Longtime “Daily Show” correspondent Roy Wood Jr. spoke about the future of late-night TV at Variety and Rolling Stone’s Truth Seekers Summit, presented by Showtime, saying he believes studios don’t realize that the more they look to downsize shows, the more likely they will face stiff competition from TikTok creators and other social media stars who can retain the rights to their content.
“I think the cheaper that they choose to make the product, the more accessible and affordable you make it for outside competitors to come in,” Wood Jr. said, when answering a question about if he was interested in hosting the Comedy Central talker following the exit of Trevor Noah, or any late-night show, in general.
“That’s the thing that I don’t think the entertainment studios understand is, if you want to get rid of an audience if you want to make the show a little smaller, if you don’t want to do everything with the same glitz and glamour that you used to… Like, the fact that James Corden is being replaced by ‘@midnight,’ a game show that is much cheaper and quicker and easier to do with the same conversations about today’s issues — if you see that as a viable option, OK, cool. But then you are relying solely on whoever the panelists are that night.”
Wood says this gets in the way of “establishing a relationship” between late-night host and audience, which is what has made late night a “cornerstone in our society.”
“We grow up with those people, we have a relationship with those people,” the comedian said. “So if you’re going to deliver a product quickly and simply and cheaply, with an array of faces on a regular basis, cool — just know that you are going to open up the playing field to anyone who has a camera and something interesting to say. So with that being the case, then I think it’s time for all creators to start considering how much being in the system makes sense… If I have an opinion and a camera, and we remove budget from the equation then partnering with you might not even make sense anymore, depending on which way entertainment starts to go.”
Aside from Wood’s keynote conversation, moderated by Rolling Stone’s Alex Morris, the Truth Seekers schedule was stacked with panels including a Q&A with Rachel Maddow led by Variety co-editor in chief Ramin Setoodeh, a Washington political roundtable with journalists Laura Barrón-López, Mary Bruce and Mehdi Hasan moderated by Rolling Stone editor in chief Noah Shachtman, Variety co-editor in chief Cynthia Littleton interviewed “Couples Therapy” star Dr. Orna Guralnik, Variety executive music editor Jem Aswad spoke with Innocent Project’s Jason Flom for an investigative storytelling panel, a Q&A between Variety TV critic Aramide Tinubu and Laverne Cox, Aswad’s sitdown with filmmaker Sacha Jenkins, and Littleton hosted a conversation with filmmaker Dawn Porter about her Showtime docuseries “Deadlocked: How America Shaped the Supreme Court.”
In her conversation with Littleton, Porter illuminated the process of creating her four-part Showtime docuseries, which dives into the history of the U.S. Supreme Court and the legacy of some of its most groundbreaking decisions. Living by Capitol Hill while attending law school, Porter always had her finger on the judiciary pulse of America which inspired her to take a closer look at the branch. While making the series, Porter tediously analyzed the evolution of the high court and and noted the consistent influence of the Federalist Society over its justices.
“Donald Trump had three [justice] appointments, and they were all vetted and raised up by the Federalist Society,” Porter said. “There’s a problem when you have an outside organization, which is now funded with more than a billion dollars, using all of that influence to appoint justices and their decisions bear that fruit. And that is part of the reason why we’re losing respect for the court.
The day closed with a documentary filmmaker roundtable hosted by Variety‘s Addie Morfoot, which focused on the modern-day realities of getting a doc feature or docuseries made.
“Little Richard: I Am Everything” director Lisa Cortés kicked things off by diving into the “scary and exciting” burst of the booming doc marketplace bubble.
“We know that there’s going to then be on this roller coaster ride — I want to be totally Pollyanna-ish — there’s going to be new opportunities that come to us,” Cortés said. “Scary is the market reality; people want us to make things at a much lower price point but with incredible quality. Exciting is the range of stories that we still are inspired to take great pay cuts to make, because they are so necessary to be in conversation with some issues out there that we need to make certain our voices are included in. I’m really interested in branded content partners, because not everyone can get a docuseries or a feature. I think we have to look at the other distribution modalities to get our stories out.”
“Harry & Meghan” director Liz Garbus says much has changed since she entered the business, when only HBO and PBS were interested in picking up docs.
“If you weren’t going the grant route, there was HBO and there was PBS,” Garbus said. “So we all came up at a time where you had to hustle. You had to put together financing, co-productions. You applied for grants, you got your films made. And in the past decade or so, there’s been competition for your films.”
“Now you fight and fight to try to get the right money,” said “The League” director Sam Pollard, who revealed he’s just completed an HBO doc based on Charles Blow’s book “The Devil You Know,” which argues for a reverse migration of the Black population to the U.S. South. “I gotta rush out of here, because I gotta meet Spike [Lee] about trying to get him to do something with me, so I can get some more money.”
Coming from a producing perspective, Dan Cogan (“Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York”) says his job “is figure out how to make a great film in any environment that you’re in” as the market is reduced. “You have to be smart about how do you bring along the elements that they want that gives you the money to make the thing that is special to you and meaningful to you and has an impact on the world and that’s just the role of the producer.”
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