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February 21, 2014 1:39 PM Late Nite Lite

By Ed Kilgore

When you are horribly late if you sleep in until 6:00 AM, you don’t tend to watch a lot of late-night television during the week. So I’ve watched all the brouhaha over Jimmy Fallon’s replacement of Jay Leno on the Whichever It Is Show at an emotional distance (I also have a lot of trouble keeping Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel separate in my mind). Guess I’ll just have to take the word of Hadas Gold of Politico that it was a big moment for politics as well as for show-biz.

The curtain rose this week on a new era of late-night TV — altering the terrain for politicians who frequent the shows and complicating life for Republicans, who have lost their most comfortable seat in front of the camera.
“The whole landscape’s about to change,” Arsenio Hall, the recently reincarnated late-night host, said in an interview. “Jay [Leno] going home is going to change it for a lot of people….”
[T]here will definitely be less pure politics without Leno, experts said. While Leno and “Late Show” host David Letterman have relied heavily on politics in their monologues and had many politicians on as guests, Fallon turns political only when there’s a story so big it can’t be ignored, said Robert Lichter, director of Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University and the author of the forthcoming book “Politics Is a Joke: How TV Comedians Are Remaking Political Life.”
“[Johnny] Carson initiated political humor on late night, but Leno put it on steroids,” Lichter said. “Leno always told far more political jokes than anyone else. With folks like Fallon and others, you’ve got political humor when something big happens … so, for Fallon, politics is just one of many areas. For Leno, it was a major part of his arsenal.”

Okay, whatever. If I really need to understand the late-night zeitgeist, there’s always Colbert clips on YouTube. But with my schedule, I’m more likely to get up really early and check out Craig Ferguson.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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