The Evolution of Late Night
Question: How has the Late Show kept up with a culture in which former taboos are now commonplace?
Bill Scheft: So, I’ve been at the Letterman Show since 1991, that’s 18 years. I would say, during that time, the comedic sensibility of the show has changed half a dozen times because Dave has gotten older, but the average age of the average writer had stayed the same, so they bring in their sensibilities on what they think is funny, and they try and interject it in the show.
So the show’s comedic sensibility changes, and it’s all valid. We don’t write anything and think, “Oh I need to write this joke to appeal to the crucial male, 18 to 34 demographic.” We don’t think like that, at least I don’t. I just think, “What’s the funniest take that I can do?”
Sometimes I think that things have passed me because I’m older and the people watching are younger, but funny is funny is funny. If you show somebody a Marx Brothers Movie who’s never seen one, I think that they’ll think it’s funny. I don’t think they’re going to ask, “Why isn’t Groucho naked? I want to see Groucho’s deal!”
Question: How has late night comedy changed in general?
Bill Scheft: Late Night has really changed in the last three decades. First of all, there’s more variety and more competition. Before 1982, there was Johnny Carson and people that he knocked off. All of Late Night was Carson, and it was a monologue, some sort of bawdy, broad comedy aimed at people over 30—white men over 30.
Then, Dave came along in 1982 and NBC gave Dave Letterman one directive: whatever you do, we want it not to be the Tonight Show. We want a 3 joke monologue, not a 25 joke monologue.
Given that go ahead, it was very free flowing, it was irony-based, and it was, as the old producer Bob Morton used to say, “Late Night with Dave Letterman celebrated failure.” It was not sleek, it was very anarchistic.
Then, you have Dave moving to CBS at 11:30 and you have this situation with Jay, where you had one show that was host driven and concept driven—which is Dave—and another show—which is Jay—who was just essentially just a comic who got his own show: a monologue and guest, a little more traditional.
And then you had the 12:30 shows with Conan. David started this with going after the younger audiences—people always say, “I started watching Dave in college.” So there was a real market out there, and like I mentioned before, Late Night became this very lucrative industry for the networks, very cheap to produce.
Of course, once people start making money, it’s going to tend to get watered down and it’s not going to be as fearless because there are a lot of people whose livelihoods depend on your success. It’s not just kids crawling around anymore.
Then, what happened in the late 90s is that cable emerged as a late night force, with the Daily Show Steve Colbert, and it was much more topical. Not that the Letterman Show didn’t always take care of what was in the news, and so did Jay—but it became more topical and more issue-oriented, and I think we’ve certainly gone in that direction at The Late Show. So that’s the evolution of that.
Now, I think that if I was to predict—and believe me I’m always wrong so put your money elsewhere—I think we’re going to reach a critical mass with the topicality thing because I think it’s going to get a little too partisan and late night shows are going to be put in a situation that they shouldn’t be put in, unbeknownst to them. I think it’s probably going to go back to being a little sillier and less celebrity driven and easier to take unless “foe” serious. You look at the guy like Craig Ferguson and watch what he is doing. Nobody is doing what he is doing, and I think he will emerge. He is silly, it’s all him. The guests don’t really have to say anything. He is going to take care of it. I think that’s where we’re going.
Question: What do you make of comedy’s newfound political influence?
I don’t think that Johnny ever dreamed that he would influence an election. He never talked about Watergate when Watergate was going on. He talked about it after the fact, but now Tina Fey had as much to do with the last election as Dave did, with the situation with McCain, as the Daily Show also does.
That’s where we are with these shows—and none of these shows set out to influence elections, but that’s what happens. They’re right in the popular culture.
I never bought all those studies and surveys about people getting their news from late night television, and I still don’t, but I don’t think that people turn to late night television to see what the point of view is on the news. I think they know going in. I don’t think we’re in the education business.
Here’s the deal with society, how about that? For Big Think, here’s the deal with society. People fall in love with the idea of things rather than the reality of things, and that holds true for late night. It’s so much more provocative and sexy to say that people are watching our show and getting their news from Dave Letterman, and let me tell you—as somebody who writes monologue jokes and somebody who knows Dave—I’m telling you we find that very funny.
Bill Scheft doubts the political influence of Late Night comedy.
Why self-control makes your life better, and how to get more of it.
(Photo by Geem Drake/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
- Research demonstrates that people with higher levels of self-control are happier over both the short and long run.
- Higher levels of self-control are correlated with educational, occupational, and social success.
- It was found that the people with the greatest levels of self-control avoid temptation rather than resist it at every turn.
Ready your Schrödinger's Cat Jokes.
- For a time, quantum computing was more theory than fact.
- That's starting to change.
- New quantum computer designs look like they might be scalable.
Quantum computing has existed in theory since the 1980's. It's slowly making its way into fact, the latest of which can be seen in a paper published in Nature called, "Deterministic teleportation of a quantum gate between two logical qubits."
To ensure that we're all familiar with a few basic terms: in electronics, a 'logic gate' is something that takes in one or more than one binary inputs and produces a single binary output. To put it in reductive terms: if you produce information that goes into a chip in your computer as a '0,' the logic gate is what sends it out the other side as a '1.'
A quantum gate means that the '1' in question here can — roughly speaking — go back through the gate and become a '0' once again. But that's not quite the whole of it.
A qubit is a single unit of quantum information. To continue with our simple analogy: you don't have to think about computers producing a string of information that is either a zero or a one. A quantum computer can do both, simultaneously. But that can only happen if you build a functional quantum gate.
That's why the results of the study from the folks at The Yale Quantum Institute saying that they were able to create a quantum gate with a "process fidelity" of 79% is so striking. It could very well spell the beginning of the pathway towards realistic quantum computing.
The team went about doing this through using a superconducting microwave cavity to create a data qubit — that is, they used a device that operates a bit like a organ pipe or a music box but for microwave frequencies. They paired that data qubit with a transmon — that is, a superconducting qubit that isn't as sensitive to quantum noise as it otherwise could be, which is a good thing, because noise can destroy information stored in a quantum state. The two are then connected through a process called a 'quantum bus.'
That process translates into a quantum property being able to be sent from one location to the other without any interaction between the two through something called a teleported CNOT gate, which is the 'official' name for a quantum gate. Single qubits made the leap from one side of the gate to the other with a high degree of accuracy.
Above: encoded qubits and 'CNOT Truth table,' i.e., the read-out.
The team then entangled these bits of information as a way of further proving that they were literally transporting the qubit from one place to somewhere else. They then analyzed the space between the quantum points to determine that something that doesn't follow the classical definition of physics occurred.
They conclude by noting that "... the teleported gate … uses relatively modest elements, all of which are part of the standard toolbox for quantum computation in general. Therefore ... progress to improve any of the elements will directly increase gate performance."
In other words: they did something simple and did it well. And that the only forward here is up. And down. At the same time.
These modern-day hermits can sometimes spend decades without ever leaving their apartments.
- A hikikomori is a type of person in Japan who locks themselves away in their bedrooms, sometimes for years.
- This is a relatively new phenomenon in Japan, likely due to rigid social customs and high expectations for academic and business success.
- Many believe hikikomori to be a result of how Japan interprets and handles mental health issues.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.