ESPN looks to reboot its Always Late with Katie Nolan show with a move from subscription platform ESPN+ to the Thursday late-night slot on ESPN2.
Be warned: at the end of our interview on Monday, Katie Nolan apologized. What she’d said hadn’t been very juicy, she feared. But then again, neither was her summer.
After a quiet first season on ESPN+, Always Late with Katie Nolan is moving to a late-night slot on ESPN2, debuting at 12:30 a.m. on Thursday night. In her so-called offseason, Nolan did take a brief vacation—Paris, five days—but she’s mainly spent the last couple months preparing for Thursday and beyond.
“This is going to be a show with my name on it on ESPN,” she said. “Every time I think about that, I get a little stressed about it, then I remember it’s just another show. You’ve done it before. Everything is going to be fine.”
Always Late premiered this time last year, and Nolan said she appreciated the flexibility of experimenting on the commercial-free subscription platform during the show’s first run. However, executives decided ESPN+ wasn’t the best home for a general interest studio show, as they’ve leaned more into live and documentary programming for the streamer. The network rarely releases viewership numbers for its E+ shows, but the New York Post, in breaking the news of Nolan’s move to ESPN2, reported earlier this month that the show “didn’t find much viewership” during its first season. As a rough proxy, Always Late still trails behind Garbage Time—Nolan’s FS1 show that ran for over three seasons before she left FOX to join ESPN in the fall of 2017—in Twitter followers and has only a fraction of Nolan’s online following.
The show’s format and tone will be largely unchanged despite the move, meaning this summer, Nolan has focused more on operational tweaks, including altering segment structures to better meet ESPN’s online distribution practices. Dry, sure, but critical “to get our stuff in front of more eyeballs,” Nolan said. She’ll also create exclusive content for Facebook this year as part of a larger ESPN content deal.
Virality could go a long way in helping Always Late avoid the sports comedy graveyard that has claimed past attempts, from Jay Mohr to Norm McDonald. In fact, evening studio shows that don’t focus on games, news, and highlights have rarely been longterm hits. This summer, Nolan didn’t study those aborted attempts; instead she turned to John Oliver and Jon Stewart.
“My offseason hobby,” as Nolan put it, involved manually transcribing Oliver and Stewart’s monologues and color-coding them (blue for joke, black for set-up, green for non-joke information, orange for sound and graphics). “I am cool and I do go out,” she quickly clarified. But the gruntwork serves a purpose. “I watch John Oliver’s show and I’m like, ‘We can do that,’” Nolan said. “I’m stubborn in that I think this is a show the sports world needs and benefits from. It’s going to be really good and funny. And now I just crumble under the pressure of living up to that.”
Another nerdy process change? Nolan banked more content ahead of this season in an effort to scramble less from week to week. She’s already travelled to Philadelphia and Las Vegas to gather material for upcoming episodes. “That’s the goal for this season: focusing my energy here and getting a reasonable amount of sleep because I did not do that during season one,” she said. “The reason for me to get more efficient is so I can look at my life and see myself doing this week after week forever.”
Nolan seems to write in her head as she talks, adding laugh lines, retracing to edit, punching up her words. She aims to entertain. I’m my toughest critic, is boring, so she goes for, “You need to understand what a hostile place my brain is.” Asked to describe how she’s approaching this upcoming season, with the show not changing much except for how people will watch, she pauses for a moment. “It feels like—let me give you a perfect metaphor,” she says. Dayquil is to blame for her clouded thinking, she adds. Then she finds a comparison: “We took a little pit stop, we changed to a different car and now we’re just driving again.” Was that good? Was it boring?
Before hanging up for another round of cold medicine, she goes one more time for something zesty. “I’m so scared,” she says, “but I’m so excited.”