Radar Replay: Putting the first season of ‘Last Week Tonight’ on YouTube raises the bar for late night shows

Fans of late night television likely have a friend in YouTube — it’s where most of these shows upload select clips of their episodes for audiences to enjoy. “Last Week Tonight” is historically no different, with the channel featuring some web exclusives and the “main story tonight” of every episode that airs. On Friday, April 26, a teaser was announced that the show’s full first season library was going to be made available for free on YouTube. The teaser promised that despite this season being a decade old, “some of this is still completely relevant. Some.” The description also promised that seasons 2-8 would also be made available over time, during weeks when the show is off the air. While videos are typically uploaded for free to YouTube, “Last Week Tonight” being uploaded for free is surprisingly helpful for people to keep up with current news — decade old though it may be.

Despite the 10 years that have elapsed since John Oliver began to grace the late night scene, nearly all the subjects still feel as though they had been filmed yesterday. Subjects like the high tensions between Ukraine and Russia feel incredibly relevant following the latter’s invasion of the former in 2022. The second episode the show ever ran discussed the death penalty, which Oliver harked back to on the April 11 episode following the first execution by nitrogen gas. Events as serious as the Hong Kong protests and the state of American prisons still feel current. Even the less severe pieces, like the one criticizing Miss America, still call attention to the lack of scholarship funding for women in the United States. 

Despite these episodes covering quite literally “old news,” these videos still offer context to people who might want to learn more about certain events. They are a testament to how long some of these issues have been going on, and how their ramifications don’t simply dissipate. It should offer a bit of shock, maybe, to watch politicians in “And Now, This” continue to flub up a decade ago and remember that “the good old days” weren’t ever really that good. 

Making this first season available also opens up the opportunity for viewers at home to engage with these events in the context of the full episodes. Perhaps normal news bores them, or they simply can’t afford a Max subscription but want to still enjoy these episodes. Regardless, these episodes provide important context for understanding a vast array of political and social issues that continue to plague our nation. Though Oliver insists that what the show does isn’t journalism, the reporting it does cannot be overstated, satirical presentation and all. 

Not only does it mean a remarkable amount of accessibility, but it’s also a genius marketing strategy. In a relatively post-cable world, the concept of the on-TV rerun has faded away. It’s hard to argue that there would be a major loss in revenue that occurs by making these full episodes free. Indeed, making a backlog of videos available might inspire people to watch the show regularly. Although it might not necessarily mean a viewer wanting to jump into a Max subscription, it still increases exposure of the show, and encourages people to watch the show regularly.

Lastly, this release of the show’s backlog shows the importance and legacy of “Last Week Tonight” in the history of modern media. 10 years on, the show still serves as a no-bulls*** space for a well-rounded look at the news. Even despite HBO’s transition from AT&T to Warner Bros. as its “business daddy,” Oliver still has spoken up against Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza and offered scathing criticism towards American institutions. He uses the show as a chance to widen the tight lens of the news to the biggest events of the world. “Last Week Tonight” dares to challenge how hard it is for important international — or certain domestic — news to get attention. Despite its status as a commentary show, it dares to revolutionize the way the viewers look at the news and late night TV. With this backlog available now, a decade later, it still opens up the conversation about how our entertainment can make us more aware.

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