Jimmy Kimmel, the former late-night comedian, turned after-hours political polemicist, was interviewed on CBS Sunday Morning about his sharp turn to leftwing rants during his monologues. Kimmel was not overtly political before the Trump presidency. Now he is making his views known on such subjects as gun control and health care but in a serious, unfunny manner. As a result, his audience, especially among Republicans, has taken a noticeable nosedive. Kimmel’s reaction has been, mildly speaking, unusual.

Drop in Republican viewership ‘not ideal’

When told that his Republican viewership had dropped, Kimmel mused that the situation was “not ideal.” However, he also seemed to have a sour grapes attitude toward the decline in his viewers among the right. “I probably wouldn't want to have a conversation with them anyway." In other words, if taking a hit in viewers is the price for his making his political opinions known, then so be it.

The end of the mass audience late night talk show?

Traditionally, late-night talkers, going back at least to Johnny Carson and continuing with Jay Leno, was to grab as much audience share as possible. One cardinal rule for doing that was to either stay away from political humor altogether or to cut things down the middle, to tell as many jokes about Democrats and Republicans. Political partisans will forgive a comedian poking fun at their guy if they know he or she is an equal opportunity offender.

Staring during the Bush presidency and continuing during the era of Obama, partisan comedians such as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher started gaining prominence. They would mock Republicans and conservatives with unrelenting savagery while avoiding going after their side. Stewart, Colbert, and Maher never got the numbers that Leno, Craig Ferguson, or even Jimmy Fallon got. But they acquired enough of a niche audience to justify keeping them on the air.

Kimmel is doing something new. He is not even bothering to try to be funny when he goes political. Kimmel makes speeches that might be more appropriate on a campaign stump than on a stage for a Late Night comedy show. Kimmel clearly believes sincerely in what he is saying, which means that he will continue the practice no matter how much of his audience he drives away, at least until the network decides to step in.

The era of the light night talk show that seeks a mass audience may be at an end. Colbert is now host of “The Late Show” and has turned it into the One Hour Hate Trump show. Fallon is the last man standing who is trying to be nonpartisan. Will the current host of “The Tonight Show” prosper while his competition squabbles over the niche liberal demographic? The answer is forthcoming.

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