TIME 2016 Election

Want to Be President? Book Your Late Show Appearances Now

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson -- Season 26
NBC—Getty Images Macks says Bill Clinton's 1988 performance on The Tonight Show rehabilitated him after giving a boring nominating speech for Michael Dukakis at the Democratic convention. He "moved from the loser of the week to political winner of the week."

Sarah Begley is a culture and breaking news reporter for TIME.

Veteran Tonight Show writer Jon Macks explains why candidates need late-night

As politicians throw their hats in the ring for the 2016 presidential race, they may want to consider booking John Oliver as well as John Dickerson. According to 22-year Tonight Show veteran writer Jon Macks, late-night talk shows are key podiums for ambitious candidates.

As Macks explains in his new book Monologue: What Makes America Laugh Before Bed, late show appearances can go a long way in establishing (or improving) a politician’s image. Take Bill Clinton’s 1988 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He wasn’t a candidate yet, but he had just given a speech for Michael Dukakis at the Democratic convention, and it fell flat. As Macks puts it, after he played the saxophone for Johnny Carson, “he was declared ‘politically rehabilitated’ and had moved from the loser of the week to political winner of the week.” It may not have been enough to help Dukakis, but it established Clinton as a fun guy, the proverbial candidate you could have a beer with.

In 2008, Macks says he could gauge waxing and waning support for Obama and McCain based on the audience reaction to Jay Leno’s jokes. “The key to divining the current status or future prospects of a candidate,” he writes, “is when the audience laughs at the mere mention of the name instead of waiting for the joke.”

Obama was something of a punchline on the show just as his numbers were shrinking, but then McCain called the economy “fundamentally sound” despite the collapse of Lehman Brothers, giving late night hosts a new angle. In the weeks before Election Day, Jay Leno joked, “Today John McCain campaigned in the Ohio town of Defiance. Next comes Anger, then finally Acceptance.” David Letterman took it a step further when McCain canceled an appearance on his Late Show: “This doesn’t smell right. This is not the way a tested hero behaves. Somebody’s putting something in his Metamucil.” The numbers started to shift in Obama’s favor — not because late-night necessarily has an influence on the candidates, but because the shows are a bellwether of national mood.

Comedy can be an influence, though, according to Macks. “Jokes are a thermometer,” he writes, “but they are also a thermostat. If a person or event is a blank canvas and each late-night host is using his monologue to paint that canvas, then those jokes and shows are creating opinions about people and events, not just reflecting what is out there already.”

A word to the wise for Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Clinton and any others: call the bookers. It won’t stop comedians from mocking you, but it will show you can take a joke. And if there’s one thing America can’t stand, it’s a candidate with no sense of humor.


Correction: The original version of this story misstated the show Bill Clinton appeared on in 1988. It was The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

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TIME Television

With Trevor Noah, The Daily Show Goes for Change and Continuity

The show hires from inside--but just barely--signaling a new, international outlook on the fake news.

A big question hanging over the transition at The Daily Show when Jon Stewart announced he would leave the show was whether the producers would hire from the outside (as when Stewart himself took over from Craig Kilborn) or the inside (as when Stephen Colbert and Larry Wilmore respectively took the timeslot after Stewart.

With the announcement of South African comic Trevor Noah as Stewart’s successor, the answer is: Both? Sort of? Noah’s a hire from within the staff, but as he’s only been on the show a few times (having come on at the end of last year), he’s still a question mark. But a few thoughts and guesses on the hire:

* Given that Stewart has been the face of TDS since 1999, many folks thought this might be a good opportunity not only to change the host but to renovate the series itself. Noah’s enough of a new voice that he could be free to take the show in a different direction, as Stewart himself did. Whether he will, we’ll have to see: when John Oliver guest-hosted in summer 2013, we saw that the institutional voice of The Daily Show is now strong whether Stewart is in the chair or not. Now we’ll see whether he changes it or it changes him.

* And what Noah’s voice will be is also an open question, since again, he hasn’t been a correspondent on the show long enough to have established a character and voice. (In his first segment, he tweaked Americans’ popular stereotypes and lack of knowledge about Africa.) But his standup history shows his touch, pre-Daily Show, for dry social commentary. In a standup set, he talks about being born the mixed-race son of a Xhosa mother and a Swiss father under apartheid (“You know how the Swiss love chocolate”):

* This means, of course, we’re still waiting for a female host on one of primetime’s prominent talk/comedy shows. (Chelsea Handler will be doing a show on Netflix, but we still don’t know exactly what, or when, it will be.)

* That said, it feels significant that a network with a major late-night franchise saw no problem with having black hosts (his Showtime special notwithstanding, Noah was, by definition, not born “African American”) on back-to-back shows. There’s no sense–rightly–that the network already checked that box with Wilmore, who has a different background, sensibility and experience. Having a black host in late night might be progress, but having two–no differently from following Jimmy Fallon with Seth Meyers–is normalcy.

* Yet I suspect that Noah’s nationality may be as significant a difference here. Comedy Central didn’t end up signing John Oliver, but you have to wonder if there’s been an Oliver Effect from Last Week Tonight, showing the appeal and potential of taking a more global perspective on what is, after all, a very large news world. Maybe the next Daily Show iteration will shift more away from its America-centric focus on politics, elections, and Fox News criticism. If so, it could be an energizing distinction to have the show hosted by someone who’s not only from a different country but a different hemisphere.

Larry Wilmore, after all, began The Nightly Show with a map of the world oriented with the south above the north. It looks like, in Comedy Central’s new late-night universe, the outsiders are definitely on top.

TIME Television

On James Corden’s Late Night Debut, It’s One More Mr. Nice Guy

James Corden steps on stage for the first episode of "The Late Late Show with James Corden," premiering Monday, March 23 (12:37 -- 1:37 AM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Monty Brinton/CBS

The English comic actor introduced himself as his own man, but his show is also a sign of how late night has been Fallonized.

In an opening video introducing The Late Late Show‘s new, very English host to Americans, James Corden learns everything that he knows about late-night hosting from Jay Leno. It’s a joke, of course, and a funny first calling card. But this very early glimpse of Corden’s new show suggests that he and his producers–and maybe late night generally–are increasingly learning from Jimmy Fallon.

This isn’t to say that Corden is himself influenced by Fallon, or that his late-night style–which, who knows what that is after one episode?–will especially resemble the Tonight host’s. (Certainly he does also have an earnest, let’s-all-have-good-fun-together vibe.)

But Corden’s hiring suggests a different direction in late night, from comedians to comic performers. Leno and David Letterman were standups; Conan O’Brien and Seth Meyers were comedy writers. But Fallon, and it seems Corden, represent a slight but significant shift: from hosts who say funny things to host who do funny things. (Letterman’s successor, Stephen Colbert, arguably has a foot in both camps, which will make it interesting to see the kind of show he builds around himself.)

It’s a broad generalization, obviously; Fallon is funny in his own right, and Corden co-wrote the British sitcom Gavin and Stacey, which he also starred in. But Fallon is a performer first, and his most memorable, viral moments–“History of Rap,” his musical imitations, his celebrity stunts and contests–have showcased his performance skills. The jokes, monologue and interviews–the talk-show part of the talk show–have been secondary. In the process, he’s made neither a talk show like Leno’s or a snarky comedy laboratory like Letterman’s, but something like a revival of the variety show.

There’s definitely something Fallonized about the new Late Late Show, not necessarily in a bad way at all. To replace the dryly funny Craig Ferguson, CBS also hired a performer: a game, eager multihyphenate who can act, sing and do physical comedy. And Corden’s first hour, if not a copy of Fallon’s show, clearly looks to use his talents in the way that Fallon’s Tonight used his.

So we got that well-produced, celeb-heavy video, which did double duty both introducing Corden and showing the comic acting range that apparently interested CBS in the host, who’s so far little known in the States. It was well-written, made an asset of Corden’s Englishness (“Petrol is a liquid. It can never be gas!”) and, intentionally or not, hung a comic light on the fact that one more white guy was getting a late-night show. (When the Late Late Show succession is decided Willy Wonka style, Corden literally picks up a golden ticket dropped by Chelsea Handler.)

But the standout bit in the first hour–and the one that most shows the Fallonization of late night–paired Corden with guest Tom Hanks to run through a frenetic medley of scenes from Hanks’ movies, complete with quick costume and wig changes and creative use of green screen. Like a lot of late night in general, it was aimed at viral sharing the next morning. And it was smartly chosen to highlight Corden’s strengths as a versatile stage performer the same way Fallon’s musical sketches do. I don’t know if this will be Corden’s “History of Rap,” but that’s clearly where this was going, and I bet we’ll be seeing more like it in one form or another.

I don’t want to dwell much on the talk-show part of this talk show, since that’s the most subject to tinkering and overhaul (not to mention the greater learning curve) on any new late-night series. There were first-night nerves, which Corden showed by giggling loudly at a lot of his own lines. The device of bringing both Hanks and Mila Kunis on at once cocktail-party style is promising, but we’ll see if it works with a wider range of guests. (The first guests were prepared to make a splash, including Kunis flashing a ring to “reveal” that she may or may not have married Ashton Kutcher.)

Other elements of the show are embryonic. Musician-comedian Reggie Watts was an inspired choice for bandleader, and let’s hope the show gives him an active role; it’ll be interesting to see if his experimental comedy style can mesh with Corden’s. As for rolling out Corden’s desk chair: I’m all for having a more intimate talk, but if Corden wants to go in that direction, his producers might just want to spring for a second, more comfy chair?

Corden will probably have plenty of time to prepare; CBS has been patient with this time slot, and it can’t have instant ratings expectations considering he’ll host all summer, between Letterman and Stephen Colbert, without much of a lead-in. The first night, then, is just a declaration of principles, and Corden’s was: I’m a nice guy who likes to entertain, and I’m excited to show you a good time.

He closed his first episode, in fact, with a serenade, seated behind a piano. It was funny enough, but also a little sincere and even sentimental, inviting viewers to stick with “The Late Late Show With Me–and You.” At one point, Corden playfully raised his hands to show us that he wasn’t really playing the piano. But there was no ironic, Dave-or-Conan-style archness here in deconstructing the artifice of the moment. Corden just seemed to be telling us: this is what it means to put on a show.

TIME Television

Watch James Corden Score a (Maybe) Scoop on His Late Late Show Debut

The British host kicked off his late show with a bang when guest Mila Kunis said she 'might' have gotten married

The British invasion of late night television continues. On Monday, James Corden took over as host of the CBS late-night talk show, where he interviewed guests Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks.

Though Corden was a relative unknown in the U.S. until his recent appearance in Into The Woods, the British comedian has already built a successful career as a television and stage actor in the U.K. And in his late night debut, Corden — who took over the show from the Scottish-born presenter Craig Ferguson — also proved a charming host. He (maybe) even managed to get a scoop out of Kunis, who has been engaged to actor Ashton Kutcher since early 2014. When asked point-blank by Corden if she had gotten married, Kunis replied with a coy “maybe.” For his part, Corden took the reply as a confirmation: “That’s a yes as far as I’m concerned.”

In addition to Kunis and Hanks, other high-profile figures made appearances — though in pre-taped segments — on the show, including Chris Rock, Eddie Redmayne, Billy Crystal, Lena Dunham, Simon Cowell, Katie Couric, Chelsea Handler, Allison Janney, Shia LaBeouf, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jay Leno.

Read next: James Corden Wants to Make the World of Late-Night TV More Diverse

Read next: Watch New Late Late Show Host James Corden Have Trouble Getting Past CBS Security

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Television

Watch Julianna Margulies Reveal Her Good Wife Hair Secret

That's not the actress' real hair on TV

Julianna Margulies is known for looking impeccable on her hit CBS series The Good Wife. But as the actress told David Letterman when she visited the Late Show on Wednesday night, she has a little help in the hair department.

The curly-haired actress wears a custom-made wig in her role as Alicia Florrick. Letterman, who seemed shocked at the news, commented on the “fantastic” look of the hair piece. Turns out, that level of wig quality comes at a price — $10,000 to be precise. Margulies has said in the past she prefers the wig as it saves her time getting ready before filming.

The new season of The Good Wife premieres on March 1.

TIME Television

Watch Taylor Swift and Jimmy Fallon Dance For Jumbotron Over and Over

The pair reminisced over their fondness for spilled popcorn and retro dance movies

Taylor Swift stopped by The Tonight Show on Tuesday night to help Jimmy Fallon celebrate the show’s one year anniversary.

During the singer’s appearance, Fallon took the opportunity to poke fun at her fondness for dancing at live events. He also mentioned that he missed the days when Swift would only dance with him on the jumbotron at sporting events. What followed was a montage of the two dancing their way through games of all of New York’s major sports teams, including the Brooklyn Nets, New York Giants and New York Islanders.

It’s now all too clear where Swift gets her dance inspiration from.

TIME Televison

Watch Conan O’Brien and Anna Kendrick Imagine Life as a Musical

The star of Into The Woods and Pitch Perfect gave the late-night host a taste of what the singing life is all about

If you’ve noticed that actor Anna Kendrick has been doing a lot of singing lately, you’re not alone. Conan O’Brien asked the Into The Woods star about her multiple musical roles when she appeared on his late show Wednesday night.

Kendrick, who has a number of past and forthcoming film roles involving musical numbers, told the comedian she’s a big fan of singing. “I love it so much,” she said. “[It] is near and dear to my heart.”

In fact, the 29-year-old actor is so keen on singing that when O’Brien asked her how she’d feel about living life as a musical, she readily joined him in song.

TIME movies

Watch Jamie Dornan Read Fifty Shades of Grey in a Scottish Accent

Christian Grey goes international with Jimmy Fallon

When actor Jamie Dornan, who plays Christian Grey in the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey, visited Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show on Monday, the late-night host decided to indulge in a little (clean) fun. In a game called “Fifty Accents of Grey,” the two men alternated using a device dubbed the “accent generator,” and reading aloud lines from the Fifty Shades novel in different accents.

Dornan, who hails from Northern Ireland, was tasked with reading the line, “I don’t remember reading about nipple clamps in the Bible,” in a Scottish accent, while Fallon gave his best Russian impression.

Though Dornan seems to have a range of accents down, die-hard Fifty Shades fans will be happy to hear that on-screen Christian Grey is still all-American.

Read next: Fifty Shades of Grey Director Didn’t Enjoy Working with Book’s Author

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Television

See How Johnny Depp’s Daughter Helped Perfect His Movie Characters

It involves barbies

Johnny Depp explained how his daughter helped him develop many of his eccentric characters on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Thursday—and it involves barbies.

Watch above to find out more.


TIME Television

Kristin Chenoweth Says Her Dad Made Her Afraid Of Flying

She bought her dad a plane for Christmas

Kristin Chenoweth admitted to buying her dad a plane for Christmas, but she doesn’t share his affinity for flying– and it’s his fault.

When Chenoweth’s father took her flying once in a Cessna she bought him as a gift, he pulled a prank that made her less than comfortable in the air. The actress, promoting her return to Broadway next month in musical On the Twentieth Century, related the trick to Seth Meyers last night on NBC’s Late Night With Seth Meyers.

Watch above to find out more.

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