While Netflix remains the chief streaming outlet for all things stand-up comedy, the service with over 125 million subscribers globally is trying something new: late-night TV. Specifically the style of television reminiscent of “The Tonight Show,” “The Late Show” and “The Daily Show,” all of which are still going strong on broadcast and cable networks.
Netflix is currently airing new episode of “The Break with Michelle Wolf” every Sunday, while “The Soup” veteran Joel Mchale’s “The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale” prepares for brand new episodes. David Letterman’s “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” recently concluded its short run, but with Hasan Minhaj’s recently announced late night show in the works, Netflix will have no shortage of such programming.
Yet the question remains, does late-night TV work for streaming? Where audiences are now accustomed to watching whatever they want, when they want to? It’s called “binge-watching” for a reason, and by releasing new episodes every week (Wolf, McHale) or month (Letterman), the current streaming model suggests it shouldn’t work. After all, Chelsea Handler’s “Chelsea” ended after two seasons at Netflix after struggling to make it work.
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In a recent Variety interview with McHale and Sarah Silverman, host of Hulu’s own late night-esque “I Love You, America,” the former revealed something intriguing about Netflix’s otherwise clandestine approach to tracking its viewing numbers.
Late-night TV in the era of binge-watching
“We are switching to an all at once [release] because they learned that even though it was coming out every week, people were watching it all at once,” he said. “So we’re just going to make the shows as if we’re just gathering things every week and hopefully the jokes will be funny.”
Of course, McHale doesn’t get into the specifics with a streaming rival and a member of the press in the same room, but the point still stands. When it comes to a program like “The Joel McHale Show,” which focuses on pop cultural happenings more than any other newsy topics, it seems binge-watching is the way to go.
So what about Wolf, Silverman and Letterman’s shows? The latter released new episodes on a monthly schedule, and considering the sheer weight of the host (and his guests), Netflix likely had no problem getting eyeballs on it. Yet programs like Wolf and Silverman’s, and presumably Minhaj’s when it premieres, rely far more on day-to-day topicality. Targeting an audience who binge-watches everything isn’t necessarily an option.
Or is it? As Silverman told McHale in their Variety conversation, “There is no appointment TV.” Sure, she might watch weekly releases like “This Is Us,” but only “whenever I’m in the mood to watch ‘This Is Us’ at any given time.” This is just one take on the matter, of course, and major shows like “This Is Us” still manage to attract huge numbers chiefly by appointment viewings.
But new research continually shows that binge-watching, especially due to streaming, has significantly change the way most people watch television. Some viewers have even taken to “binge-racing,” by which they will watch all of a show’s new season soon after its Friday release, a typical move for Netflix and other major streamers.
Perhaps there is something to Netflix’s decision to release new episodes of “The Joel Mchale Show” in one big batch. And who knows? Maybe this method, or one just like it, will work for similar late-night TV programs like Wolf’s, Silverman’s and Minhaj’s.