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What can reverse late-night TV’s decline?

Members of the key 18-to-34 demographic finds the format stale, the hosts unrelatable and the topics patronizing.

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James Corden, host of 'The Late Late Show,' recently announced that he will be stepping down from the show. Theo Wargo/Getty Images

In late April, after James Corden announced he would step down from “The Late Late Show” next spring, there was immediate speculation about his replacement.

Others, however, have had a different response to recent changes to the late-night TV lineup: Who cares?

Ratings are down, they point out. The shows can’t get over their Trump obsession. They represent a bygone era of television.

But in my view, late-night can still matter. Contrary to what some might say, late-night is not “dead,” and it can come back. But if it doesn’t want to fall by the cultural wayside as baseball has, it needs to do what the national pastime hasn’t: adapt and evolve.

Asking the target demographic

For nine years, I wrote for two late-night shows: “Late Night” and “The Tonight Show,” both hosted by Jimmy Fallon. I saw, firsthand, a fledgling show that aired at 12:30 a.m. blossom into a hugely successful show in the coveted 11:30 p.m. slot. I was also around for the beginning of its slide.

When I began teaching Writing for Late Night at Emerson College in 2019, late-night remained formidable. At the start of a semester, I asked how many in class regularly viewed a network late-night talk show. Every student watched at least one; most, two.

By 2021, only about half said they tuned in, with most watching “The Eric Andre Show” on Adult Swim and “Conan” on TBS – the latter of which would end in June 2021.

This year, only around 30% of my late-night comedy students deemed themselves “regular” viewers of any of these shows. While I admired their honesty, I thought: This isn’t good.

So I asked my students, who make up a portion of late-night’s key demographic of 18-to-34-year-olds, “How would you change late-night?”

Another spin of the news cycle

A few themes emerged.

As one student observed, there is so much rehashing of stories that have already made news, it feels like you’re just watching more news.

Thus came the follow-up question: Why the need to intensely cover top news?

A suggestion from multiple students was to focus more on specific, relatable issues in monologues. I found this interesting, as that was the style of Joan Rivers and Craig Ferguson – two examples of personalities who eschewed rapid-fire topicality in favor of issues affecting everyday people.

Joan Rivers riffs on the frustrations of dealing with customer service representatives, mean parents and her disastrous wedding night.

What is the true entertainment value of six jokes about the debt ceiling? What if, instead of dreary news about gas prices, the economy or COVID-19, the focus were on topics like choosing to work from home, going back to movie theaters or picking a pricey streaming service? What if the deep-dive style John Oliver has mastered for Sunday nights were tailored to those who’ve trudged through Wednesday?

Former President Donald Trump still makes for easy late-night fodder – and remains a reliable source of late-night virality. But when the same exact Trump joke gets told by five hosts – which actually happened in March 2018 – the formula probably isn’t sustainable.

A generational disconnect

A number of students noted that they sometimes find late-night shows patronizing, with the hosts making misguided assumptions about their generation. They don’t all love the Korean boy band BTS or want to hear celebrities talking about their lavish lives. And they aren’t exactly on board with non-fungible tokens, or NFTs – the digital collectibles that have seen a spike in popularity over the past year.

In January 2022, two of my late-night classes and an office-hours meeting all began with some version of the same question: “What’s up with your old boss and this ape thing?”

They were referring to a segment in which Jimmy Fallon interviewed Paris Hilton and compared their respective NFTs. I found the clip fairly innocuous – but I’m no longer part of the target demographic.

Funny or tone-deaf?

In class, it was described as “tone-deaf” – two wealthy people comparing costly purchases of digital cartoons when aspiring writers can barely afford laptops. Some students spoke of feeling alienated by what has come to be known as “celebrity culture.”

I was tempted to push back on this. Big-name guests are draws. But then I thought about Myrtle Young.

Myrtle was a one-time guest of Johnny Carson – an elderly woman from Indiana who collected potato chips that resembled objects and people.

It was awkward and bizarre, but heartwarming and real. Myrtle wasn’t trying to hawk her wares to people who couldn’t afford them; she was simply sharing a funny but entertaining passion.

Myrtle Young appears on a 1987 episode of ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.’

I’m not saying that audiences have to see some version of Myrtle and her chips each night. But do viewers need to see the same actor twice in one month, promoting the same movie they promoted last time they appeared?

About the hosts …

The most common suggestion from my students was that late-night needs more diversity.

A name that came up multiple times was Lilly Singh, a hugely popular YouTube star who has amassed 14.7 million subscribers.

In 2019, Singh was announced as the new host for a nightly NBC show following Fallon and Seth Meyers – a move that was heralded as a much-needed diversification from late-night’s “straight guy in a suit” trope.

Singh is bisexual, Indian-Canadian – and, most importantly, funny. I viewed Singh as a “Tonight Show” host-in-waiting.

But something went wrong. There were reports of new showrunners, new approaches and, finally, a cancellation.

From the outside looking in, it seemed as if those who could help promote and empower Singh on the television side counted on the new host to promote the show herself on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.

But if someone’s already watching something on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, why would they set their DVRs for 1:30 a.m.?

Several students spoke positively of Singh’s show and appreciated that it played to an audience accustomed to viral videos while modernizing late-night norms. Is it possible those in charge of late-night just didn’t “get” Lilly Singh?

Woman dressed in black smiles.
Lilly Singh’s show was pulled after two years. Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

It wouldn’t be the first time that a young host went through some growing pains. In 1993, Conan O’Brien was hammered by one critic after another during a rocky start replacing David Letterman on “Late Night.” Even O'Brien admitted that it took his show approximately three years to find its voice. By comparison, Singh was given two.

And with that, network viewers were left with a menu of five – soon to be four – white guys in suits: Corden, Fallon, Meyers, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel.

I often wonder how I grew up with Rivers and Arsenio Hall only to see things go backward. I also wonder why the performer I consider the most talented of all current hosts, Amber Ruffin, who is not a white guy in a suit, airs weekly on the streaming platform Peacock rather than nightly on broadcast TV.

It’s baffling that my students, who eagerly consume Aunty Donna, Tim Robinson, Ziwe, Eric Andre and Desus & Mero, get none of the above in mainstream late-night.

I can’t force those in power to make changes. But what I can do is report the views of my students – talented, intelligent writers who hope to hear their own jokes on television one day, but who often struggle to find a show from which to learn.

Conservative comic Greg Gutfeld is dominating ratings not just because he’s cornered one demographic on Fox News, but because of systemic shortcomings on network TV.

Funny or not, Gutfeld knows his audience and wants to win. He cares. Yet the chorus remains some version of, “He’s just a conservative blowhard from Manhattan who’s out of his element, and the sheen will eventually wear off.”

Interesting. The last time the pundits were so arrogantly dismissive, a network television host laughed all the way to the White House.

Jon Rineman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Science

Long COVID: female sex, older age and existing health problems increase risk – new research

A new study has analysed UK data from long-term health surveys and electronic health records to understand how common long COVID is, and who might be at…

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shurkin_son/Shutterstock

About 2 million people in the UK currently have long COVID, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.

In the UK, long COVID is defined as “signs and symptoms that continue or develop after acute COVID-19”. This definition is further split into people who have symptoms between four to 12 weeks after infection (ongoing symptomatic COVID-19) and for 12 weeks or more (post-COVID syndrome).

Symptoms can include fatigue, breathlessness, difficulty concentrating and many more – but the precise nature of the symptoms is not well understood. There are also gaps in our knowledge when it comes to the frequency of long COVID, and whether there are particular factors that put people at higher risk of developing the condition.

All of this is partly because the symptoms used to define long COVID often vary between studies, and these studies tend to be based on relatively few people. So the results may not apply to the wider population.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, my colleagues and I looked at data from ten UK-based long-term studies, alongside 1.1 million anonymised electronic health records from English general practices. Based on this data, we investigated whether the burden of long COVID (how common it is) differs by demographic and health characteristics, such as age, sex and existing medical conditions.

The studies were established before the pandemic, and have tracked participants over many years. From these surveys, we used data from 6,907 people who self-reported they’d had COVID-19. Comparing this with the data from the electronic health records of people diagnosed with COVID allowed us to examine the frequency of long COVID in those who have seen their GP about it and those who haven’t.


Read more: Long COVID: a public health expert’s campaign to understand the disease


We found that of the people who self-reported having COVID in the studies, the proportion who reported symptoms for longer than 12 weeks ranged between 7.8% and 17%, while 1.2% to 4.8% reported “debilitating” symptoms.

In the electronic health records, we found that only 0.4% of people with a COVID diagnosis were subsequently recorded as having long COVID. This low proportion of diagnoses by GPs may be partly because formal logging of long COVID was only introduced for doctors in November 2020.

COVID-19 National Core Study, Author provided

The proportion of people who reported symptoms for more than 12 weeks varied by age. There was also a lot of variation depending on which definition each study used to capture long COVID. But overall, we found evidence to suggest an increased risk of long COVID was associated with increasing age up to age 70.

The studies include participants across a range of ages, from an average age of 20 to 63. Using a strict definition of symptoms affecting day-to-day function, we found that the proportion of people with symptoms for 12 or more weeks generally rose with increasing age, ranging from 1.2% for 20-year-olds to 4.8% for those aged 63.

We also found that a range of other factors is associated with a heightened risk of developing long COVID. For instance, being female, poorer pre-pandemic mental health and overall health, obesity and having asthma were also identified as risk factors in both the long-term studies and electronic health records.

These findings are broadly consistent with other emerging evidence on long COVID. For example, a recent international review study concluded that women are 22% more likely than men to experience long COVID.


Read more: COVID: long-lasting symptoms rarer in children than in adults – new research


It will be important to understand why these links exist, which is beyond the scope of our research. But identifying who may be at higher risk of long COVID is important, and as we continue to learn more, this could inform public health prevention and treatment strategies.

Ellen Thompson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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International

Redundancy: what to know about your rights when an employer lets you go

Redundancies are an unfortunate fact of life for businesses, but companies can try to make the process of job cuts less painful for workers.

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Companies making redundancies should treat both dismissed employees and those that remain with compassion. Syda Productions/Shutterstock

One of the biggest rail strikes in 30 years has been playing out in recent weeks as 40,000 workers protest the threat of job cuts. Their employer, Network Rail, wants to lay off up to 1,800 people as it prepares to introduce new technologies in an attempt to save more than £100 million annually following a post-pandemic drop in passenger numbers.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has claimed this industrial action will cost around £150 million in lost revenue, in addition to a £450 million hit to the wider UK economy. With such significant costs expected, not to mention the ongoing impact on individual travellers, the government has called on the parties involved – the rail operators and the unions representing the workers – to agree a deal via negotiations.

We already saw the impact of a company taking such matters into its own hands earlier this year when P&O Ferries dismissed 800 employees without notice as it tried to make savings. In the current situation, Network Rail’s management is following a process of consultation with affected employees. It has offered voluntary redundancy in an attempt to limit the impact of its plans for modernisation that will lead to the redundancies, with more than 5,000 workers applying so far, according to news reports.

Unfortunately, redundancies are a fact of life for businesses, particularly in difficult times like the current economic environment. In such circumstances, businesses often choose to make redundancies to create a more sustainable future for the company as a whole. And while making employees redundant tends to be an unpleasant experience for all parties involved, the impact is, of course, most significant for the employees that are losing their jobs. Companies must therefore find a way to implement redundancies with compassion, providing clear communication for all employees during the process, as well as offering ongoing tools and support to the employees that lose their jobs and those that remain.

Setting expectations

So what should you expect? Employees at risk of redundancy are entitled to a fair redundancy process underpinned by the Employee Rights Act 1996, which includes the right to meaningful consultation. According to the UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) this should provide the opportunity to discuss the changes and why certain employees are at risk of redundancy. If employees meet specific criteria, such as being employed for a certain amount of time (usually a minimum of two years), they are also entitled to statutory redundancy payments. It is important to check specific employment contracts and the company’s policy on redundancy pay as well, however.

Going beyond basic rights, redundancy programmes can be implemented more smoothly when employees understand the business rationale for the situation, according to my research. Business leaders must provide a clear understanding of why redundancies are being made. Network rail, for example, has discussed its plan to make savings by implementing technology such as drones for site inspections and to drive automation of ticket sales.

To ensure consultations are useful and beneficial, employers should also be able to clearly demonstrate to unions and their members how they have attempted to save costs through means other than redundancies. This could involve reducing or selling unused assets or saving on procurement costs, for example. All reasonable alternatives to redundancies should be considered, such as potential redeployment of employees at risk of redundancy.

Once it has been decided that redundancies are to be made, however, a company should be ready and able to explain how employees were selected and why certain parts of the business were impacted. Overall, employees and unions should be given a clear plan for individual and collective consultation with anticipated timelines and effective communication channels. This will show all impacted employees that careful consideration was given to all decisions around the redundancy programme.

For those employees at risk of redundancy, additional services should be provided to help with the adjustment to life after redundancy. This can include support from the company itself, as well as services from external providers for up to three months after redundancy. Examples include:

  • Retraining: redundancies can be avoided where possible through redeployment by retraining employees to fulfil alternative, available and suitable roles. This depends on the role requirements and reasonable ability to transfer skills.

  • Counselling: loss of income is extremely stressful, causing anxiety and financial worries. Organisations should have the necessary help in place to support employee’s mental health by providing access to free counselling and one-to-one support.

  • Transition: employers can also offer alternative support such as workshops on financial planning and guidance, or on how to start a business.

Two women talking, counselling.
Companies should provide additional support following redundancies. wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Supporting other employees

A more compassionate redundancy process should also consider the employees that remain with the organisation. During my research, I found that the way organisations treat the employees who lose their jobs can have a significant impact on the employees who remain in the organisation. They may feel guilty or angry about colleagues losing their jobs, as well as experiencing continued fear of job insecurity if more job losses are expected.

Treating all employees with compassion, fairness and respect during redundancies also benefits the management staff that must implement the process of redundancies. Again, widespread communication – not just with the union, but with employees themselves – helps companies conduct the process with compassion. Remaining employees should understand the future vision and mission of the organisation. Other ways to lift employee morale include investing in training and development, as well as recognising job-related progress or achievements.

Redundancies cannot always be avoided, but the negative impact can certainly be limited for those who lose their jobs, as well as for those who remain. And when unions work with management to ease the pain of redundancies, employees can at least leave the organisation more equipped for the future.

Madeleine Stevens does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Spread & Containment

U.S. FDA will decide on redesigned COVID vaccines by early July

U.S. regulators plan to decide by early July on whether to change the design of COVID-19 vaccines this fall in order to combat more recent variants of…

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U.S. FDA will decide on redesigned COVID vaccines by early July

By Michael Erman

“The better the match of the vaccines to the circulating strain we believe may correspond to improve vaccine effectiveness, and potentially to a better durability of protection,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said at a meeting of outside advisers to the regulator.

Vials with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine labels are seen in this illustration picture taken March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The committee is scheduled to vote on a recommendation on whether to make the change later on Tuesday.

The updated shots are likely to be redesigned to fight the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, experts say. read more The exact composition of the retooled shots and whether they also will include some of the original vaccine alongside new components will be considered at the meeting.

Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) and Novavax Inc. (NVAX.O) are scheduled to present data at the meeting. All three companies have been testing versions of their vaccines updated to combat the BA.1 Omicron variant that was circulating and led to a massive surge in infections last winter.

Both Moderna and Pfizer with partner BioNTech (22UAy.DE) have said that their respective redesigned vaccines generate a better immune response against BA.1 than their current shots that were designed for the original virus that emerged from China.

They have said that their new vaccines also appear to work against the more recently circulating BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, even though that protection is not as strong as against BA.1.

Experts also want to know if the new shots will boost protection against severe disease and death for younger, healthier people or merely offer a few months’ additional safeguard against mild infection.

Scientists who have questioned the value of booster shots for young and healthy people have said a broad campaign is not needed with an updated shot either.

Other experts have championed any additional protection new vaccines may offer.

Reporting by Michael Erman Editing by Bill Berkrot and Bernadette Baum

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Source: Reuters

 

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