It was only fitting that late night host Busy Philipps announced the imminent cancellation of her E! talk show “Busy Tonight” on her Instagram account, posting a heartfelt, multi-video story late Sunday night that shared the news with her many social media-savvy fans. After all, it was the actress’ canny use of her social media channel that helped propel her into the rarefied world of female late night talk show hosts, with E! signing her on for her very own show in May of last year after Philipps’ Instagram stories earned her attention and acclaim.
The eventual show debuted in October on the cable outlet, bolstered by some starry behind-the-scenes names like Tina Fey (who served as executive producer) and a steady stream of on-air guests culled from Philipps’ own friend group. Six months later, Philipps has announced that E! will not be renewing the show, and the final eight episodes will roll out over the coming weeks. (In an official statement, the network added that the “last episode for E! will air Thursday, May 16 with a special celebratory half-hour. Busy is a hilarious and charismatic talent and we are grateful to the entire ‘Busy Tonight’ team who has delivered countless laughs and heartwarming moments in what will be over 100 episodes.”)
After that: who knows? Philipps shared on her Instagram that she and her team have been shopping the show to other networks, but even with a new home, “Busy Tonight” requires a few other tweaks to make it really pop. We’ve got some ideas:
1. Find the Right New Home
Before anyone can metaphorically save “Busy Tonight,” some smart network needs to literally save it, picking up the series and offering it a brand new home. Philipps’ social media star power has always been one of her best assets, so perhaps the show is better suited to a home that comes from that exact same framework, like YouTube or Facebook. Other streaming outlets that might befit a show and a host that are so steeped in the fast-changing waters of social media-centric entertainment include Hulu or even Netflix, which struggled to crack the late night code with Chelsea Handler’s own late night talk show, though the streaming giant might have learned some big lessons from that experiment that could help Philipps and her show shine (after all, episodic late night TV is one of the few things Netflix has yet to crack.)
On the traditional network side of things, the celeb-heavy focus of “Busy Tonight” could be a fun fit for Bravo (but is Andy Cohen willing to share the limelight?) or Comedy Central, which has a strong stable of politically-leaning late night talk shows, but hasn’t hosted a more obviously comedy-centric series in some time. Perhaps even TBS, which grabbed Comedy Central star Samantha Bee and gave the comedian and host her own late night talk show, might consider queuing up America’s only back-to-back lady-hosted late night hour?
2. Let Busy Do What Busy Does Best
Whichever network (hopefully) snaps up “Busy Tonight,” it will have to grapple with some very necessary changes to get the show up to snuff. The real rub: all the stuff that made Philipps such an appealing star (and not just on social media) was gradually squeezed out of the first season of the show. Philipps’ ability to share the minutiae of her life on Instagram and make it engaging, fun, and relatable was the key to her charm — it’s difficult to imagine another personality who could make videos taken during the sweaty height of her daily workouts so amusing, but Philipps did just that — and it’s hard to shake the sense that the host knows that that’s been missing from both her social media channels and her life lately.
During Philipps’ Sunday night announcement, she even kicked off her chat with a note from a friend who had recently wondered why Philipps had dropped her engaging “you guys” stories from her IG. Before “Busy Tonight” came around, Philipps’ Instagram wasn’t just a space where she talked about her life, it was a place where she involved and engaged her readers with her life, kicking off a number of stories with “you guys,” a handy way to let her audience feel that they were being directly addressed.
Philipps’ reason for the lack of “you guys” stories as of late was fair enough — she’s been working so hard on the show that she feels tapped out at the end of the day, with nothing else to say or share — but “Busy Tonight” shouldn’t have taken away from those bits, it should have served as a place where they were expanded and grown. The show should have just been a bigger, brassier extension of Philipps’ winning social media world. Those two things that don’t need to be at odds with each other, and perhaps a second round of “Busy Tonight” can recognize that.
3. Lay Off the Celebrity Interviews
Which would mean laying off the celebrity interviews that had become the bread and butter of “Busy Tonight” in recent weeks. Philipps is a gifted talker, but she’s not the most skilled interviewer — her best chats are the ones she did with her own friends, all the better to let the audience feel as if they are part of Philipps’ inner world. One celeb interview a show is fine, but when you see a show lineup that includes two, three, even four celebrity guests lined up, it gets both worrisome and wearisome.
Should the show continue, Philipps shouldn’t totally eschew celeb guests, but she should cut back on them and add beefier elements to the interviews as they happen. Here’s a host who can get away with playing silly games with her guests, because fun is absolutely baked into the show. More fun, less chat.
4. Tap Into a Social Media-Savvy Audience
Philipps is still a social media star, so why not speak directly to that during the show? Give Philipps the chance to do her own special brand of comedy and fun through social media itself, more Instagram tie-ins, a live Twitter Q&A, special Snapchat filters, all that jazz. While other late night hosts might not be at ease with those trappings (can you imagine Bill Maher doing a social media Q&A?) Philipps is a natural, and it’s also how her audience is used to consuming her content anyway.
5. Give It More Time
“Busy Tonight” didn’t even get seven months at E! before the network axed it, and while the world of television is notoriously finicky with its programming and speedy when it comes to cutting things loose, Philipps deserves a longer investment than just six months. She also deserves a chance to grow “Busy Tonight” into something bigger, better, and in line with her charm and skills. A fast cancellation always stings, but it’s even worse when there’s clearly so much more to be done.