Best of Late Night 2022: A Rebuilding Year
The landscape of late night has changed significantly since the beginning of 2022, with the departures of several hosts and the end of two weekly shows.
With audiences and advertising revenue dwindling, networks are in a precarious place. By the end of the year, the diversity of a format long known as a white-guy haven had dwindled even further, and the future of late night was ever more uncertain amid the growing dominance of on-demand streaming, where topical monologue fodder has little value and talk-show experiments have repeatedly failed.
Trevor Noah, for one, was ready to try something else. In November, he shocked viewers and colleagues by saying he would step away from “The Daily Show” after seven years as host. He said that he wanted to devote more time to stand-up, and debuted a new Netflix special and a tour during his last few weeks on air.
Noah signed off on Dec. 8 with a tearful exit thanking supporters as well as the Black women who raised him, giving them credit for his success.
Comedy Central announced that an array of famous funny people will fill in until a permanent replacement for Noah can be found. The guest host lineup includes Wanda Sykes, Chelsea Handler, Kal Penn, Al Franken, Sarah Silverman, D. L. Hughley, John Leguizamo, Hasan Minhaj, Marlon Wayans and Leslie Jones.
Noah wasn’t the only host who decided to leave: In April, James Corden announced that he would depart “The Late Late Show” sometime in 2023.
CBS hasn’t announced plans for a replacement for Corden, who this fall seemed to be preparing for life after late night by returning to his acting roots. He starred in the Amazon dramedy “Mammals,” which premiered in November.
Unfortunately for him, the show’s debut was overshadowed by a slightly ridiculous mini-controversy involving accusations of rude behavior at a restaurant, which Corden eventually was forced to address on air.
This year also saw the end of Showtime’s Bronx buddy comedy, “Desus & Mero.” The show shifted its format and time slot several times over four seasons before signing off in July after an apparent falling out between the two co-hosts.
Another well-regarded late-night show came to an end in July, albeit involuntarily. TBS canceled “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” which won its second Emmy two months later, in the short-form category.
Trevor Noah’s 7 Years on “The Daily Show”
The host, who took the reins of the show from Jon Stewart in 2015, exposed America’s many blind spots through witty and passionate commentary.
- Time to Depart: Trevor Noah announced that he would be stepping down in September, citing a desire for a better work-life balance.
- Saying Goodbye: In his final episode of “The Daily Show,” Mr. Noah told viewers not to be sad and called the night “a celebration.”
- An Outsider: The talk-show host, who grew up in South Africa and represented a part of the world often neglected by American news, helped his audience see through his eyes.
- His Best Moments: Noah’s comic perspective set him apart from other late-night hosts. Here are the highlights.
At the Creative Arts Emmy ceremony, where that award was announced, the staff expressed hope that the show would be picked up elsewhere. So far there have been no takers, and Bee’s departure leaves Amber Ruffin as late night’s sole female host, with her “Amber Ruffin Show” maintaining its Friday night spot on Peacock.
Which leaves the broadcast big guns, the white guys, most of whom will be under contract for several more years. Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers are all staying put for now, and will likely spend 2023 desperately trying (and often failing) to make jokes about anything other than the former president.
The fallout from the Capitol riot has been a late-night focus all year, with Colbert going live after the first night of televised hearings held by the Jan. 6 committee. Colbert presupposed the hearings would be “this summer’s most compelling drama,” but the hosts decided the proceedings just weren’t hot enough for prime time.
Not long after the hearings began in June, some “Late Show” staff members were arrested at the Capitol complex while filming a segment featuring Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and the comedian Robert Smigel, who voices the puppet, but the charges were dropped in July.
Trump may have left office in 2021, but he continued to be a part of the news cycle even beyond his involvement with Jan. 6. Topics like his continued denial of the election results and his company’s fraudulent tax schemes frequently dominated late-night monologues, the hosts unable to resist low-hanging fruit like the news, in February, that he had been dropped by his longtime accounting firm.
Hosts also kept on top of news out of Mar-a-Lago, particularly the revelation, in August, that Trump had taken classified documents from the White House and kept them for himself. (He claimed he had “declassified” them.)
Trump’s 2024 campaign announcement was both expected and lackluster, something Kimmel called “the moment none of us have been waiting for.” It was quickly followed by his widely covered dinner with Kanye West and the white nationalist Nick Fuentes.
Brace for impact
With Georgia a key state in the midterms, Noah took “The Daily Show” to Atlanta for a week of shows, with guests like Stacey Abrams, the ultimately unsuccessful Democratic candidate for governor. Noah’s monologues were more like his stand-up than his usual desk fare, suggesting the stage is where he truly shines.
While some midterm candidates attempted to distance themselves from Trump, others embraced the association, which didn’t always work out. Late-night hosts homed in on two such candidates in particular: Dr. Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker.
A ‘devastating’ decision
Reproductive rights were a hot late-night topic in 2022, spurred by the leak of a Supreme Court decision challenging Roe v. Wade and then the eventual ruling, in June, overturning it. Chelsea Handler, guest hosting “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” discussed her abortions during her monologue, while Meyers brought on Alexis McGill Johnson, the CEO of Planned Parenthood, to discuss the decision’s implications and potential solutions with three of the show’s female writers.
Samantha Bee delayed a summer hiatus and went on air while she had Covid to address the “devastating” decision.
Reclaiming her time
Kimmel has been a champion of Quinta Brunson, reuniting the “Abbott Elementary” creator and star with her inspirational sixth-grade teacher in an early 2022 episode. But when Kimmel appeared at the Emmys, many viewers were less than thrilled with his refusal to leave the stage during a bit that took time and space away from Brunson’s big win for outstanding writing for a comedy series.
Kimmel then apologized to Brunson on his show, offering her the chance to interrupt his monologue and continue delivering her thank-yous.
Noah scored a coup near the end of his run on “The Daily Show,” landing the first sit-down interview in which Will Smith substantively discussed his Oscars slap of Chris Rock. But it was Noah’s frank discussion of the late Queen Elizabeth II that illustrated just how different a perspective he brought to late night. While hosts like Corden, a Brit, gave sad remembrances of the matriarch upon her death, Noah addressed how the British Empire’s colonialism affected people in Africa and India and shaped their perceptions of her reign. “You can’t expect the oppressed to mourn the oppressor,” he said.
Best of the rest
The Jimmys played a joke on their audiences, switching shows for April Fools’ Day and pranking fans.
Corden took “The Late Late Show” to London, where he invited Lizzo for a spin on “Carpool Karaoke.” It was a memorable installment of the segment viewers will surely miss most when Corden leaves next year.
Finally, Jon Batiste, a five-time Grammy winner, sat down for the Colbert Questionnaire before taking what was described at the time as a hiatus from his post as the “Late Show” bandleader.
Batiste ultimately decided not to return to the show, his TV home for seven seasons. It was one more late-night departure in a year largely defined by them.