Why The Topical Talk Show Eludes British Television

British and American television has a long history of attempting to replicate the other’s success. From the successful transition of The Office for American audiences to the complete failure of the US version of Skins (cancelled after one season) adapting a successful TV show for a new audience has always been a risky business. British and American audiences are very different when it comes to viewing habits. The latest move to try and replicate a successful format from across the Atlantic is ITV’s attempt to bring the Monday to Friday late-night talk show to Britain.

The late-night talk show in the US has had a rise in cultural significance in the past months. Donald’s Trump Presidency has given the hosts of the shows more fodder than they know what to do with. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has moved away from the celebrity talk show of the David Letterman era to become much more political. Forbes reported that Stephen Colbert’s show, which used to come third behind Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, is now regularly coming in at second place. Seth Meyers’ late night show also recorded a 6% jump in viewing figures after the host started to pick apart the Trump administration.Secretary Kerry Makes an Appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in New York City

Late night shows in the US by British hosts James Corden and John Oliver have also been hugely successful with Corden regularly causing Internet meltdowns with his carpool karaoke. With the UK currently also experiencing a political upheaval through Brexit, and a raft of comedians ready to host a show, ITV believed that the UK was finally ready for it’s own version of the late night talk show, The Nightly Show.

The first two weeks of The Nightly Show unfortunately haven’t been a success with both low in critical opinion and viewing figures. The Telegraph gave the second week a one star review stating that the show “still needs urgent surgery.” Unlike the US talk shows The Nightly Show changes presenter every week. The first week was hosted by David Walliams, the second and third weeks by John Bishop and Davina McCall, with Dermot O’Leary and Gordon Ramsay to follow. This marks a big difference to the US format where the host builds up a long-term relationship with the audience (just look at the fanfare when David Letterman left).

Yet the biggest problem The Nightly Show has is history. The late night shows are part of US pop culture. The Guardian spoke to television critic for Variety, Maureen Ryan who said, “in the US the format is certainly viewed as a way to recap the day and begin the process of winding down before going to sleep.” In the UK the winding down comes on Friday and Saturday nights, the nights of the Graham Norton Show and Jonathan Ross Show. The habit in the UK to ‘recap the day’ is arguably the 10 o’clock news slots, which incidentally is another bugbear for critics of The Nightly Show as the News at Ten was pushed to the 10:30pm slot.

There have been many successful television transitions across the pond such as The Office, which after a slow start found its feet to become hugely successful. Perhaps the biggest transitional successes have been game shows and reality TV. The UK version of the American Apprentice has run for 12 seasons and is still on going. In the past, game shows such as Strike It Lucky in the UK were much more successful than the US version Strike It Rich. The show went on to run for 13 years and amassed more than 200 episodes on UK television with host Michael Barrymore at the forefront of the show’s success. Although in a strange twist of fate, Foxy Casino reported that the UK version had to change the name of the show to Strike it Rich in 1996 after the owner of the original name refused to give them the rights. UK television has also exported the highly successful Big Brother and X-Factor around the world.

The difference between these shows and trying to replicate the US talk shows is that they didn’t try to change viewing habits. The Nightly Show is attempting to change the British relationship with TV in a time when the Internet has taken over viewing habits. Perhaps the format needs time to stick but as it continues to go ahead, it is becoming very clear that British audiences are either not ready or don’t want the topical talk show format from the states.

All of us at Trickbox, wish The Nightly Show every success. We’ve been providing live outside broadcast facilities for the show and it’s proved to be a pleasure to work on.

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