Culture Clips: Do (Late Night) Nice Guys Finish Last?

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Jimmy Fallon

I watched about five minutes of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert the other night. That was as much as I could take before Colbert’s political monologue drove me in search of something kinder, gentler. Something like, say, the Tonight Show with host Jimmy Fallon, who’s mostly eschewed the kind of political skewering that has become Colbert’s comedic bread and butter.

Now, you might think that there would be plenty of other folks out there like me who are as weary of the politicizing of everything, all the time, as I am. But, in fact, you’d be wrong—at least when it comes to late-night TV. It turns out that the more political Colbert gets, the more people are tuning in to hear what he has to say.

The New York Times reports that since the presidential election last year, Colbert’s audience has grown by 23% while Fallon’s has dropped by 26%. Meanwhile, over on ABC, viewership for Jimmy Kimmel Live! has grown by a more modest 4% this season.

Earlier this year, Fallon talked about his approach to late-night comedy, saying of his avoidance of politics, “It’s just not what I do. I think it would be weird for me to start doing it now. I don’t really even care that much about politics—I gotta be honest. I love pop culture more than I love politics.” That nice-guy approach, it seems, isn’t connecting with the late-night crowd.

Meanwhile, two entertainment icons who until this morning had spots on many fans’ “nice guys” lists have now been swept into the career-shattering winds of the so-called “pervnado” of sexual-abuse allegations: Today Show host Matt Lauer and A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor, both of whom were fired today by their longtime employers (NBC and Minnesota Public Radio, respectively) after accusations of abuse and/or inappropriate behavior.

Writing for The Atlantic, Megan Garber said of Lauer’s abrupt  and shocking dismissal, “Lauer’s co-hosts were left to do, on live TV, the work that so many of their fellow colleagues, in places across America, have been doing, over the past two months: Processing, out loud. Grieving, in public. Being shocked at a man who held himself as paragon revealed to be anything but.”

Christian youth culture expert Walt Mueller blogged about Lauer, writing, “Today’s story is not one that should teach us about Matt Lauer. Why? Because in so many ways Matt Lauer is each one of us. Because of that, this is an opportunity to learn even more about ourselves and to teach our kids the increasingly-forgotten skill of doing the same.”

Meanwhile, actress and singer Selena Gomez seems to be doing some processing herself. She spoke at the 2017 Hillsong Conference, reading a letter she’d written to herself about her own spiritual journey. Among other things, she said, “Selena, you are enough! Not because you’ve tried hard, not because you have loved hard or put on your best face. Not because you have been given a large platform and not because others tell you ‘you are enough.’ You are enough because you are a child of God who has been pursued from the very beginning. You are enough because His grace has saved you and covered you.”

Also speaking out recently was Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, who doesn’t understand why everyone makes such a big deal about the sex and nudity on that popular show. She told Harper’s BAZAAR, “I’m starting to get really annoyed about this stuff now because people say, ‘Oh, yeah, all the porn sites went down when Game of Thrones came back on.’ I’m like, The Handmaid’s Tale? … That is all sex and nudity. There are so many shows centered around this very true fact that people reproduce.”

Elsewhere in the news this week, concerns about the influence of smartphones continue to proliferate in some surprisingly diverse ways. A new study by researchers at Purdue University titled “Death by Pokémon GO” suggests that drivers who’ve crashed while playing the game are responsible for billions of dollars of property damage and hundreds of deaths. Researchers also believe that the growing incidence of self-injury among middle school girls may be correlated with smartphone usage.

And the Wait Until 8th movement—which strongly encourages parents not to let their middle schoolers get smartphones before they’re in 8th grade—is garnering publicity in multiple news outlets lately as well.

Finally this week, Grammy nominations were announced. More than a few publications have commented on hip-hop’s domination of the music world’s highest honor and the lack of any white males being nominated for the coveted Album of the Year category for the first time since 1999. Instead, Jay-Z, Bruno Mars, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino and Lorde will compete for that honor.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 10 days ago
Did anyone ever watch the Jimmy Kimel challenge, where parents tell their kids, they ate all their Halloween candy? I found many of the kids' reactions to be funny. It was also interesting how all the kids didn't just have a tantrum. Some cried, some forgave their parents and others were just annoyed. 
SJamison 11 days ago
It's not surprising that Colbert being more political increases his viewership--that's his best shtick.  Without it he's just another bland semi-funny guy, and not nearly as good at that as Fallon is.  The catch being that if a particular viewer doesn't like political shtick or is rabidly opposed to Colbert's viewpoint, they're not going to tune in, thus there's a strong upper limit to his viewership.  Whereas Fallon could at any time have a really good lineup of guests that boosts his viewership for that particular episode, because casual viewers know they won't get any politics with it.
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SJamison 10 days ago
That would put it in the first category (doesn't like political shtick.)
jake_roberson 11 days ago
An interesting angle that I am surprised (but not really) the New York Times didn't take into account when looking at Late Night ratings is Fallon's embrace of digital content and platforms--YouTube in particular. 

Other Late Night shows use YouTube, but I think Fallon does it best and that is where many young adults I know (yes, it's anecdotal, but let's go with it) choose to consume Late Night content and his show specifically. Frankly, that's the only way I consume any content from any of the Late Night shows.

So Fallon's TV audience may be on the decline, but how does that compare to his audience on digital platforms? One of my hunches is that he isn't losing his audience, but is just meeting them elsewhere (online) more frequently.
bobed 11 days ago
Fallon has millions more subscribers on Youtube and billions more views than Kimmel, let alone the other hosts. You may be onto something.
bobed 11 days ago
I wish late night hosts would stay out of politics altogether. That is not your job and you are not qualified to speak out on it. Your job is to entertain, not to preach. Jimmy Fallon has the right idea. Jimmy Kimmel, however - I can't stand two seconds of his grandstanding and preaching. Colbert is even worse. They really do believe they are above us little people.
Andrew Gilbertson 11 days ago
Emilia Clarke is not the first one I've heard to give such a defense. (Incidentally, I don't think she's defending GoT so much as indicting Handmaiden's Tale along with it). But they always seem to be missing one crucial understanding- there is a difference between acknowledging a fundamental fact of human life, and deeming it fit for public consumption.

There are plenty of things, from the loathsome to the sacred to the intimate that human beings do- some rightly, some wrongly- that are simply not edifying or right to air in public. A strange thought in a reality-TV, paparzzi-style world where privacy is increasingly a theoretical concept, but... yeah.

No one is saying that people don't have sex, or have bodies. No one's even saying that those things are bad, within the context God appointed for them. What they ARE saying is that those things are too sacred for base, crude public display. Just because something exists doesn't automatically equate to 'and therefore, you should show it to everyone.'
bobed 11 days ago
Totally agreed. You have a great understanding of this issue and a great ability to articulate it. I wish Emilia Clarke would read your comment.
Andrew Gilbertson 10 days ago
Awwww, thanks!
Anonymous 11 days ago
The "wait until 8th" movement makes me feel glad and and a teeny bit smug at the same time. I'm in 12th grade, and I still don't have a smartphone.
bobed 11 days ago
A kid who doesn't stare at their little box all the time? How refreshing! I hope there are many like you in this new generation.
Anonymous 5 days ago
Unfortunately, no. :( An 8-yr old boy once asked me what kind of phone I had. He was SHOCKED when I told him I didn't have one.
Anonymous 11 days ago
Ha! I win! I'm a year out of high school and I still don't have a smartphone! :p I'm smugger...?...smuggest?...smugglier?...than you. Smug doesn't look like a word anymore... :)

In all seriousness, I can understand why parents might give their child a cell phone - if there's an emergency and/or they're separated from each other, the child can still contact the parent and/or other safe people. But other than that, I can't fathom why any child would need to have a cell phone - much less an actual smartphone.

- Lionsong
Anonymous 5 days ago
Daaaang! Kudos to you then.
bobed 11 days ago
Let me play devil's advocate here. A smartphone is the way of the future. It's a computer in your hand, can help with classwork, can connect to friends, can find any information in the world, and so forth. My oldest has begun paying for her own. I asked her what she uses it for, and she told me that it's very helpful in school and communicating with friends. She has almost sold me on them, LOL.
Anonymous 11 days ago
I'm in 10th grade and don't have a smartphone.
Justice M. 8 days ago
Well, if we're having a contest...

...I'm 22 and don't have a smartphone. And I didn't buy the flip phone I have until just 2 years ago. :) 

It's not that smartphones aren't useful tools; it's just that I know I would quickly become addicted to mine if I had one, and the basic plans for "dumbphones" (as I call them) are quite a bit cheaper.
bobed 12 days ago
Poor Emilia Clarke is blinded by the lie of the enemy and has no understanding of what sex can be, when experienced in the bounds of a covenant marriage. This is what softcore network dramas like Game of Thrones do to people.