Exclusive: USA Developing Late-Night Talk Show From Will Ferrell's Company

TV Guide
USA Network | Photo Credits: USA Network
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USA Network | Photo Credits: USA Network

The late-night arena may be getting even more crowded. TV Guide Magazine has learned that Will Ferrell's production company is quietly developing a talk show that would serve as USA Network's entry into the genre.

USA and Gary Sanchez Prods., run by Ferrell and Adam McKay, have come up with an idea unique to the time period: A morning show in late night. The untitled project would be modeled after the likes of Live With Kelly and Michael and the fourth hour of Today hosted by Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. But here's the catch: It would air live at 12:01am ET, making it truly the first "morning show" of the day.

Make no mistake, this is a real show that operates in some respects like a traditional talk show (with guests, host banter, and pre-tape packages), even as it looks like nothing else in the midnight hour. "They're dead serious," one insider says. "It will have coffee cups, the whole thing."

Producers hope to hire a male-female hosting team in the coming months. A wide variety of individuals with both hosting and comedic backgrounds have been considered.

Rob Cohen (The Big Bang Theory) and Gary Sanchez's Owen Burke (NTSF: SD: SUV) created the show and are executive producing. These are producers with strong comedic backgrounds, "so they want it to be a comedy-type program but not a parody," the insider says.

Cohen's credits include The Ben Stiller Show, Mad TV and The Life and Times of Tim. He has also written for the Academy Awards and the MTV Movie Awards and penned the seminal 1991 "Flaming Moe's" episode of The Simpsons. Cohen and Burke worked together on HBO's Funny or Die Presents, among other things.

There's no rush to premiere, as USA earns solid ratings at midnight with repeats of shows like CSI, NCIS and Law & Order: SVU. But the network has been eager to expand its scope beyond its successful original drama brand, and is already getting into the first-run comedy business (pilots include Sirens from Denis Leary) and greatly expanding its original unscripted output (such as April's The Moment, in which contestants get a second chance to meet their career goals).

If the talk show succeeds, it can serve as a showcase to promote the channel's series and stars. Bravo's Watch What Happens Live has become a staple for that network, while The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report help define Comedy Central's entire brand. Other cable networks that have jumped into the late-night talk arena include TBS (Conan), E! (Chelsea Lately and Love You, Mean It with Whitney Cummings), FX (BrandX with Russell Brand and Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell), MTV (the upcoming Nikki and Sara Live, launching January 29) and BET (Don't Sleep! Hosted by T.J. Holmes).

Even syndicated late-night talk is back, as Arsenio Hall re-enters the arena this fall. All of this comes as the broadcast talk show wars heat up, now that Jimmy Kimmel Live! is facing off with incumbents The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and Late Show With David Letterman at 11:35/10:35c each night.

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"In television, every network wants to make more original programming," says Watch What Happens Live executive producer Michael Davies, who also produces Kathy Griffin's Bravo talk show Kathy, VH1's Jenny McCarthy Show and AMC's Talking Dead. "Cable is making these expensive dramas, so you've got to have shows that balance it. Reality television has gotten more expensive."

"So our play with Watch What Happens Live and Bravo was, we were going to go in and make a show in which the economics are so in its favor that you've got to give it a chance," Davies continues. "Networks need these shows that are lower cost. [But] it's going to get crowded. There are only so many guests that people want to see on TV talk shows and only so many people with the talent to do it."

Beyond talk, Adult Swim has become a force in late night with its off-color live-action and animated series. Given the sheer amount of original programming choices at bedtime, insomniacs never had it so good.

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