Charles Krauthammer always had the best explanation for the immediate and resounding success of the Fox News Channel.
“The genius of Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch,” he quipped, “is that they found a niche – half the American people.”
Prior to Fox, traditional Americans simply didn’t have a TV news outlet where their political preferences and religious views weren’t routinely dismissed or mocked.
There is a very similar situation right now. The network late night hosts, or at least two of the three, scorn average Americans, who scorn them right back.
We put up a poll this week on BillOReilly.com, asking you to choose between Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jimmy Fallon.
The good news for Fallon, host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, is that he is easily the winner.
The bad news, though, is that 82% of you said you would rather be shot than watch any of ’em.
Hyperbole, we presume!
Of course, the most successful host ever was Johnny Carson, who was the last person seen each weeknight by about 15-million Americans. Even his successor Jay Leno, who sat at the desk when Americans had many more viewing options, attracted 6-million or so.
But now the three would-be Princes of Late Night are more like paupers, with fewer than 3-million viewers each. To be sure, it is a different era in television and no network show in any time slot will ever again have the audience of Cheers or Bonanza or I Love Lucy.
The same is true for network newscasts.
But beyond audience fragmentation, there is something else at play. While Leno and Carson generally kept their personal politics out of sight, their successors often do the exact opposite.
But they should also be aware that even Trump-haters eventually grow tired of a one-trick pony. Colbert and Kimmel, putting their predictably left-wing views on display every night, have totally given up on half their prospective audience.
Colbert was first out of the blocks when he went on a profane rant that took Trump-bashing to a new low. That attracted both attention and more viewers, with many people wondering what he might say next.
More recently, Jimmy Kimmel dipped his toes into the political water, expressing his views on health care and gun control.
Liberals cheered, conservatives did not.
Knowing that it could cost him some Republican viewers, Kimmel said, “I probably wouldn’t want to have a conversation with them anyway.”
Colbert, the late-night basher-in-chief, obviously took notice of the fact that Saturday Night Live used Trump ridicule as a springboard to much higher ratings last year.
But he should also be aware that even Trump-haters eventually grow tired of a one-trick pony. SNL’s numbers are down this year, at least based on the first few shows.
The same joke, told over and over in different variations, can grow extremely tiresome.
Then there is Jimmy Fallon, heir to Carson and Leno as host of The Tonight show. He is perhaps still licking his wounds after taking a severe left-wing lashing last September.
Fallon’s great crime was having candidate Donald Trump as a guest and mussing up his famous orange-tinted hair. So, you see, he “normalized” Trump, rather than berating him.
Even before being chastened by that incident, Fallon tended to steer clear of politics, saying it is just not what he is good at. But while he trails Colbert in total viewers, Fallon’s show still has a very comfortable lead in the younger demographic coveted by advertisers.
Rest assured that Jimmy Fallon will not be imitating Eminem‘s anti-Trump profanity any time soon. He simply wants to be funny, which has become a strangely novel concept in the late night TV wars.
A left-wing writer at Salon actually complains that Fallon’s apolitical style is “too convenient and comfortable” and of course accuses him of displaying “privilege.”
That’s the word of the day, every single day of the week.
But Jimmy Fallon and his rivals should keep in mind that “comfortable” worked very, very well for Johnny Carson for three decades, even when the much-loathed Richard Nixon was in office.
And Fallon should be grateful that the other two guys have given up on attracting conservative and traditional American viewers.
As Dr. Krauthammer would say, there’s a niche market available for the taking in late night television.
Namely, half of America.