially after late night talk shows struggled during the pandemic. In recent years the genre has attempted to connect with the younger demographic through social media, as late night clips frequently get millions of views on YouTube. An example of this is Apple TV+’s spinoff series of James Corden's Carpool Karaoke segments that were popular online.

It will be interesting to see what the future has in store for the late night genre due to the online shift. In recent years Netflix has attempted to recreate the formula with shows such as Patriot Act with Hasan Minaj, and The Joel McHale show with Joel McHale. However, both of these have largely failed to create loyal audiences. This is most likely because these shows lacked the elements of the late night genre that popularized it in the first place, such as a regular time slot and well known segments. In saying this, large networks with in-demand late night shows will be hesitant to go fully digital too soon due to being able to reach online audiences through social media.

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