A new battleground for viewers is emerging in
cable television: late night.
On this battleground Jon Stewart is perhaps
the most publicly decorated general, proving with "The Daily Show"
on Comedy Central that there are at least 650,000 people each
night who are prolonging their day -- or staving off the coming
of the next -- by watching something other than local news or
syndicated reruns of sitcoms on broadcast television at 11 p.m.
In recent weeks Comedy Central has moved to
capitalize on Mr. Stewart's success by directly following "The
Daily Show" with old "Saturday Night Live" shows instead of "Win
Ben Stein's Money." With "Saturday Night Live" the Comedy Central
audience from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. has grown 40 percent since
In August Comedy Central will begin showing
a new Sunday-night block of late-night shows. "The Chris Wylde
Show" at 11:30 will be a sort of variety show, with Mr. Wylde,
the comic actor, as host. "Insomniac With Dave Attell," at midnight,
will follow Mr. Attell, a comedian, as he explores various cities
late at night.
But Comedy Central is not the only basic cable
network looking for late-night success. Among others, E! has "Howard
Stern"; MTV has "Undressed," the racy, Generation Y soap opera.
FX is trying to pull people away from broadcast
television by running a new original program at 11 p.m. called
"The Test," in which celebrity guests are questioned about sex,
morals and etiquette. It is followed by reruns of the old Fox
network variety show "In Living Color." Going by the FX ratings
for last month, that combination helped it increase its audience
11-to-midnight time slot to 384,000 people this past June from
201,000 people in June 2000.
And now the USA network enters. Having lost
professional wrestling last year, USA has been seemed to grope
for a new programming direction. It has a seasoned new hand at
its helm, Doug Herzog (who helped put "The Daily Show" and "South
Park" on Comedy Central and "Malcolm in the Middle" on Fox), and
he has decided to develop a late-night schedule at USA.
In "Smush," a new 11 p.m. show to be introduced
this year, guests will be asked to divine strange word variations
-- created by smushing words together -- through a series of clues.
The network said it was working on another original show to follow
"Smush," which has Michael Davies, the producer of ABC's "Who
Wants to Be a Millionaire," as a producer.
The big question is whether these cable encroachments
are a threat to Jay Leno on NBC and David Letterman on CBS. With
average audiences well into the millions, their shows dwarf the
cable competition in the ratings. Stacey Lynn Koerner, who analyzes
television programming trends for TN Media, which helps companies
buy television advertising time, said Mr. Letterman and Mr. Leno
could probably continue in those dominant roles as long as they
"A lot of these networks are very targeted,"
she said of the basic cable channels. She said the new late-night
cable shows would probably be more of a threat to one another
than to the big network shows.
"You have to temper all of this with the fact
that we keep getting more and more choices, which fragments the
audience," she said.