CBS debuted its new late-night series ‘After Midnight,’ which wants to be comedy, talk and a game show all at once.
For the first time in almost 30 years, CBS no longer airs a talk show at 12:35 a.m. The network launched After Midnight this week, replacing The Late, Late Show.
The Late, Late Show featured four different hosts since it premiered back in 1995. Tom Snyder started the program and brought his trademark quiet but intimate interview style that viewers became familiar with when he hosted Tomorrow on NBC. Craig Kilborn, someone I never found all that funny, took over the reins of the program when Snyder retired. Craig Ferguson who could be hilarious one second and far too over-the-top the next, followed Kilborn. England’s James Corden, who brought the house down with a song on his last episode, closed down the show in 2023.
After Midnight, which the network styles as @fter midnight, is based on the Comedy Central series Midnight.
The game show aspect — which I knew wasn’t a genuine game show — at least made me want to sample a show. I have been a lifelong game show fan, after all.
What is it, exactly? It’s complicated
You might have a problem classifying it. It’s a comedy show — depending on your definition of comedy. You might call it a game show, although the competition seems pointless. If you consider the brief chat on viral videos and hot topics pulled from the internet to be talk, you might loosely call it a talk show.
But it isn’t really any of them. I watched the premiere — well, I watched some of it — out of curiosity.
Standup comedian Taylor Tomlinson, who I’d never heard of, hosts the new series. The first episode featured three comedians I’d also never heard of. Each comedian stands behind a scoreboard that makes it look like they’re about to play Jeopardy! Tomlinson presents a photo or video and a situation and awards each comedian 100 points if they can make a joke on whatever she presented.
The grand prize winner, she says up front, wins with her father’s approval. So you know right off the bat that you’re not watching a game show. They go through scoring as if the score mattered. In a way, it does, because they do declare a winner at the end. But the scoring process doesn’t make sense. On several occasions, scores jumped without there having been a joke to justify the change. That leads me to believe some jokes were cut, either for time or content. But that doesn’t make sense if you’re going to display scores — even in a bogus game show element.
OK, I get it. I’m taking it too seriously. Maybe I wouldn’t if the comedy was funny. It isn’t nearly as funny as the audience laughter might make you believe. Tomlinson seems to award points for every effort, funny or not. Imagine winning Jeopardy! whether you knew the answer or not. As the game show element of this goes, that’s about what it feels like.
I watched the first “round” of the show and never cracked a smile. The audience laughed out loud throughout. So maybe it’s not them. Maybe I’m the problem with this show.
Eventually, they eliminate the low-scorer, which, again, is a waste of time since the “scoring” system doesn’t really mean anything because winning the “game” doesn’t mean anything.
Of the remaining two, there’s one more joke challenge before the winner is declared.
It succeeds in making you question your sense of humor
I don’t think that’s what the show sets out to do, honestly.
Listening to the audience’s laughter, I wondered if I lost my sense of humor. Maybe I didn’t lose it; maybe I just misplaced it somewhere the way some folks temporarily lose their keys or their wallet.
It also makes me wonder if the late-night audience’s sense of humor has a much, much lower bar. I suspect it’s the latter…by a mile.
On the other hand, it’s uproariously funny if you find most of the clips you find of comedians on YouTube to be funny. Honestly, folks, I’ve seen comedians get laughs for just introducing themselves. Audiences at comedy clubs and comedy concerts seem to laugh when a joke falls flat as if it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. I always wonder about how much alcohol they consumed before the cameras began rolling for those clips.
If this reads like I’m being too uptight about it, I guess I’ll plead guilty. In fairness, I’m sure I’m not the target audience for After Midnight. But I also confess that I feel a little sad for the state of humor that target audience must possess.
But don’t take my word for it
I wouldn’t tell you to pass on the show. In fact, I hope you’d give it a shot and let me know what you think. It may well be that I just went in with too high an expectation if not too high a bar for jokes.
I suspect watching after a couple of glasses of wine might help, but I didn’t care to bother with that.
I give CBS credit for trying something different. I’m usually not up late enough to watch anyway. But this is a show I predict I’ll never be watching online the day after.