Little has changed in the formatting of late night television since the days of Johnny Carson. At least, little had changed, until a global pandemic left hosts and audiences homebound.

Usually characterized by monologue jokes, guest interviews and a live studio audience, the pandemic drastically altered the format of late night TV. Just weeks after mass shutdowns, shows started up again, relying on zoom interviews and appealing more directly to internet based audiences.

Each host (and their many staff members) made a valiant effort to retain a sense of normalcy while still branching out in the new format, but only a few succeeded.

Here is every daily late-night host’s reaction to the pandemic ranked from worst to best based on setup, interviews, audience interaction and creativity.

“A Little Late with Lilly Singh”

Lilly Singh‘s COVID shows mark a new low in what has hitherto been an already disappointing season. As they pre-taped shows months in advance, Singh’s monologues and interviews fail to address current events. On top of that, forced laughter and applause quickly feel stale and unnatural in response to every joke.

IRRELEVANT. Singh’s pre-taped show made no mention of current events.


Network: NBC

When to watch: Monday-Thursday at 1:35 a.m. Season 1 wrapped up May 7, but Season 2 premieres this fall.

Rating: 1/5 stars


“Jimmy Kimmel Live” 

Jimmy Kimmel took the summer off to spend time with family, but for the most part his quarantine episodes pleased fans. Kimmel’s high production value compared to other hosts didn’t necessarily improve his show, as it felt a little unnatural in his home, and lacked the personal touch that other hosts gained. Monologues felt a little uncomfortable, as he stood in an empty room and delivered jokes to nobody, but his video chat interviews felt genuine.

In Jimmy’s absence, guest hosts like Josh Gad and Brad Paisley filled in, which has made a wide variety of viewers happy.

VACAY. Kimmel returned to his studio Sept. 21, after taking the summer off.


Network: ABC

When to watch: Monday-Thursday at 11:35 p.m.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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“The Late Late Show With James Corden”

James Corden currently video chats into his studio set for his shows, but previously made videos from home like most other guests. His garage set resembled an actual internet talk show, but with a less personal and more overly corporate look. He made a good choice in delivering jokes to his band/staff members through Zoom, though, as any kind of audience makes the shows feel more natural.

“LIVE” AUDIENCE. Corden performed jokes and monologues for his band and staff via video chat.


Network: CBS

When to watch: Monday-Thursday at 12:37 a.m.

Rating: 3/5 stars

“A Late Show with Stephen Colbert”

From the beginning of quarantine, Colbert embraced the unconventional circumstances. Though it’s awkward to hear his pauses after every joke for nonexistent laughter, Colbert’s laid back approach to his at-home show was much more endearing than others. He regularly made jokes to the people off camera, whether staff or family. Now, he’s returned to his studio, and continues to do good as he offers specific instructional videos for voting in every single state.

BUBBLE BATH. Colbert tried his show out in multiple odd places before settling down.


Network: CBS

When to watch: Monday-Friday at 11:35 p.m.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars


“Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”

Often criticized for laughing a disingenuous amount at guests’ stories, Fallon showed a more authentic side of himself in his early pandemic episodes. His wife and daughters made regular appearances, and viewers got a more personal look at the comedian’s life. Now, Fallon is back in his 30 Rock studio, and the more casual shows performed for his band and staff members have proved a nice shift.

ASK THE FALLONS. Viewers got to meet Fallon’s wife and children through different segments.


Network: NBC

When to watch: Monday-Friday at 11:34 p.m.

Rating: 3.5/5

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“The Daily Social Distancing Show with Trevor Noah”

Trevor Noah adapted quickly and successfully to the new circumstances. The comedian still remains at home, and has kept the quality of his show consistent, with interesting graphics and sharp commentary throughout. Noah’s only downside is that his jokes simply don’t land as well as some other hosts.

GRAPHIC .Noah’s team uses frequent graphics to complement his bits.


Network: Comedy Central

When to watch: Monday-Thursday at 11 p.m.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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“Late Night with Seth Meyers”

Seth Meyers faced the same roadblock as many hosts at the beginning of the pandemic, as he struggled to find good pacing without the help of laughter from the audience, but he had particularly strong audience interaction and an interesting set. When he left his attic for another room, he began introducing inanimate objects as characters, voiced by the likes of Will Forte and Fred Armisen. He regularly referenced audience members’ strong dislike of the characters, but continued to feature them. He’s now back in the studios, but produced consistently funny and entertaining content while in quarantine.

CABIN FEVER the various talking objects showed Meyers’ descent into madness


Network: NBC

When to watch: Monday-Thursday at 12:37a.m.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars


Conan O’Brien may be the oldest late night host, but he still keeps things fresh. He began the pandemic with casual, low quality web-cam interviews and sketches. Now, however, he rents out the Largo theatre in LA, in an attempt to help them out financially during the pandemic. He originally performed shows to an audience made up of only his sidekick, Andy Richter, who sat at a comically far distance and joked about the format of late night tv. Now, he performs for a cardboard cutout crowd, using pictures fans sent in. His creativity and ability to play with the format really take the cake, and set his pandemic shows apart from the rest.

THE LARGO O’Brien currently rents out the Largo Theatre in LA for his shows

The Hilights:

Network: TBS

When to watch: Monday-Thursday at 11 p.m.

Rating: 5/5 stars

The pandemic altered almost every aspect of life, and late night television proved no exception. Although many hosts are headed back to the studio, the pandemic may just cause lasting changes to the old-fashioned format of late-night TV.

By Calla Curry

Hey! I'm Calla Curry, the editor-in-chief for BoonePubs' newspaper, Hilights. In addition to writing and editing, I love theatre, history, and Dunkin' iced coffee.

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