Is Late Night – the Place to Be on TV for Those Running in 2020

Is Late Night – the Place to Be on TV for Those Running in 2020

February 1, 20192 min read

It used to be that stopping by a late-night talk show for any political candidate was a just an added bonus of exposure and safe coverage for a campaign.  Think of Bill Clinton answering softballs and playing the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show a quarter century ago. Now there’s no qualitative proof – but most political scientists will tell you that night helped introduce the then Governor Bill Clinton to a new audience and helped shape his image as that of a cool and relatable candidate. It may have been one of the many factors that saw him win the Whitehouse in 1992.

Fast forward to today, and now securing a spot on the sofa beside any of the late-night hosts is a must for any presidential candidate who wants to be taken seriously.

What Oprah was once for books and authors, hosts like Stephen Colbert have become for candidates – he’s the perennial gatekeeper for politicians.

“Any Democratic candidate who thinks they can ignore Stephen Colbert might as well not run for president,” said Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. “Colbert once joked that the road to the White House runs through his show but it’s no joke; it is exactly so.”  - Washington Post, November 2018

In this new era of social media, 24-hour news and even fake news – why is late night suddenly the place to be for politicians?

  • Is it because it is safe?
  • Has comedy suddenly become the only credible and objective place for politicians?
  • Is it because that’s where undecided audiences tune in and can be reached?
  • Or is it because late night is now segmented and postable on YouTube?  Is the internet audience after the show just as valuable as the viewers who tune in?

There are a lot of questions about what it will take and what we can expect along the long road to the 2020 election – and that’s where the experts from the University of Mary Washington can help.

Dr. Stephen Farnsworth is professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington. A published author and a media ‘go-to’ on U.S. politics, he is available to speak with media regarding this issue. Simply click on his icon to arrange an interview.

Connect with:
  • Stephen Farnsworth
    Stephen Farnsworth Professor of Political Science and International Affairs

    Dr. Farnsworth has spent decades researching how media and politics intersect. Check out his website at

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