Cable Waking Up In Late-Night Arena

Cable networks have begun to wage a late-night war of their own, launching or planning to debut new programming to draw in the night owls.

For decades, basic programmers offered syndicated programming or repeats of their own primetime originals, rather than compete with late-night broadcast staples such as The Tonight Show With Jay Leno
or Late Show With David Letterman.

But over the past few months Tech TV, FX and MTV: Music Television have launched original talk-and-variety shows during the 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. time period, in an effort to lure viewers from broadcast or away from computers and the Internet. Oxygen will enter the ring later this year, with repurposed episodes of the syndicated The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

The new shows join such fare as E! Entertainment Television's The Howard Stern Show
and Comedy Central's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
and Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn, as well as Cartoon Network's animated "Adult Swim" block.

For these networks, the post-primetime hours present an opportunity to tap television audiences not interested in the current programming lineup.

"I think you can always do well in a late-night time slot because what you're up against is generally a lot of syndicated fare and a lot of stuff that's standard repeats," said MTV executive vice president of series development and animation John Miller. "It's us versus things that they've seen before."

MTV is attempting to mine from men aged 12 to 24 with the month-old The New Tom Green Show. The one-hour talk show hosted by the irreverent comedian has found an audience among young males that other shows haven't been able to reach consistently, Miller said.

Through July 13, the show has helped increase the network's core male audience aged 18 to 34 by 19%, and its male audience aged 12 to 18 by 128% over the same period last year.

Tech TV's Unscrewed
— which bowed last month —seeks to tap young viewers otherwise surfing the Internet, said network senior vice president of programming and production Greg Brannan.

The daily, 11 p.m. hour-long skein is hosted by Tech TV personality Martin Sargent and features owners and builders of obscure and unusual Web sites. The show was created as an television outlet for the millions of young and tech-savvy Internet users who turn off the television at night.

"We decided at the outset that this was a show that would appeal to a group that would surf the Web late at night rather that watch TV," Brannan said. "That allowed us to differentiate ourselves from the others."

Also attempting to pull a young, urban audience is FX's The Orlando Jones Show. The variety show has struggled to find its niche since its June 16 premiere — it was averaging a 0.3 household rating through the end of June, even with its 11 p.m. predecessors — but has helped draw its share of African-American viewers to the network.

"We're have about a 12% African-American audience in primetime, whereas Orlando Jones's audience is 32% African-American," FX senior vice president of planning and research Steve Leblang said.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.