The Nightly Show: Britain's latest crack at US-style late-night TV

ITV has shifted News at Ten to provide an alternative to the BBC, but does the transatlantic format work on this side of the pond?

The return of a popular whodunnit mystery on ITV on Monday night at 9pm – the third and final series of Broadchurch – was followed at 10pm by the arrival of what some observers regard as an unpopular whydunnit mystery: the displacement of the longstanding factual flagship, News at Ten, by a new half-hour entertainment series, The Nightly Show.

This has been announced for an initial experimental two months – although the ITV continuity announcer simply said it would appear “every night” with a different presenter every week: John Bishop, Gordon Ramsay and Mel & Sue are slated to present a quintet of editions each, with David Walliams fronting the first five.

Daily late-night topical comedy shows have always been more common on US television than in the UK, where Michael Parkinson, Jonathan Ross and Graham Norton have all failed at some time to establish the genre as a Monday-to-Friday fixture.

Curiously, though, two of the current American roster are presented by Brits – James Corden is in charge of CBS’s The Late Late Show, while John Oliver presides over HBO’s Last Week Tonight. The Nightly Show looks to have studied those models closely.

In the American fashion, Walliams started with a stand-up monologue before moving to a trinket-covered desk for interviews. It’s too early to know whether it was by chance or policy that the satirical targets were mainly American, as well: the Oscars, Donald Trump. A running gag involved dropping Walliams into news footage or movies.

The producers of The Nightly Show advertised online in January for “fun enthusiastic people”, who were challenged: “Do you want to surprise a friend or family member with a hilarious prank? ... Do you want to interact with your favourite celebrity? ... Or is there something in your life that become the next viral sensation? A hidden talent, an embarrassing family member, or even just a pet with a party trick?”

But, for the moment, vulgar uncles or talented cats are being held in reserve, as the only one of the touted-for items on offer in the opening show was an ambush by the famous, with the owner of a pie shop being surprised by a commercial recorded by Martin Clunes, her favourite actor, who also chatted to Walliams about the return of Doc Martin to ITV. Suspicion that the series may be a shop window for the network’s own wares was increased by a teaser for an appearance later in the week by “all four judges from The Voice”. Only the second guest, ventriloquist Nina Conti, didn’t seem to be promoting anything.

During the commercial break, Tom Bradby popped up from the News at Ten studio to trail what is now News at 10.30. In the circumstances, this seemed like asking a spurned husband to be best man at his wife’s next wedding. The fact that Bradby was wearing a casual shirt and promoting mainly lightweight stories – a freak hamburger, Leicester City – seemed evidence of the extent to which ITV is determined to loosen up its late nights, providing a clear alternative rather than a rival to the BBC.

There was a sticky moment in the Clunes chat when Walliams asked him about rumours that the next Doc Martin would be the last. That wasn’t necessarily the case, said the actor, but ITV always waited to see the ratings before recommissioning.

It’s clearly too soon to judge the chances of The Nightly Show after only one of its declared 40 editions. But, if the first night proves representative, the show may struggle to equal, on any of its five nights, the level of star power that Graham Norton manages on his one. It will need to answer firmly the question: why this at that time?

News at Ten is such an institution – due to celebrate its 50th birthday in July – that some will inevitably see the substitution by The Nightly Show as the televisual equivalent of Joni Mitchell’s lament: “They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot.”

It’s easier to change your mind about a light entertainment try-out than a car park but this latest attempt to achieve here what Johnny Carson and David Letterman made an indispensable part of the American schedules showed, on its first outing, what a steep leap the format is in Britain, even if it were not squatting in the home of a journalistic institution.


Mark Lawson

The GuardianTramp

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