When @midnight debuted on Comedy Central in October of 2013, it became a hit right away. A brief trial run proved successful, as many viewers not only tuned in, but also joined in on Twitter to play the Hashtag Wars. The show was renewed for a full season and saw its popularity continue to grow, as on a given night, whatever hashtag war was being fought would usually emerge as the number one trending topic on the site for that evening. Even if some Twitter users were irritated by the preponderance of hashtag warriors in their timelines, the show’s popularity was hard to deny. There was just one question: How long would any of this last?
Let’s be honest: few things scream “product of its time” quite as loudly as a TV show named after its own Twitter account. Sure, the show was fun, but it was so tied to modern technology and social media that one couldn’t help but wonder if it would be cast aside along with Friendster and MySpace. And yet the show has endured quite well. It’s been three years since its debut, and the hashtag wars are still trending nicely (Chris Hardwick himself has admitted he’s surprised this segment is still running). Additionally, the show has been renewed through 2017, which means that the absolute worst case scenario for @midnight is that it runs for four years – a pretty good mark for most shows – with the potential to run much longer. This show is no flash-in-the-pan, and its internet-driven premise has proven quite sturdy. So, why is this case?
Well, for one thing, the internet is pretty much going to keep going no matter what. Sure, social media platforms start up and fizzle out at a rapid rate (does anyone remember Ello? And does anyone remember when Chris Hardwick had to ask for the @nerdist Ello handle, after beloved tweeter Rob Whisman took it before he could?), but people posting stupid things on social media platforms is as inevitable as death and taxes. The same goes for the culture of internet memes. Sure, Harambe jokes became played out after a few months, and Ken Bone became played out after approximately 38 seconds, but they’ll be replaced. And whatever replaces them will eventually be replaced as well. Basically, even if the websites we read and the platforms we post things on are perpetually shifting, the internet itself is going to constantly regenerate, meaning there will always be stories and people to mock on the internet, regardless of what sites we get those stories from.
What also helps the show remain fresh is that while the internet is the setting for its humor, it’s not just about the internet. Rather, it’s also a battle of wits between three comedians (or in some cases, actors, musicians, and occasionally athletes who are trying their hand at comedy), which is an inherently enthralling thing to watch. While many of the jokes are written in advance of the taping, the show does nonetheless challenge comedians to think on the spot with its live challenges, and even the jokes that are written before the show still give viewers a chance to see what comics are able to come up with when they are asked to produce material in a short period of time. While online culture is integral to what @midnight does, one could credibly argue that it’s actually a show about comedic competition that just happens to use the web as its battleground. Sure, it may lack the depth of a new hour from Louis C.K. or Patton Oswalt, but watching comics be forced to be fast on their feet is just a fascinating exercise, whether you keep up with the latest internet goings on or not.
After three years, @midnight’s foundation appears to be rock solid. The horrible-but-glorious phenomenon that is the internet gives the show a seemingly endless number of things to ridicule, while the idea of three comics trying to outwit each other continues to be entertaining. One can only guess where the show might go from here. This March, the show branched out by holding a debate between Anthony Atamaniuk’s Trump and James Adomian’s Bernie, an hour-long episode which bent the format, showing that while the show has a distinct formula, it’s not so rigid as to reject experimentation. Perhaps some segments will be phased out, and new ones will be brought in, or perhaps at some point, the show will become stale and tedious. For now, however, @midnight appears to be in good shape for the foreseeable future, and any fear that it would be a flash-in-the-pan has been thoroughly extinguished.