Tonight NBC makes history when it introduces its very first regular late night show hosted by a woman. A Little Late with Lilly Singh displayed a millennial talent invade the Peacock’s hallowed late night line-up in the maybe not-so-coveted 1:35 AM slot. While most of the headlines about the show are about Lilly Singh‘s exceptionalism as the literal only woman hosting a late night show on network television in 2019, the move proves that NBC has figured out that late night comedy doesn’t live solely after dark anymore, but shared on YouTube and social media. So it’s a genius move to put one of YouTube’s most successful home-grown stars front-and-center in her own late night show.
It’s not that people still don’t tune in to late night shows. In fact, just last week, about 6.5 million Americans were watching either The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, or Jimmy Kimmel Live! after their nightly news. Naturally, that number drops when it comes to the next wave of late night shows (only about 3.2 million folks stay awake for what’s on next), and NBC’s lone 1:35 am show, Last Call with Carson Daly, typically pulls in about 750,000 night owl viewers. It’s nothing to sneer at. There is obviously an audience awake in the wee hours of the morning, desperate for some sort of entertainment (or background noise to sleep to). However, late night shows don’t just earn buzz thanks to Nielsen ratings, but viral clips that advertise the show’s comedy writing, talent booking, or sheer trendiness.
The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon averaged a nine-month record ratings high in the first week of September. That means roughly 2.15 million viewers tuned in each night. Take a look at the show’s YouTube page and you’ll see that bite-sized clips from that time period have been watched by up to three times that many people. Specifically, this two-minute YouTube video of Carnival Row star Cara Delevigne playing “Sweet Home Alabama” on the guitar behind her head has 6.6 million views and counting. What this means is a late night show’s digital presence is sometimes more lucrative than its broadcast.
When A Little Late with Lilly Singh premiered, it had at its helm one of the most successful YouTube vloggers to date. Singh started a YouTube channel back in 2010, and since then has become one of the most ubiquitous talents the platform has launched. (Remember when she was one of the faces of the company’s ad campaign?) Singh’s personal YouTube account currently has just under 15 million subscribers, and a typical video can pull in millions of views, putting her work on par with the most viral of late night bits. Singh is coming to NBC with a built-in online audience and an innate understanding of how to make shorts that can go viral.
Nevertheless, Singh comes to her position with a lot more on her side than an up-and-coming comic might. She understands how to speak to a younger, more online audience. She’s comfortable speaking to the camera, in short bits, and with celebrity guests. Most of all, she’s got a following that has taken to her unique voice. All she has to do is keep that voice front and center, and A Little Late with Lilly Singh might just be the first late night show to hit slightly ahead of its time.