Showbiz politics prof on late-night TV host changes and line-ups

September 2, 2015  


Kathryn Cramer Brownell

Kathryn Cramer Brownell 
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — There is a demand for political satire and the new late-night TV hosts will need to meet it, especially as the country approaches the next presidential election, says a Purdue University historian who specializes in "Showbiz Politics."

"All these host changes open up possibilities, and I expect the new hosts will be evaluated on not just their jokes but how and if their comedy provides smart insight into the political process," says Kathryn Cramer Brownell, an assistant professor of history and the author of "Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life." "Decades ago, the old guard were very suspicious of presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who had a different political style that used a carefully crafted celebrity persona to engage voters but now that this approach is the mainstream it plays an integral role in contemporary politics. Over the past two decades, Jon Stewart has raised the standard for political entertainment, and President Barack Obama's seven appearances on the show has validated its importance in getting elected and selling policies."

Brownell says these shows are often news sources for younger audiences, and they have given young people the chance to be engaged with politics while also providing a comedic way to express frustrations with the media and political establishments.

"Filling the shoes of Stewart and Colbert will be difficult and younger hosts will likely invent new ways to create their own media personalities to tap into the public demand for political entertainment," she says.

The late-night television changes include the retirements of Jon Stewart from "The Daily Show" and David Letterman from "The Late Show." Trevor Noah is replacing Stewart and Stephen Colbert is replacing Letterman. This also will be Jimmy Fallon's first presidential election as host of "The Tonight Show." There also are more venues for such political satire openings as personalities like John Oliver or even Amy Schumer continue to build a larger following.

"If these new hosts are successful, politicians will want to stay with this late night comedy platform because candidates want to be where people are having conversations," Brownell says.  "Viewers are both media consumers and voters, and Obama has been successful in turning this act of consuming entertainment into votes. The key to the 2016 election is how to do the same, and so far, entertainment has continued to be in demand - from the 'Donald Trump Show' to Jeb Bush's 'slow jamming' of the news with Jimmy Fallon."

"Innovation will be key," she says. "And with so many political contenders in the primary races and these TV show host changes, it will be interesting, and entertaining, to watch who commands attention on the primary trail and attracts ratings on the late night comedy shows - both of which may well benefit from one another." 

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Kathryn Cramer Brownell, brownell@purdue.edu 

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