There are certainly more media celebrities and “digital influencers” today than at any point in history. Platforms like Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, and others have democratized the opportunities for people to showcase their content and gain a following, giving the world new forms of entertainment and giving companies new methods of brand engagement.
While the means for achieving influence have become much more democratized, and the volume of people who attain influence have increased dramatically, has it actually become more difficult for any one person to actually have the extent of influence one would have had in the past? I would certainly not be the first to complain that the internet has created a much “noisier” world, and this quantity of content we all have access to today makes us perhaps less likely to feel connected with any one voice or influencer. Let’s take the world of comedian late night talk show hosts as an example.
Back when Johnny Carson did The Tonight Show, that’s all there was on TV. NBC had no competition from CBS, ABC, nor more recently TBS in terms of late shows. For three decades between 1962 and 1992, all of America tuned in every night to watch Johnny Carson before bed. It was as much of a staple of American Culture as apple pie. Showbiz drama eventually led to David Letterman starting his show on CBS, then Conan to start with TBS, and in the meantime ABC had also already gotten into the game with their own Jimmy Kimmel. By now, our American television culture is saturated with other comedic talents as Steven Colbert, James Corden, Bill Maher, Seth Meyers, Ellen Degeneres, Chelsea Handler, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed a few. But back in the day, Johnny Carson was it.
A show like NBC’s Tonight Show is a platform of bringing cultural influences to America. Comedy. Film. Music. A platform that brings American artists to the American people. Night after night, decade after decade. Hosts of these hallmark brands have historically had very long careers — 30 years for Carson, 22 years for Leno — and there’s no reason yet to believe Jimmy Fallon won’t end up having a comparably long career carrying this brand into the future. Yet, as much as Jimmy is now the undisputed king of late night by metrics of twitter following and ratings, is there anyone who would believe Jimmy will be as important to shaping American culture of these coming decades as Johnny was to shaping America’s Post-War culture?
See you at the next exploration!