Late Night TV Lesson for Local News

By John Altenbern, President, CJ&N

There’s a new vibe in late night television with Jimmy Fallon at the helm of The Tonight Show.  Unlike many changes, this one feels like the generational torch has been passed.   Jay Leno rapping with Justin Timberlake?  Not on your life. ScreenHunter_358 Feb. 26, 2014 11.49

But all of the other trappings of late night TV are still there —  the host’s desk, the guest chair, a curtain that looks as if Johnny Carson could step through it at any minute, and a band off to the side.  As I watched a few samples in the last week, it struck me how similar the Tonight Show change is to newscasts which are famously “re-launched.” We see it happen every year across the country from California to New York.  Everything gets a fresh coat of paint, new graphics are rolled out and the music changes tune.  But there is something awfully familiar about the rest of the newscast because it really is the same old show. Same old stories, same approach – just that new paint smell that quickly fades.

In Fallon’s case there is one big difference:  the content has changed along with the personality.  It is a younger, more edgy hour of TV.  Newscasts trying to turn a new page and attract new viewers often get the set and graphics part right, but fail to really address why people watch local news – content and style.  There are few genuine attempts in our business to reinvent what viewers see when they tune into local news.  And it is desperately needed if we are to remain relevant and interesting for the generation that is now finding something fresh on The Tonight Show.

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