For the past year and a half, the 2016 presidential election has been shaped by the wry observations and biting commentary of late-night hosts like Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah and Bill Maher. But as the campaign finally comes to a close on election night tonight, only Colbert and Noah will be weighing in on-air, with Colbert switching networks to do so.
ABC, CBS and NBC are preempting their late-night shows tonight for extended election coverage, which means The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Late Late Show with James Corden will all be on hiatus. On the cable side, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Real Time with Bill Maher and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee don't air on Tuesdays (though Full Frontal will broadcast a post-election episode on Wednesday), and TBS is giving Conan the night off. (Viceland is airing its new late-night show, Desus & Mero, live at 11 p.m., but that show has only been on the air for three weeks.)
That leaves The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, which will broadcast an hourlong show at 11 p.m. on Comedy Central with Viacom simulcasting it on MTV, VH1, Spike, TV Land and MTV2. That show will be joined by Colbert, who will jump to CBS' sister network, Showtime, for a live election special, also airing at 11 p.m. Stephen Colbert's Live Election Night Democracy's Series Finale: Who's Going To Clean Up This Sh*t? will be broadcast out of Colbert's Late Show home, New York's Ed Sullivan Theater. (Colbert isn't the only talk-show host switching networks on election night. The View is airing a live, two-and-a-half-hour election special on Lifetime starting at 9 p.m.)
Showtime Networks president and CEO David Nevins, who first revealed the possibility of a Colbert election night Showtime special in August, reached out to Late Show showrunner Chris Licht earlier this year about doing something election-related with Colbert. Nevins circled back after Colbert's successful post-convention live shows, just as Licht realized that the Late Show would be preempted on election night.
"The format is a little different because there's no commercials, although we'll have some taped roll-ins," Licht said. "And we don't have to worry about offending sponsors, and we don't have to worry about swearing or full frontal nudity—which you'll probably see some of. But other than that, our show on CBS is a reflection of Stephen, and it's him. … The basic comedy is performed and written by the same team, so you'll have Stephen but just on Showtime. From a format standpoint, there are certain things that will be different, but the core of what we're doing is reacting to what's happening at that moment on election night in a funny way."
The Showtime show will include a performance from Elle King and an appearance from the trio behind Showtime's election documentary series, The Circus: Mark Halperin, John Heilemann, and Mark McKinnon. Beyond that, Licht is keeping guest details under wraps.
"Anyone who is on the show from a guest standpoint will be relevant to the election," he said. "It doesn't mean that we're going to have politicians on, but if there's a celebrity who is on, it will be under the guise of what's happening tonight."
Could there be another appearance from Late Show executive producer Jon Stewart, who is executive producing the special along with the other Late Show EPs and who popped up on last night's Late Show to encourage viewers to vote, as long as it wasn't for "little orange groundhog" Trump? "I can't comment on that," Licht said.
While Colbert's special is supposed to end at midnight, Licht said, "We do have some flexibility to go longer."
"We're trying to build the night in a way that we can really react to what's happening," he said "And if what's happening means that we have to stay on for another 10 minutes, that's fine."
Election night is just one of three times Colbert is broadcasting live this week. The Late Show aired live on Monday night and will do so again on Wednesday.
"Our mission is to be as topical and as relevant as humanly possible, so it made sense to be live on Monday," said Licht. "And also Wednesday—the fallout after whatever happens is something that you don't want to cut off reacting to [by taping] in the afternoon. And then from a production standpoint, it's a lot easier to get in the mindset of we're going to be live Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and not have to do a short turnaround. It gets everyone on that same schedule."
The Daily Show doubles down
While The Daily Show won't be jumping networks like Colbert, it will be simulcasting its live special on MTV, VH1, Spike, TV Land and MTV2. It's the Daily Show's first hourlong live election night episode since 2012, and the first for Noah, who replaced Stewart last year.
"We're going to try and capture the feeling of the evening," said Daily Show executive producer Adam Lowitt. "This has been building for so long, there's never been an election with this much anticipation, so that's why we're doing the full hour. It is a long, winding road of shit leading up to this evening, and I think we're all excited to make an awesome show and also have a culmination to this very bizarre story."
The Daily Show has aired live five times this year: the final night of the Republican and Democratic national conventions, after the first and third presidential debates, and following the the vice presidential debate.
"Trevor has proved himself incredibly adept at doing live TV," Lowitt said. "He is an unflappable host. He doesn't become rattled by technical difficulties. He can have a conversation with people in a very relaxed manner and does not get stressed out under what many other people would possibly find to be tense circumstances."
Lowitt said the team has several packages and segments planned for tonight, but audiences won't necessarily see all of them depending on how the evening unfolds. "I'm a fan of planning ahead. Then you can always ditch things as opposed to, oh man it would be great if we had a bit right now, because we have a 17-minute-long hole! So we will have stuff in our back pocket that we can go to that we might not necessarily use, but it will be there," said Lowitt.
Neither show has plans for any brand partnerships or integrations in tonight's live broadcasts (or this week's live Late Shows).
Both Licht and Lowitt said they aren't worried about what their competitors are or aren't doing on that night. "Our job is to put on the best show we can and hope that people find it entertaining and maybe cathartic, a place that they want to turn to to just laugh," said Lowitt, adding that he didn't know that the other late-night shows were dark tonight until Adweek informed him. "Whatever anyone else is doing, that's not really where anyone here puts that focus."
Licht agreed, saying, "For us, it's just about being in the game. We at our core are a topical show, not a political show. We do a lot of politics because that's what's top of mind right now. But we're a topical show, and the ability to be live as history is happening is one that we just couldn't turn down."