The Chelsea Handler Show Moves to Netflix: Late Night Doesn’t Need the Networks (or Does It?)

chelsea handler

Did Netflix just redefine late night television with acquiring Chelsea Handler’s show?

The internet is abuzz with Netflix’s biggest announcement since launching its original programming with “House of Cards.” What sets the Chelsea Handler show apart from Netflix’s other programming is that it’s a talk show. Not exactly binge-watch material.

Editor-in-Chief of Variety, Andrew Wallenstein wrote: “Well, there’s two different ways to view the Handler hire: as a deviation from a core strategy or the formation of a new strategy. Either way, the move begs explanation.”

I say it doesn’t beg anything, save for its obvious plea: watch me.

The late night talk show scene has been defined for more than half a century as hosted by way too many moderately funny white guys. I’m not saying that’s a sexist decision as much as it’s one of convenience–if not a boring move, even though I’m pretty excited for Stephen Colbert to take over the Late Show from David Letterman next year.

Handler’s name was tossed about as a possible replacement for the Late Show spot, but deep down we all kind of knew that the most coveted late night seat would not be breaking from tradition, at least not yet, anyway. Handler could have taken Craig Ferguson’s spot. But that’s a sleepy time slot time. She knows better.

As an avid fan of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”, it is extremely rare that I watch the shows at 11/11:30 respectfully. But I do watch them with as much commitment as being a new mommy allows—sometimes that’s a full day or even a week later. Netflix is banking on this approach with the Chelsea Handler show because she already has an audience who will make the time to watch her show. For the people who may tune in but not stick around for a full episode, Netflix knows those viewers are more likely to move around the site, and that’s never bad for an online business that represents a whopping one-third of all Internet bandwidth in the U.S.

And this is my best guess as to why the networks didn’t go with Handler or anyone who wasn’t a moderately funny white guy. It’s not a sexist move, but a strategic one. In light of what the Internet is doing for entertainment, which is already proving to be huge, we can anticipate seeing the “original” networks revert back to even more rigidly classic programming styles to define their place in the entertainment world. While streaming web content is replete with the ‘anything goes’ tagline, networks are becoming stylized iconic brands like Ralph Lauren, Levi’s or Nike—there may have been periods where they were no longer quite in fashion, but once they figured out how to stop chasing trends and just do what it is they’re really good at, consumers embraced them with even more intensity. Network television will soon become the equivalent of a really well made pair of jeans, shoes or a timeless sweater you want to have in your wardrobe. That means conceivably “safer” programming choices for networks. Classics. More men in suits. Better news reporting. Dorkier family humor programming. That’s not Handler’s style and that’s not Netflix’s style, either, but we’re lucky now to have so many options at our fingertips.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.