Conan to use robots. “It’s a hipper vibe.”

Most of the networks’ late-night talk shows, currently on hiatus because of the coronavirus, will be back in production in April, say sources, using audiences composed of inflatable dummies and puppets. Says one network executive, “It’s the safest way to go.”

Says stand-up psychologist Dr. Emile Arschloch, “The ‘artificial’ audiences will allow the comedic TV hosts to perform before a ‘live’ crowd, getting them to relax and rely on their well-honed comedic skills.”

In addition, the ‘artificial audiences’ will be accompanied by a canned laugh-track. “This will really allow comedians to feel at home,” says Arschloch. “From what I’m hearing, the CBS hosts will come out ahead. That network has canned laughter going back to the ‘I Love Lucy’ days. They have a variety of hysterical laugh tracks that span decades. NBC will have to rely on their canned laughter going back to the 60s, which is somewhat muted, but for the demented laughter used on ‘Laugh-In.’ ABC is top-loaded with ‘ooohs’ and ‘awwws’ resulting from too many family sit-coms. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.”

In terms of audience dummies, the President of Dummies ‘R’ Us, one of several companies that provide inflatable backgrounders to both movie and TV mini-series, says that this move is logical and not that all surprising.

Hollywood has always relied on dummies.

Karl Trazadone, of Dummies ‘R’ Us, explains, “The use of non-human background people has been around since the beginnings of Hollywood. In many silent movies, the background crowds consisted of small, hand-carved figures. It gradually progressed to inflatable crowds and, more recently, computer-generated throngs. Since TV doesn’t have the budget for CGI, inflatable crowds seems like the right way to go.”

Trazadone emphasizes that at-home audiences shouldn’t notice anything different. “With the right camera angles and lighting, the transition should be seamless. Of course, you have to take precautions. The dummies in the first few rows should be ordinary dummies, with legs on the ground. After that, inflatable audience members should fit right in.


“It’s important for the crew to inflate the dummies with air, just air. A lot of crewmembers instinctively go for helium, perhaps because of their history with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. This could result in chaos.

“Production on the movie ‘Gladiator,’ for instance, was shut down for a day when a helium mistake was made and, during the great gladiatorial fight scene, witnessed half of the Roman Coliseum crowd just shoot up out of their seats and head for the sun.

“We can’t afford for that to happen during live television shows. Can you imagine Jimmy Kimmel being halfway through a monologue and having his audience zip up to the overhead lighting and explode? That would not be the ‘everything is normal’ message the show would be trying to get across.”

Different strokes for different talk show hosts.

Different talk-show hosts will take different approaches. Stephen Colbert, for instance, will dress his dummies to look like various Hollywood celebrities from the past, placing classic faces on each and every dummy. “It’ll be sort of like the old Hollywood Canteen Crowd,” says a spokesperson. “You’ll have Bogart, Bacall, Jimmy Stewart and the rest.”

In addition, live guests will be fitted with facemasks with a hole in them for straws leading to large cups of bourbon. “It’s going to be very casual,” adds the spokesperson. “Each show won’t exactly end as much as be given a ‘last call.’”

Jimmy Fallon’s inflatable dummies will be fashioned after the Saturday Night Live cast from the first season on. “For Jimmy,” says a publicist, “it will be like going home.”


Seth Meyers will use puppets. “It will allow Seth to still be sarcastic while allowing him to go full ‘kids’ host’ in sketches. Sort of retro-snark with a healthy dose of Soupy Sales meets ‘Romper Room’ stuff. Expect a lot of flying custard pies. He might even do prank phone calls which will really be amusing considering he doesn’t go on until waaay after midnight.”


Conan O’Brien, on the other hand, will use classic robots to fill the seats. “It’s a hipper vibe,” says one of his producers. “Conan’s always been cutting edge. This way, he can play to the computer geeks out there, the sci-fi fans and anyone still living in their Mom’s basement.

“Our biggest challenge will be having someone winding up the robots on cue. We may have folks in HAZMAT suits. On the plus side? We can tinker with the laugh track so it can be sort of a Kraftwerk meets Devo electronic-guffaw deal. Conan is actually looking forward to it.”

James Corden will, thanks to his friends in the film industry, alter his Carpool Karaoke segments to include footage of long-dead actors altered to fit into the sketches, including some serious overdubbing. First up? John Wayne sings along to “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.”

Real Time With Bill Maher is toying with the idea of having a dummy audience altered to resemble every member of the Administration. “This way,” says a producer, “he can really vent.”

Fox’s The Greg Gutfeld Show won’t change at all, since nobody watches it.

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