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Revisiting the future of late-night TV
How did my predictions from 2013 hold up? Is Conan hosting 'The Late Show'? PLUS: Damon Lindelof had some wild 'Star Wars' plans , and what's up with the 'Fantastic Four' casting rumors?
It’s Tuesday, which means there’s a brand new edition of Popculturology in your inbox.
In addition to watching our usual mix of Succession and Barry over the weekend, we also rewatched Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (totally holds up) and started the final season of Workin’ Moms (this one lost its way a few seasons ago). We also showed our daughter the opening musical number for the original Lion King, and — wow — does it put to shame the soulless “live-action” version of the movie.
The Writers Guild of America goes on strike beginning Tuesday morning. The news was too late to cover in this edition, but a special edition of Popculturology should already be in your inbox.
(Pssst … anyone out there have a Bluesky invite they can spare? Not sure if it’s the second coming of Twitter that we’ve all been waiting for, but it sounds fun.)
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Feature Presentation: The state of late-night TV
Bonus Feature: What’s going on with Fantastic Four’s casting?
The News: Damon Lindelof, Helen Mirren and Star Wars; a possible Superman: Legacy actor
Playlist: Barry, Succession
The state of late night
Late-night television was on the verge of a seismic shift in early 2013. Back then, Popculturology was in its first iteration as an entertainment news website before going into a lengthy hiatus and then reemerging as this newsletter.
On March 21, 2013, I published a piece on the old Popculturology titled “Fallon! Leno! Letterman! Conan? 5 Questions About the Future of Late-Night TV That Must Be Answered.” Word had recently broken that NBC was about to retire Jay Leno for a second time.
While the news wouldn’t be official until a few weeks later, the news that Leno would step down from hosting The Tonight Show for a second time and Jimmy Fallon would soon replace him had the potential to set off a massive wave of change in late-night TV. Would David Letterman retire too? Who would replace him? Who would follow Fallon as host of Late Night? Would Conan O’Brien make a move in all of this?
Back in the early 2010s, I watched a lot of late-night TV, whether live or online the following day. As a single guy coming off a job that usually kept me at work until past midnight, I was usually up until 4 a.m. — the perfect window to catch up on all of this. (My write-ups on the late-night shows are what caught the eye of the editor of TV.com, which led to me getting paid to write about pop culture as a side gig.)
I boldly set about making a bunch of predictions for how the shifting late-night TV landscape would shake out.
Some of my predictions were too bold …
Letterman will call it quits once his contract is up in 2014 with O’Brien replacing him as host of Late Show. If he outlasts Leno, there's nothing left for Letterman to prove. He’ll have triumphed over his greatest foe … and he’ll have passed [Johnny Carson] as the longest-running late-night host in the process. By handing CBS’s 11:35 late-night show to O’Brien, Letterman will have the pleasure of sticking it to NBC and Leno one final time. Let’s not forget that this wouldn’t be the first time Letterman would pass the late-night torch to O’Brien.
And some of them wound up being dead on …
With Fallon leaving Late Night, who’s in line to replace him as that show’s host? … Here's the secret to finding clues to how this question will be answered: Follow Lorne Michaels. Just as Michaels groomed Fallon for Late Night and now The Tonight Show, Michaels is the key to figuring out who the next host of Late Night will be. From the SNL roster, the name that sticks out the most is Seth Meyers. As head writer and Weekend Update anchor, Meyers has proven that he can not only script comedy but also deliver jokes …
By the end of 2015, late-night TV was radically different.
NBC swapped Fallon in for Leno in February 2014, with Meyers sliding into Fallon’s Late Night slot. Letterman announced in April 2014 that he would retire. CBS poached Stephen Colbert from Comedy Central as Letterman’s successor. Instead of sticking around as Colbert’s late-night partner at CBS, Craig Ferguson stepped away from The Late Late Show. CBS brought in James Corden to replace Ferguson.
By September 2015, four of the five late-night shows on network TV had different hosts in them. (Jimmy Kimmel has hosted Jimmy Kimmel Live! since January 2003.) As demonstrated by Corden’s farewell sketch with Meyers, Kimmel, Colbert, Fallon and Letterman, the climate is no longer as cutthroat as it was during the wars between Leno and Letterman or Leno and O’Brien.
Here in 2023, we find ourselves in the midst of another shift in late-night TV.
Corden signed off from The Late Late Show this past Thursday, drawing a close to not just his tenure as host of that show but also closing out the franchise’s run altogether. CBS plans to replace The Late Late Show, which has been hosted by a succession of Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn, Ferguson and Corden since since 1995, with a revival of Comedy Central’s @midnight.
Going beyond network TV, O’Brien wrapped up his illustrious late-night career in June 2021, ending his eponymous TBS show. TBS also canceled Full Frontal with Samantha Bee in in July 2022. And over at Comedy Central, Trevor Noah stepped away from The Daily Show, hosting his last episode on Dec. 8, 2022.
Comedy Central, thankfully, isn’t killing The Daily Show, and has been working through a revolving roster of guest hosts as it works to decide who’ll succeed Noah. (It has to be Roy Wood Jr., right?)
John Oliver is still going strong, hosting Last Week Tonight for HBO, but his show (like Samantha Bee’s) only airs an episode a week, so it’s not quite the same thing as the rest of the late-night hosts doing four or five shows a week.
Let’s take a look at the status of the remaining four network late-night hosts.
Kimmel finds himself the godfather of this crew. He’s hosted Jimmy Kimmel Live! since 2003 and has been in the 12:37 a.m. timeslot since 2013. He renewed his contract in 2022 for another three years. Kimmel’s a huge part of ABC, hosting the Oscars for the network in 2017, 2018 and 2023.
Not counting Saturday Night Live, Fallon has been a key part of NBC’s late-night lineup since 2009, hosting Late Night from 2009 to 2014 before making the jump to The Tonight Show. Fallon renewed his contract in 2021 for another five years. With Fallon having a hand in other shows in the NBC and Peacock fold (That’s My Jam), there’s no way he’s going anywhere soon.
Unlike Fallon, Colbert didn’t come up through the late-night ranks on CBS. The former Colbert Report host renewed his contract in 2019. From everything I’ve read, it was a three-year extension on his previous contract — and that extension is up in August 2023. I haven’t been able to find anything about Colbert extending his deal since then, which means there’s a chance his tenure as host of The Late Show could come to an end this summer. Do I think that will happen? No. But with CBS cutting costs and already scuttling The Late Late Show, it’s not something that would be beyond reality.
Like Fallon, Meyers renewed his deal in 2021 to keep him hosting Late Night until 2025. There’s been a lot of speculation that Meyers could replace Lorne Michaels as head of SNL at some point (if Michaels were to retire after SNL’s 50th season in two years, maybe?). This is something I’ve been wanting to breakdown in Popculturology at some point, but Meyers recently told Corden that “I kind of do want to do it forever” when asked about sticking around in his Late Night role.
The era of late-night musical chairs, though, is over. These four hosts have their roles as long as they want to stick around. There’s no heir apparent over at CBS waiting to step in for Colbert. Fallon is actually younger than Meyers, so it’s not like he’s going to retire anytime soon and give Meyers a shot at The Tonight Show. (And as O’Brien and Fallon have proven, Late Night is a much better place for creativity.)
This is the end of an era. Late-night shows now exist solely to drive clicks on YouTube and maybe get something to go viral on social media. As these hosts move on, networks are going to look for cheaper ways to replace them.
Let’s check back in on this in 2033 to see how these late-night predictions turned out.
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Fantastic Four casting rumors spiral out of control
Wild casting rumors around Marvel Cinematic Universe movies aren’t anything new. Whether it was speculation that Will Smith or John Krasinski would play Captain America or speculation that Joaquin Phoenix or Ewan McGregor would play Doctor Strange, this is just part of the process.
The casting rumors around the Fantastic Four reboot, though, are teetering on the verge of the absurd.
Over the past few days, we’ve gotten rumors that:
These rumors are on top of the belief that Adam Driver is a lock at this point for Reed Richards.
While director Matt Shakman’s film isn’t scheduled to hit theaters until February 2025, fans eagerly want news about who will play Fantastic Four’s four lead characters.
Kunis possibly playing The Thing — you know, the rocky dude played by Michael Chiklis in the original Fantastic Four movie — would be a wild twist. (And I’m sure Marvel’s most well-adjusted fans will take a gender-swapped Ben Grimm/The Thing very well …)
I hope Marvel Studios makes some official Fantastic Four casting announcements soon …
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Helen Mirren as Rey? Is this why Lucasfilm didn’t move forward with Damon Lindelof’s Star Wars script?
“I joined the Star Wars universe and was asked to leave.”
The Lost and Watchmen mastermind had previously been working on the script for a Star Wars movie that would be directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. In March, word broke that Lindelof was off the project, replaced by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight. At Star Wars Celebration last month, we learned that Obaid-Chinoy’s movie would be set ten years after Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and bring Daisy Ridley back into the fold as Rey.
It appears that Rey — and who plays her — might be what led to Lucasfilm moving on from Lindelof.
In the Friday night edition of his video podcast, Jeff Sneider revealed that Lindelof’s script picked up sixty years after The Rise of Skywalker with two new Jedi being trained by an older Rey, with Helen Mirren as the actor envisioned playing that role.
That would have been a bold move. Lucasfilm has been very weird when it comes to casting younger versions of its iconic Star Wars characters, but an older version? How would audiences have responded to someone new playing Rey?
I’ve gotten the feeling that this New Jedi Order movie feels like Star Wars: Episode X, closing some story loops that J.J. Abrams should have done in The Rise of Skywalker, had he not been so intent on undoing Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Casting someone other than Ridley as Rey takes away that sense of closure.
Would you want to hug this possible Superman: Legacy actor?
In that same podcast, Sneider teased on a possible actor in line to play Superman in James Gunn’s Superman: Legacy, naming Harris Dickinson as the person he’s heard rumored for the role.
Scrolling through Dickinson’s recent credits — Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, The King’s Man, Triangle of Sadness, Where the Crawdads Sing — and I have zero familiarly with the English actor’s work.
Does he look like Superman? Yeah, I can see him pulling it off. More importantly, does he look like someone you’d want to hug?
“It’s gotta be somebody who has the kindness and the compassion that Superman has and be somebody who you want to give a hug,” Gunn told Variety last week when asked about his casting process for Superman: Legacy.
Is Cillian Murphy logging on for Tron: Ares?
The news in January that Disney once again had a sequel to Tron: Legacy in the works should have been exciting news for fans of that film, but any excitement was tempered by Disney moving forward with a version that will star Jared Leto instead of Garrett Hedlund or Olivia Wilde, the stars of Tron: Legacy.
While we wait for any news that Hedlund or Wilde are returning for Tron: Ares, a new rumor has a least one member of Tron: Legacy’s cast coming back for the sequel. Scooper Daniel Richtman reported this past week (via JoBlo) that Cillian Murphy will return as Edward Dillinger Jr. to be Tron: Ares’ villain.
If you don’t remember Murphy in Tron: Legacy, that’s understandable. He played a very small role, but appeared to be set up as a foil to Hedlund’s Sam Flynn.
John Mulaney turned down The Daily Show
In an interview this past week, John Mulaney revealed that he had been offered the gig of hosting The Daily Show after Jon Stewart stepped down. The comedian told the Basic! podcast (via AV Club) that he had turned down chance, coming off the failure of his NBC sitcom, Mulaney.
“I was extremely flattered that y’all were asking me about it,” Mulaney told Basic!’s Doug Herzog and Jen Chaney. “It wasn’t the right thing at the moment. I remember saying to [then-Comedy Central president Kent Alterman], ‘I wish it was five years from now.’ He went ‘Yeah, but it’s not.’”
Before Mulaney tried his hand at a sitcom with Mulaney, he really was seen as the anchor type. In addition to The Daily Show, Mulaney was long rumored to be the person in line to replace Meyers as the anchor of SNL’s Weekend Update.
More Ghosted weirdness
While I’ve been focused on trying to figure out why Ana de Armas and Chris Evans had zero chemistry in Ghosted (was it because they didn’t shoot their scenes together?), director Dexter Fletcher has revealed another way that his Apple TV+ movie suffered.
While chatting with the A Trip to the Movies podcast (via Deadline), Fletcher told the story of how his original plans to begin Ghosted with de Armas’ character going for long drive through the mountains was cut short when it was explained to him that in a streaming movie, something needed to happen within the first thirty seconds or you’d lose your audience.
“You can’t make a film for streaming the same way you do for theatrical,” Fletcher told A Trip to the Movies. “There are different metrics and approaches. There has to be, for the very reason that people can turn off very quickly. … I thought it was great, this three-minute opening scene, and they said you can’t do it because if it [the opening sequence] goes on and something doesn’t happen in the first 30 seconds, we know the data shows that people will just turn off.”
This admission from Fletcher reveals one of the biggest problems between movies that are released in theaters and movies that are created for streaming services. In a movie theater, sure, people can leave, but you don’t need to trap them within the first thirty seconds of a movie. You can take your time.
Andy Samberg enters the Spider-Verse. The Brooklyn Nine-Nine star will voice Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, according to One Take News. Samberg joins his fellow Lonely Island actor, Jorma Taccone, who voices Vulture in the movie.
Rob Delaney returning for Deadpool 3. The actor will bring Peter, his iconic Deadpool 2 character, into the MCU, according to Deadline.
True Detective creator will take a stab at Blade script. Nic Pizzolatto is rewriting the script for the character’s MCU debut, The Hollywood Reporter wrote on Friday. Blade stars Mahershala Ali, who previously lead Season 3 of Pizzolatto’s True Detective.
Pedro Pascal, Connie Nielsen, Joseph Quinn will entertain you. Deadline reported on Monday that the Last of Us star had joined Ridley’s Scott’s Gladiator sequel. The trade broke the news on Friday that Nielsen and Quinn were in talks for the project too. Nielsen’s return would give the sequel a key link to the original 2000 film. Pascal, Nielsen and Quinn join Paul Mescal, Barry Keoghan and Denzel Washington.
Ioan Gruffudd joins Bad Boys 4. Deadline reported on Friday that the former Fantastic Four actor is the latest addition to a cast that includes Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Paola Núnez, Vanessa Hudgens and Alexander Ludwig.
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Episode: “it takes a psycho”
Cristobal. What a gut punch watching Hank betray the man who loved him, first on their business venture and then at the end of a Chechen mobster. What a crushing twist from the couple’s presentation at Dave & Buster’s a few episodes ago.
For over three seasons, Barry has left a trail of ruined lives in his wake. It turns the show is fully capable of continuing that trend even when Bill Hader is barely in an episode.
Hader’s direction was impressive this episode, with Cristobal’s muffled descent into the darkness of the sand silo being a claustrophobic highlight of the episode.
“You killed all those men.” — Cristobal
“That’s what’s bothering you?” — Hank
The Roy kids are spiraling out of control.
Kendall, drunk on the taste of power he’s dreamed of for years, is cooking numbers, manipulating footage of his late father and demanding full houses with their own cloud systems be built overnight for investor presentations.
Roman is quickly careening in the opposite direction. The head of his company’s film division? Fired. Gerri? Fired. After appearing to be the only Roy sibling with his feet on the ground earlier this season, Roman is now cracking.
And Shiv? She’s an agent of chaos. Texting and meeting up with Lukas. Playing Bitey with Tom the night before the investor conference.
At least Greg/Pitch Bot seems to be doing well.
“When I met you, all my life, I’d been thinking a little bit about money. About how to get money, and how to keep money. You didn’t ask me in, Shiv. You kept me out. And I always agreed to all the compartments, but it seemed to me that I was going to be caught between you and your dad. And I really, really, really love my career … and my money … and you know, my suits and my watches.” — Tom to Shiv
How Roy Wood Jr. crushed the toughest room in comedy (Wesley Lowery, The Washington Post)
Citadel Is Amazon’s Latest Costly Attempt at Making a Brand-Defining Franchise (Miles Surrey, The Ringer)
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