Late-night shows have shut down across the country as networks try to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, but hosts like Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Stephen Colbert have found another way to keep people entertained day in and day out: vlogging.
Essentially, the hosts have taken their opening monologues and reworked the format for a show shot at home without a crew. Colbert wears a pair of AirPod Pro in all of his videos, while Kimmel looms over his camera, glancing off in the distance every few seconds. In his latest video, Fallon tries to get through a series of jokes while his daughter climbs over him, underscoring the difficulty of working from home that every parent is facing right now. Even Conan O’Brien is set to return to the late-night stage, so to speak, at the end of the month: he’ll film everything on an iPhone, from his home, and upload it to YouTube.
“This is my daily mini-logue, from beautiful downtown quarantine,” Kimmel jokes in his new video.
Production levels on each video are low, filmed by family members and featuring hand-drawn graphics to give each episode a little extra flair. There’s no attempt to dress up the sets. Fallon films in his basement (one that features an incredibly cool slide), Colbert films in his backyard (a mansion sits in the background), and Kimmel films in a personal office. Aside from the impossible-to-miss reminders that each host is incredibly wealthy, the videos work because they’re essentially vlogs. It’s an inside look at the day-to-day life of Fallon, Kimmel, and Colbert as they try to deliver some semblance of what fans are used to during regular shows.
None of the hosts are on in the way that we’re used to seeing. They’re not in suits or wearing fake grins plastered to their faces. Their hands aren’t clasped as they stand in front of a camera and audience. They’re more relaxed, and it feels more intimate. For years, late-night shows have tried to adopt many of the successful qualities of YouTube creators. They’ve incorporated prank challenges, “story time” sessions, and viral attempts into their shows in an effort to find a home on YouTube. By taking to vlogging — sitting at home in front of a camera and simply filming — late-night hosts have a newfound charming presence they could never quite achieve on a traditional set.
From Johnny Carson to James Corden, late-night hosts have always had an intimate relationship with their audiences. Researchers polled viewers of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and found that many felt they had a closer connection to Carson than their own neighbors. The very foundation of “parasocial relationships” — a term coined in 1956 to explain a one-way relationship between a viewer at home and a character or person on television — stemmed from soap opera stars and late-night hosts. These are people that viewers welcome into their homes, living rooms, and bedrooms.
Their new vlogs take things one step further. When someone who is perceived as famous posts videos of themselves living a normal life, it has a “positive cognitive effect on vlog-watchers,” James Houlden, a media psychologist who focuses on vlogging, told New Statesman in 2018 for a story about why mundane vlogs attract so many viewers.
That’s why watching Kimmel move from his family room to different parts of his house, singing a low-quality duet with Lin-Manuel Miranda as each of them records with their families just down the hall, works so well. It’s late night stripped down. At a time when many of us are stuck at home, watching familiar faces also try to make the best of their situation by vlogging carries with it a sense of familiarity and comfort.
Who knows how long the late-night hosts are planning to vlog, but by relying on the same tools that many people use to film their own YouTube videos or stream on Twitch, they can do it for as long as needed. All I know is that, as someone who misses having late-night shows to watch every night, waking up every morning to their YouTube channels — alongside the dozen or so creators I routinely check on every day — has made me a little less anxious these days.