Late night talk shows have adapted the most seamlessly, in what feels like a throwback to earlier days of broadcasting, which relied on pioneers like Jack Paar and Steve Allen to hold the viewer’s attention minus any modern frills.
Granted, the hosts have missed having audiences and the energy they derive from appreciative laughter, but they’ve been broadly effective.
“You can’t really do anything that fake. It’s really you,” “The Tonight Show’s” Jimmy Fallon said during an MSNBC interview on Tuesday. “It’s showing your real character. … It’s bizarre, but this is the times we’re living in.”
John Oliver’s HBO show “Last Week Tonight” has weathered the shift almost without missing a beat, while working the new minimalism into the comedy. Bill Maher, by contrast, has essentially traded in his panel for individual interviews, while continuing to provide staples like “New Rules” and using clips of laughing audiences as a garnish to his monologue.
As it stands, one of the more creative efforts thus far has been “Sesame Street: Elmo’s Playdate,” a star-studded special that played on HBO. Then again, that ran slightly less than 30 minutes, and puppets don’t have to worry about social distancing.
Everyone deserves to be cut slack as they find their way through this unprecedented period. But the lessons that programmers are learning now should inform what they’re doing not only in the near term, but over the long haul, especially with the likelihood that social-distancing methods will be necessary, off and on, for an extended stretch.
That said, watching a lot of these programs in a week has somehow simultaneously stoked admiration for those soldiering on and made one yearn for TV like they used to make it way back in February of 2020 — as loud, gaudy and filled with the sound of actual human laughter and applause as you can get.