The Nightly Show – An opening night review

The US talk show format is one that hasn’t particularly translated well to the UK. Save for a couple of shows such as the Graham Norton Show on the BBC or the Jonathan Ross Show on ITV which feature key scheduling differences, such shows tend not to last on our airwaves for very long. In a stark contrast The Tonight Show, currently hosted by Jimmy Fallon, is an American institution and is indeed the world’s longest running talk show. Over 11,000 episodes have been hosted by 6 different people who are now immortalised in US TV history. Stemming from the success of this show, other networks got in on the act and some of the most recognisable names on television are or have been hosts of late night. Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and James Corden all host incredibly successful shows attracting millions of viewers across not only America but the world through social media. The formula of a monologue, music, guests and variety segments is in theory a simple one and is one that I have longed to see on British TV so when I saw that The Nightly Show had been commissioned, I was very excited. Last night saw the airing of the premiere episode – the big question then, can The Nightly Show finally be the catalyst for late night’s permanence in the UK?

In short, no. Not in its current state. In fact, if I wasn’t a fan of the format, I wouldn’t be tuning in tomorrow night.

The Set

The set screams ITV. Bright lights and massive LED video boards forming the backdrop to the set. It is loud and feels too small and cluttered. This is in a stark contrast to the simple but bespoke sets seen on the US talk shows. My personal favourite is the set seen on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon which can be seen in the clip below.

This isn’t a US exclusive thing either – look at The Jonathan Ross Show as an example of how that similar, more understated set design can work so well. In addition to the overall set, the desk itself felt cluttered. Too many little artefacts on it which made every shot featuring this week’s host David Walliams feel far too busy. This probably wasn’t helped by a camera shot which hid a portion of the desk behind the end of the sofa. In fact, the whole set somehow felt very cramped for the type of show that it is.

The Host

Unlike the US staples that the Nightly Show is based upon, there is no fixed host for The Nightly Show. For its opening week the host is David Walliams before Liverpudlian comedian John Bishop takes over the desk next week. As a comic, I have nothing against David Walliams and enjoy some of his sketch comedy but he just did not look comfortable as a host of this sort of show and looked so uncomfortable behind the desk. It just wasn’t a great fit with Walliams playing up to camp stereotypes rather than featuring any insightful interviews or truly cutting comedy. There are plenty of other comics in the country both young and old that could have used The Nightly Show as a platform to launch a career. It is therefore I think a shame that not only will there not be a consistent host but also that it didn’t start with either a trusted name on the stand up or talk show circuit or go with someone new but capable of making the show their own.

The Content

Unfortunately, the actual content of the show didn’t make up for the defects outlined already. With only 30 minutes – more like 26 less commercials, the show didn’t have enough time to breathe. Everything from top to bottom felt rushed. The opening monologue (which is in the American prime time and late night shows the staple to set the mood and pace of the show) was only 6 minutes long about half of which was indeed taken up with, to be blunt, unfunny pre-taped skits – last night all focussed on last night’s Academy Awards. Jokes were on predictable topics with equally predictable punchlines. Nothing about the monologue inspired any confidence in what was to follow. Walliams seemed to rely more on funny video clips or headlines to draw laughs rather than skilled writing. Throughout the show there were a couple of 30-60 second ‘La La Land’ skits which were painful to watch and felt out of place. Then came the interviewing. Unfortunately, this all felt painfully scripted – both questions and answers regimented as if they were perfectly on an autocue and had been timed perfectly in rehearsal earlier that day. It didn’t feel like a conversation between interviewer and guest as you want these talk shows to feel – it felt more like interview by formula, and not in a good way. Then you have the guests themselves, Martin Clunes and Nina Conti. I don’t want to knock on either of these in their professional capacity as they are both good at what they do but they are not exactly ‘A-list’ guests to kickstart your show with.

Another awkward and forced segment could be seen during Clunes’ interview. The segment, ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ were quick fire questions, delivered by Walliams and answered by Clunes who gave comedic non-answers for the most part all under the pretence that answering 10 in the 60 seconds would result in one member of the audience winning tickets for two “to the home of the Academy Awards, Los Angeles, courtesy of [ITV’s] friends at”. That segment ended bizarrely with confetti falling from the ceiling with the winner trying to run up onto stage before the show went into the commercial break. Also in the show was an awkward ‘surprise the audience’ feature akin to those seen at the start of Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway with one audience member being surprised with a fake advert starring Martin Clunes that had been pre-recorded for the cafe that she worked in.

Ventriloquist and comedienne Nina Conti was the second guest on the show and she started her appearance with a routine that lasted no longer than 4 minutes before doing her ‘human puppet’ act on Clunes for a couple more. Again this was just too short to have any real value on the show. After this Walliams previewed tomorrow’s show and said he’d see us there. Sadly for this show, I don’t expect that to happen. I fully expect to see a large drop-off in viewership for tomorrow’s episode. It is a long time since a show disappointed on this scale, but it is in every single conceivable way inferior to its American counterparts.

What’s missing?

There were core features of the American prime times and late nights that The Nightly Show were just missing – most notably for me a live band. There is a charm and flexibility to the show that the live band provides. When you think to some of the best segments that have happened on the US talk shows they have featured the live band.

Wheel of Musical Impressions with Jimmy Fallon and Ariana Grande – it featured The Roots:

Or Jamie Foxx:

Or there was the moment that Anna Kendrick sang for Stephen Colbert:

The other big thing that I felt was missing was just the right atmosphere. I said at the top of these pieces that talk shows are relatively formulaic. Monologue, music, guests and variety segments. These shows though are formulaic in the way that burgers are – every burger has a core formula of at least buns and a beef patty. Most would agree that cheese, bacon and lettuce feature in there somewhere as well, but there is something that is added by each restaurant that makes it unique for that place. The Nightly Show didn’t feel like a signature burger, tweaked for by the chef at a specific restaurant but rather was a plain and nondescript burger that just stuck to the formula. It may only have been episode one, but at no point did it feel as if the show would ever give birth to amazing moments that go viral. I can’t foresee hits like Carpool Karaoke or Lip Sync Battles stemming from this show – indeed segments which have given way to their own spin offs. Nor can I just see fun and spontaneous moments that get people talking like Anna Kendrick’s Riff Off with James Corden – a segment which occurred when Corden’s Late Late Show was still in its infancy.

I really want to be wrong on this. I want to see The Nightly Show start from a rocky foundation and grow to become a national institution like The Tonight Show is in America. The sad reality is however that I don’t see it happening. If it is to succeed, a lot of changes need to be made and fast. Much fuss was made by ITV of this taking the 10pm slot from the ITV News at Ten. In many ways though, this has become a hinderance leaving it with only half an hour as the lead in to the news. If I were sat at ITV, The Nightly Show would be 1 hour long, 10:30-11:30pm every weeknight. This would give the show more time to breathe and have a more natural flow rather than one that is dictated to by a countdown to commercial. Bring in a live band and ditch the revolving door of presenters. Find a single comic who is prepared to take the seat. My pick – a reliable one in Jimmy Carr. Edgy enough to deal with the topical comedy but at the same time someone who knows the talk show and game show circuit inside and out meaning that he would fit well for some of the more unconventional aspects that makes the US equivalents of this show great. Ditch the awful pre-taped skits and focus on a strong and funny 10 minute monologue at the top of the show. Leave the audience surprises to Ant and Dec and revamp the studio to look less like a daytime game show hosted by Ben Shepard and more like that of a talk and variety show.

Where the show goes from here is solely in the hands of ITV but the instant Twitter reaction to the show last night was merciless and I don’t expect that to ease up tonight, tomorrow or the next night either. ITV need to take notice and fast if they want to have The Nightly Show a permanent and successful feature of our TV schedules and not be another chat show that fades into British TV obsolescence.