Yesterday, Busy Philipps took to social media to share that her show, Busy Tonight, would not be continuing on at E!. I’m not surprised – a couple of weeks ago I texted a friend that I felt like the show was on the cusp of being cancelled and she said she hoped not, because she really likes Busy. So do I. But neither of us watch the show, and therein lies the problem. If even her fans aren’t watching… who is?
But Busy’s show was meant to be different because it’s a show that doesn’t shy away from social media (she is the first Instagram stories star) and embraces the absurdity of late-night TV with a fresh perspective. She has a lot of celebrity friends and a good mix of guests. Where did it go wrong? Or maybe it didn’t go wrong at all?
One thing she has working against her is the format – late night talk shows are outdated. We get so much news during the day, no one needs rehash at 11 o’clock at night. A reason why something like WWHL works so well is that it’s quick and dirty – it keeps it moving and focuses more on the guest/games than it does on a monologue or “bits.”
In her announcement on (what else?) Instagram stories, she says that she is in talks with other “networks” (I use networks loosely here – it could be a streaming service). She also says that one of her friends pointed out that she wasn’t doing the “hey guys” videos on Instagram as much, and she said it’s because she puts so much into the show. “I feel like I get home and I don’t have anything else to say.” Whatever the problems with Busy Tonight, it wasn’t a lack of commitment or ideas or personality or talent. She has all of that.
With just six months on-air (which is not a lot of time in late night because the shows go on for years and years), I don’t know if she ever connected with an audience in a significant way. Part of that is a lack of viral moments and not a lot of traction online (the Busy Tonight YouTube channel has a meagre amount of views compared to other late-night shows).
For me, the show just felt kind of flat and her energy couldn’t lift the meagre material. Yes, she was interested and engaging and had all of the pop culture references, but it lacked bite. The candor she showed in her book, the one in which she named names, was missing.
And I can appreciate that Busy doesn’t want to punch down (which was Chelsea Handler’s speciality when she was on E!), but the dish is missing – and we know Busy loves to dish. In a recent monologue, she was talking about Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner’s recent wedding and said, “Are multiple weddings just another way that Nick and Joe Jonas make Kevin feel bad?” She immediately followed up with that wasn’t her joke and she felt it was too mean. (That is not mean – not even Kevin Jonas would find that mean.)
But monologues are f-cking hard! I’d be curious if we went back to Conan or Jimmy Fallon or Andy Cohen or Jimmy Kimmel’s first 6 months how natural they would be, how many jokes would land. The benefit all of those hosts had was time – a lot of time.
In her Instagram stories, she said she felt good about the work they’ve done. But the work also needs more time to grow and to find a voice that isn’t just about mimicking her Instagram stories in a medium (television) that isn’t conducive to that kind of casual, improvised chatter. Busy has years of experience in the business, she isn’t just about social media. For that reason, I think the show will move and maybe make some necessary staffing and format changes. Busy is great, but in the short 6 months at E!, Busy Tonight wasn’t. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be great somewhere else.
Hey guys. Just wanted to let you know my show BusyTonight won't be continuing on the E network after May 16. I'm beyond proud of what we've built in such a short period of time and I'm hopeful we can find the right place for the show to live on. Goodnight you guys. I love you.✨— Busy Philipps (@BusyPhilipps) May 6, 2019