Three minutes into her speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Sarah Silverman took a nosedive. She’d theretofore spent her time onstage praising Bernie Sanders, the U.S. presidential candidate she’d zealously promoted for months, until segueing into the reason everyone was at the convention: to support the inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton.
“Hillary is our Democratic nominee,” she said in a delivery far from befitting her best acting role, “and I will proudly vote for her.”
The stadium filled with boos from the “Bernie or Bust” crowd, while Silverman tried and failed to finish her speech, every joke landing with a thud. After a while she just stared into the abyss, beleaguered and empty.
“They made me cut off my speech and now we have to stretch,” she muttered minutes later, leaning into the podium and nearly gritting her teeth. “Oh, I have so much I wanna say.”
Well, now she’ll have her chance.
The TV streaming service Hulu announced in late March that they’ve tapped Silverman to host her own late-night political show, introducing yet another attempt to fill the void left by veteran Daily Show host Jon Stewart, which has been aggressively reached for by Samantha Bee (TBS), John Oliver (HBO), Trevor Noah (Comedy Central) and Larry Wilmore (cancelled by Comedy).
In some ways, Silverman is an obvious choice. The outspoken comedian – who is agnostic, but is sisters with a rabbi and culturally Jewish enough to pull off her most famous line, “I was raped by a doctor… which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl” – brings to Hulu more than 10 million Twitter followers and an established career that includes a penchant for viral late-night skits. (See: “I’m F—–g Matt Damon,” a nascent YouTube proof that self-effacing celebrities can go viral.)
But her show is also a bit of a gamble. Do we really need another left-leaning comedian mocking politicians in the age of Donald Trump? Even the broader network talk-show hosts – Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, namely –strive for online success with snippets of attacks on the easiest president to mock since Nixon.
The arena is beyond packed, and unless Silverman can pull off something truly unique, I don’t think her show’s going to last too long.
Details are sparse so far. We know the first season will be 10 episodes long, 30 minutes apiece, called I Love You, America, and co-produced by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Silverman’s longtime producer and partner, Amy Zvi. That in itself should be an indicator of what’s coming – the frat pack might spin up something less talk than sketch, using Silverman’s connections and acting experience to translate the success of Funny or Die onto the streaming platform.
But that in itself raises an even deeper question, which strikes at the heart of this whole television revolution. Can the talk-show format translate on a streaming network? It’s one of the few areas where traditional scheduling has survived, even thrived, in spite of the takeover by Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. The only notable dive into this field has been Netflix’s Chelsea, a broad, Ellen-style interview show I’ve never found to be anything but uncomfortably weak, but has nonetheless been renewed for a second season. I Love You, America could avoid that problem by sticking to its 10-episode weekly release schedule, more in line with John Oliver’s hit Last Week Tonight.
But even if it survives the format, there remains the question of whether left-leaning, streaming-happy millennials, among who I happily stand, really need another one of these shows, almost obnoxiously partisan.
According to Deadline, which broke the news, that may not be an issue. Silverman’s new show “is designed to be balanced, with her looking to connect with people who may not agree with her personal opinions through honesty, humour, genuine interest in others, and not taking herself too seriously.”
If her speech at last year’s Democratic convention was any clue, she’ll need some help.