Time slots for late-night programming have seen a foreign invasion in the past year, thanks to Brits James Corden of CBS’ “The Late Late Show” and John Oliver‘ of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” to say nothing of introducing Jon Stewart‘s South African “Daily Show” successor, Trevor Noah.
But America is throwing a native son into the mix, thanks to cable channel CMT’s first foray into late night with “The Josh Wolf Show.”
Wolf, a 45-year-old Massachusetts native and longtime standup comic, gained notoriety as a panelist on Chelsea Handler‘s defunct E! show “Chelsea Lately.” She now serves as executive producer on Wolf’s project, which CMT will premiere on Thursday at 11 p.m. and then air five nights a week.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” Wolf told TheWrap from his Los Angeles office, describing himself as “super-curious but not that bright.”
For, Handler, Wolf’s success hinges on his self-awareness. “The only way to succeed in the medium of late night is to be yourself. Don’t try to accommodate your viewers. There won’t be any unless they see authenticity,” she told TheWrap. “Whoever you are, be it. In Josh’s case, there’s nothing to apologize for. He is great in every way.”
Self-deprecation will get him far, given how well it’s served the likes of Amy Schumer in her frequent skewering of her own looks and talent. But Wolf isn’t looking to sell sketch comedy, nor is he trying to be the next David Letterman.
“That sort of late-night talk format, it’s being serviced in so many other places,” Wolf said. “This show, the first two acts will be panel-driven, not so celebrity-driven. I want my stories to evoke the people who are watching them.”
Using an example of the recent Boy Scouts ban on water-gun fights, Wolf wondered, “Are we getting so soft that we’re now depriving kids of water? What I want is, we’ll have a jumping off point with some stories and then a combination of jokes and genuine point of view.”
Wolf is quick to draw a distinction between his approach and that of his established late-night rivals. “My sensibility leans toward the middle of the country, which I consider a compliment,” he said. “I’m not Jon Stewart. He’s amazing, but he’s the only guy who can do it. I’m someone who grew up on the ‘Three Stooges,’ I like physical comedy.”
Jayson Dinsmore, CMT’s executive vice president of development, said the show “was an opportunity for us to play in grounds we haven’t before, especially knowing that it was backed by the team behind ‘Chelsea Lately,’ which launched a genre in late night that hadn’t existed.”
Dinsmore said the network’s confidence was boosted by its success with original programming like CMT’s biggest ratings performer “Party Down South,” a country-fried answer to “Jersey Shore” set in states like Mississippi and Georgia that regularly draws 4 million viewers in live-plus-7 ratings.
Dinsmore believes Wolf could have a similar resonance with viewers because “he’s an average guy, but he’s unbelievably likable.”
That may explain why the network didn’t subject its baseball-cap-wearing host to a radical makeover. “We want him in flannel shirts and we have no interest in taking his hat,” Dinsmore said.
Wolf couldn’t have been more relieved. “I’ve done shows on Discovery where they’ve asked me to host with my hat off, which was fine because I have hair,” he said. “But when you buy a product, buy it.”
Wolf himself sees “Lately” as his blueprint, specifically in Handler’s earlier years before her open disenchantment with E! set in. “Chelsea, Letterman, they made it like no one was watching. They made it for themselves,” said Wolf.
His panel will consist of fellow comedians and a few celebrity and athlete pals including his cousin, actor Scott Wolf, “who only plays roles where he cries. He’s in the top five funny people that I know. And Josh Hopkins, who is so funny and charming,” Wolf said.
Take a look at Wolf in action in this sneak peek: