THE COMEDY ISSUE
The week of May 31, 2015

The future of the Internet is up Heidi Klum’s skirt

By Monica Riese

Remember where you are. You’ll want to be able to describe the scene in detail when you reflect back to your grandkids about the time you realized late-night television (pause to explain “television” to the whippersnappers) had completely lost its mind.

Late last summer, The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon found itself with a small viral hit on its hands in which Fallon and Heidi Klum rolled around on a row of gymnastics mats.

Set aside, if you can, the fact that it’s borderline sexual harassment. It’s a confusing little stunt, full of awkward moments and laughs but absolutely nothing of substance. But perhaps the strangest part about the “This Is How We Roll” segment is that it’s not the first time he’s played the game with a female guest. Same inappropriate jokes, different oddly willing participant barely three weeks previous.

In their lust for viral hits, Jimmy Fallon and his team have completely abandoned any relic of appropriate late-night interviews and have resorted to cheap shots about upskirts and rolling around on the floor like toddlers.

Congratulations, Internet—this is (apparently) what you wanted.

• • •

The days of watching late-night television at, you know, night, are gone.

If trending Facebook topics are any indication, a large swath of the Internet wakes up each morning wondering what antics the kings of late night have been up to. The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon‘s YouTube channel has 7 million subscribers, and Jimmy Kimmel Live has another 5.9 million. With “the last of the true late night old guard” (a.k.a. David Letterman) retiring earlier this month, the conversion from television standards to morning-after pillars is now complete.

For months now, those responsible have been shifting their focus from small screen to smaller, urging easily packaged viral quips and clips in lieu of long-form interviews and monologues. (The one exception to the game seems to be John Oliver‘s Last Week Tonight reports, which still rack up millions of hits, rivaling his Sunday night viewership numbers.)

Many of them—like those above and this Mila Kunis PSA, for example—are clearly planned in advance, and as many others are rigged miniature game shows, like this. In every case, one has to wonder what it is the guest is really getting out of the appearance; Fallon is throwing himself under the bus in many cases, but damnit if he’s not dragging these celebs down with him.

He and his fellow hosts are bending over backwards to appeal to a younger generation than their current crop of armchair-bound AARPers, but at some point, surely, they’re bound to break.

• • •

Appropriately, on the viral ascent at the exact same time as Heidi Klum’s tumbling class was a Daily Show interview with former Gawker editor Neetzan Zimmerman that boiled down to this sad truth about the state of viral media and daily news: The quality of the clicks no longer matters—just the quantity. When every click is a win for traffic, is there any incentive to produce excellent content? No. If traffic numbers and subscriber counts are the be-all end-all of success metrics, why bother?

There’s been something of a retaliation against clickbait headlines—and simultaneously, a bit of a resurgence for longform journalism. So in at least one branch of the media, we seem to have pulled ourselves back from the brink. There’s hope.

This doesn’t have to be just how we roll now.

 

A version of this article originally appeared on the Daily Dot on Aug. 4, 2014. 

Photo via The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon/Hulu