He Said/She Said: Is Canada ready for another late-night talk show?

Join Greg and Diane every Monday as we debate what’s on our minds. This week: Is Canada ready for another late-night talk show?

He Said:

The late-night world is changing south of the border. Jon Stewart exits The Daily Show in a few months, David Letterman stepped down from The Late Show after decades on the air and Craig Ferguson has exited his gig too. The result is a late-night landscape very different from just a few years ago.

Is this the time that a Canadian network gives a late-night talk show another shot? Through Strombo has headed up The Hour and Tonight for several years, we haven’t had a late-night show with a monologue and guest since Ed’s Night Party from 1995 to 2008. The Mike Bullard Show signed off in 2004 after one year on Global; Bullard preceded that gig with Open Mike with Mike Bullard on CTV from 1997 to 2003. From what I recall at the time, the biggest complaint about Bullard’s program was a failure to score enough big names to sit on the couch next to him. (Not everyone got his sense of humour either; his best-ever guest was Tom Green, who came out and tossed a dead raccoon on Bullard’s desk.)

But times have changed, and unless networks ban each other’s stars from appearing on a rival’s program, there’s enough talent—homegrown and international—to fill seats whether a late-night program is based out of Toronto or Vancouver and broadcast on The Comedy Network. (Can you imagine the A-listers they could book during TIFF!?) The challenge, of course, is finding the right person for the job and what style the show might take. Rather than modelling the show after a traditional U.S. program, why not take the blueprint of someone like Graham Norton and mix comedy bits and musical acts in with interviews with up to three or four guests?

As for who might host it, there’s no lack of Canadian talent to do that. Norm Sousa, Gavin Crawford, Seán Cullen, Jon Dore, Debra DiGiovanni, Elvira Kurt, Norm Macdonald, Candy Palmater or Claire Brosseau would all be great choices.

I think it could be done; what do you think?

She Said:


My most vivid memory of a Canadian late-night talk show was Friday Night! with Ralph Benmergui. The exclamation mark was of course to indicate the great excitement we should feel about having a Canadian late-night talk show. Just maybe not that particular show, as the dismal ratings indicated.

I was a huge Letterman fan back in the day, and while a day job means I don’t watch a lot of late night television anymore, I like what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert did in a different version of the genre. Stroumboulopoulos seemed to do something in between the two, minus the comedic host. But I’ve always been puzzled by the late-night format and how rigid it is even with all its variations. Monologue, fluffy guest interviews, comedic bits. Do we need this many of that kind of show? Do we need a Canadian version to compete with the plethora of US versions in the same timeslots? I’d rather see the limited Canadian TV budgets put into primetime.

I feel like the Rick Mercer Report could easily slide into that late night timeslot, except it would lose a considerable amount of its audience in the move. In primetime, celebrity interviews are covered with the likes of Entertainment Tonight Canada and eTalk, and political satire in their own unique ways by Mercer and 22 Minutes.

So what I’d love to see, more than a late night talk show, is a year-round primetime Rick Mercer Report, so his commentary isn’t limited to the 18 weeks a year or so that his show is in production. Given that the number of Mercer episodes has shrunk in recent years, that doesn’t seem likely without some budget miracles happening. But I’d rather that miracle than the miracle of a successful Canadian late-night talk show.


7 thoughts on “He Said/She Said: Is Canada ready for another late-night talk show?”

  1. I haven’t watched late night tv in years. I used to really enjoy The Hour until it shrunk down to a half hour. Years ago I really enjoyed Conan O’Brien (until that ruckus happened where he lost his hour to a returning Leno). I also enjoyed Colbert and Stewart but I eventually got bored with American politics. I would definitely watch a late night show hosted by Mercer, featuring his brand of political satire and bringing his national focus to late night, but I doubt that would ever happen. I think he could pull in decent ratings with the right promotion though and paired with the right assistant co-host, preferably a female from the 22 Minutes stable. I doubt CBC has the budget for that though. I’d say a Mercer late night show would be the perfect fit and would work if City tries to rebrand. If City truly wants to be a national network, I think a name change is in order. The word “City” doesn’t sound too national in focus.

    I am excited about Samantha Bee’s late night talk show. I can’t wait to see what it is. I know that’s an American show but she’s Canadian so I’ll mention her here.

    I’m not sure a Canadian net would want to pull off a Canadian late night show. I definitely wouldn’t want them to use the American format. I think I prefer political satire as the mode a la Stewart, Colbert, Mercer or Oliver rather than your typical stand-up comic style mode a la Leno, Letterman and Kimbal.

  2. I loved Friday Night! With Ralph Benmurghi! (second exclamation point is mine, btw), having a late night TV show showcasing Canadian talent was what I needed and I rarely watched American late night TV except when Canadian guests were on and that was perhaps more often than not, just not so well advertised that I managed to hear about it in time… (e.g., Loreena McKennit on Letterman’s show, Robbie Robertson as well…) I wonder if Shayne Koyczan has ever appeared on Late Night TV??– that would be cool! Strombo was the closest Canada had to a revival of Friday Night! with “The Hour” (the show sucked when it was cut down to 30 minutes), If there was a late night show that showcased Canadian talent (and there’s a whole country worth!) I’d watch it! It’s what we need! Canada needs a “water-cooler” rallying cry of its own, y’know? A place where Canadian comedians/artists/writers/musicians/celebrities/athletes/poets/activists/pundits/philosophers/etc… can discuss Bill C-51, the Truth and Reconciliation committees, the environment, Senate reform, Quebec separatism, terrorism, taxes, …. coz it ain’t gonna happen south of the border!

  3. Strombo’s The Hour/Tonight was the closest (and best) we’ve ever come to a viable late night model. Re-invented the format, top notch host with smart interview style, top notch guests (leaning heavily on BIG stars with some windows for Canadian up and comers) and a bold and flashy style. It was the perfect storm that I don’t think can be easily replicated. Someone will want to do it cheap, have low rent guests, hire a host who thinks they’re better at it than they will be and the writing will be sub-par. And it has to find an audience. But maybe I’m wrong…a reboot of “Thicke of the Night”? I hear Alan’s schedule is wide open.

  4. I’d like to see something like that French (Quebec) show that famous people (famous regionally) always go on that’s so popular. Now what the heck is that called…was it Toute la monde en parle or something to that effect? It features famous Quebeckers from all different areas of fame like scientists, athletes, artists, actors, writers, musicians, religious leaders, politicians, etc. I think that format could transfer well to an English Canadian format and someone like Rick Mercer who could put a humourous spin on things or another host that understands the country nationally and appeals to East, West, North, Central, urban, rural, men women. What we really lack now is a primetime show that’s national in focus.I really don’t want to see a late night show with a rotation of American celebrities. I want something that’s Canadian in character and focus.

  5. Even with my limited French, Ally above is right — Tout le Monde en parle (or whatever it’s called) is something special.

    But the reason it’s special is something that sadly can’t really be replicated outside of Quebec. You can have pols, cultural figures, noted citizens mixing it up on Quebec tv because they have the common reference point of the common Francophone culture.

    In English Canada, you have to spend some of your time defending your right to exist at all, pointing out each time when someone says “nobody watches Canadian tv” a show like Rookie Blue. Then you have to overcome the gasbag who insists that doesn’t count. Then there’s the guy who wants to kill the CBC because ideology. Then everybody wants to hate on Toronto, and Vancouver is mad because it’s not in Vancouver and it’s all another Eastern conspiracy and Halifax is all, “WTF! We exist, too.”

    We have a very very large land mass and a very small population, and there’s not a lot of opportunity for commonality to exist there, which is the lingua franca you need to have a breakthrough talk show.

    I love Strombo, liked the Hour, but it was never a hit..it was a “CBC Demo Must watch” but nobody else watched it. It wasn’t a “Daily Show.”

    Then behind that you need the phalanx of publicists and pros who can keep a show like that going every night. And in the YouTube age where you can see “celebrities” everywhere, I’m not sure this is the best ‘re-invention’ use.

    I agree with Diane — the version of this show for Canada is Mercer. And if you wanted to get more bang, let him do more shows. Or get another host who can spot him for 12 -13 weeks a year and keep the crew working, and guest in other hosts like Johnny Carson in his late career.

    Mike Bullard worked on Comedy because it was so aggressively low key. The moment they tried to big it up on Global it didn’t work.

    It’s an incredibly hard format, and it’s kind of a format from the last century. Those of us who toil in the culture mines would love to be able to claim a culture where an English Tout le monde en parle could happen. But I don’t see that going down soon.

  6. I don’t either but it sure would be nice to see. What I like about Mercer is he does do the best job of anyone at making a truly national show–he goes all over the country and he does a good job at remaining neutral by being critical to everyone and giving praise where it’s due. We do have a common Canadian culture but it’s very regional and if a show could be made that tries to convert Toute la monde into an English version with an effort made at regional diversity, I think it could succeed given the right parameters. The show would have to actually exploit that regionality and emphasize it rather than being all national and unified. It could get serious but with the right hosts it could throw in necessary humour too. Canadians from coast to coast to coast have a plethora of varying opinions and I would love to see a primetime or late night show that explores those but in am entertaining way. It can be done. And don’t forget, Quebec is a very diverse province itself with extremely different political and cultural mindsets yet Toute la monde works. Yes, they have the advantage of not having the same language as that big tv market to the south but there’s much more to it like that. A Canadian English-language network has succeeded in the past at getting people across the country excited about a show. For instance, The Greatest Canadian, Battle of the Blades and Canadian Idol got people talking. Unfortunately, people in Toronto chose to stay out of the conversation. I’ve noticed that there seems to be a thing in Toronto about ignoring things that ate Canadian. When the Rest of English Canada embraces something, Toronto seems to remain in ignorance of it.

    1. *are Canadian, not ate. When I post from my phone I make a lot of mistakes due to auto-correct.

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