BEHIND THE BIG DESK: HOW NEWS PARODY STRUCTURED THE NETWORK LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW AND REINVENTED AN AMERICAN ART FORM
On June 16, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy bounded into Studio 6B in 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. Tonight Show host Jack Paar had invited Kennedy onto his program as the first presidential candidate to appear on late night television. Paar treated Kennedy with deference and worked to keep his program largely apolitical, focusing mostly on charming banter with the candidate and questions about his personal life. However, despite Paar’s best efforts, the press slammed him for being too political by even having a politician on his program. Fastforward fifty-six years to 2016. In the exact same studio, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon conducts a similarly friendly interview with controversial presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Once again the host is widely attacked by the presses. But this time the criticism isn’t that Fallon was being too political, it was that he wasn’t being political enough. In this senior thesis I explore what changes occurred over this six-decade span to make Americans expect more from our late night talk show hosts. By surveying existing scholarly articles and conducting a series of personal interviews with late night luminaries such as Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson monologue writer Patric Verrone, Jimmy Fallon head monologue writer Jon Rineman, Jimmy Kimmel Live! head writer Danny Ricker, Tony Award-winning late night set designer Eugene Lee, amongst others, I deconstruct the late night talk show in order to explore how an embrace of the news parody style, popularized by The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update,” restructured the late night network talk show and made Americans demand more of their talk show hosts. By comparing the mise en scene, writing process, and interview styles of traditional and contemporary late night, it becomes clear that news parody reinvented the American late night talk show genre, reconfigured the role of host, and imbued the form with civic minded information, thoughtful debate, and valuable point of view.
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Network News: The Bioethics Network of Ohio (BENO); West Virginia Network of Ethics Committees; Orange County Bioethics Network; the Division of Medical Ethics: Department of Internal Medicine at the LDS Hospital and University of Utah School of Medicine Minogue, Brenden; Moss, Alvin H.; Mass, Sharon; Jacobson, Jay A. (1993)