Why Do Late-Night Talk Shows Start at 11:35 p.m.?

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Getty Images

Press the menu button on your cable remote and you’ll see the schedule lineup in a neat grid. Almost all TV shows start on the hour or half-hour, and this has been the case since the early days of television—with one notable exception: late-night talk shows on the big broadcast networks. Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and Jimmy Kimmel all begin at 11:35 p.m. eastern time, and the shows that follow them also begin a few minutes after the half-hour. These are virtually the only shows on American television that begin at a time not ending with a zero. How did late-night shows get these irregular time slots?

You can partially blame Saddam Hussein.

At the start of the 1990s, affiliates “had been clamoring … to grab more time away from the networks,” Bill Carter—a former TV writer for The New York Times and author of The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno, and the Network Battle for the Night and The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy—tells mental_floss via email.

Local TV stations, which contract for programming from national networks like ABC, CBS, and NBC, wanted more airtime for their newscasts. Carter says there was special pressure on NBC, because they demanded more time from their local stations during late-night hours for national broadcasts. To be an NBC affiliate at that time meant dedicating two hours every weeknight to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Night with David Letterman. While CBS, ABC, and Fox had some programming after 11 p.m., there was no block of late-night TV as permanent and unshakable as NBC’s.

“Some NBC stations were pushing the idea of moving The Tonight Show [to midnight],” Carter says, “which might have killed the franchise.”

When the first Gulf War began in the summer of 1990, the affiliates intensified their campaign for more news time, insisting they had to cover the conflict. NBC acquiesced by temporarily moving the start of its late-night block from 11:30 p.m. to 11:35 p.m. But once the local stations had those five precious minutes, they didn’t want to give them back.

Johnny Carson, who had hosted The Tonight Show for nearly 28 years at that point, was infuriated over the bump. "He understands the TV business and knows you never get that time back," Carter says of Carson's thinking at the time. "He fears the next move will be an 11:45 p.m. start and then midnight." But since Carson had been planning to retire in a couple of years, "he let it happen without real protest."

Once NBC gave its affiliates an extra five minutes for newscasts, the other networks followed suit. CBS didn’t want to seem like it was offering its affiliates a rawer deal, so when David Letterman began his Late Show on the network in 1993, CBS slotted the program at 11:35 p.m. ABC also slid its news show Nightline to 11:35 p.m. and moved Jimmy Kimmel Live! to that time slot in 2013.

A standard was set for the big networks, and it helped broaden the late-night landscape. "This open[ed] an opportunity for cable, which starts its late night at 11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.," Carter says, "creating the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert phenomenon, as well as [Cartoon Network's] Adult Swim." Starting in the early 2000s, those cable lineups managed to chip away at the big networks' once-unassailable ratings leads.

So, ultimately, Johnny Carson had the last laugh.

What Is the Wilhelm Scream?

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iStock

What do Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Toy Story, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Anchorman, 22 Jump Street, and more than 200 other films and TV shows have in common? Not much besides the one and only Wilhelm Scream.

The Wilhelm Scream is the holy grail of movie geek sound effects—a throwaway sound bite with inauspicious beginnings that was turned into the best movie in-joke ever when it was revived in the 1970s.

Just what is it? Chances are you’ve heard it before but never really noticed it. The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in both the biggest blockbusters and the lowest low-budget movies and television shows for over 60 years, and is usually heard when someone onscreen is shot or falls from a great height.

First used in the 1951 Gary Cooper western Distant Drums, the distinctive yelp began in a scene in which a group of soldiers wade through a swamp, and one of them lets out a piercing scream as an alligator drags him underwater.

As is the case with many movie sound effects, the scream was recorded later in a sound booth with the simple direction to make it sound like “a man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.” Six screams were performed in one take, and the fifth scream on the recording became the iconic Wilhelm (the others were used for additional screams in other parts of the movie).

Following its debut in 1951, the effect became a regular part of the Warner Bros. sound library and was continually used by the studio’s filmmakers in their movies. Eventually, in the early 1970s, a group of budding sound designers at USC’s film school—including future Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt—recognized that the unique scream kept popping up in numerous films they were watching. They nicknamed it the “Wilhelm Scream” after a character in the first movie they all recognized it from, a 1963 western called The Charge at Feather River, in which a character named Private Wilhelm lets out the pained scream after being shot in the leg by an arrow.

As a joke, the students began slipping the effect into the student films they were working on at the time. After he graduated, Burtt was tapped by fellow USC alum George Lucas to do the sound design on a little film he was making called Star Wars. As a nod to his friends, Burtt put the original sound effect from the Warner Bros. library into the movie, most noticeably when a Stormtrooper is shot by Luke Skywalker and falls into a chasm on the Death Star. Burtt would go on to use the Wilhelm Scream in various scenes in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie, causing fans and filmmakers to take notice.

Directors like Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, as well as countless other sound designers, sought out the sound and put it in their movies as a humorous nod to Burtt. They wanted to be in on the joke too, and the Wilhelm Scream began showing up everywhere, making it an unofficial badge of honor. It's become bigger than just a sound effect, and the name “Wilhelm Scream” has been used for everything from a band name, to a beer, to a song title, and more.

But whose voice does the scream itself belong to? Burtt himself did copious amounts of research, as the identity of the screamer was unknown for decades. He eventually found a Warner Bros. call sheet from Distant Drums that listed actors who were scheduled to record additional dialogue after the film was completed. One of the names, and the most likely candidate as the Wilhelm screamer, was an actor and musician named Sheb Wooley, who appeared in classics like High Noon, Giant, and the TV show Rawhide. You may also know him as the musician who sang the popular 1958 novelty song “Purple People Eater.”

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Can You Really Suck the Poison Out of a Snakebite?

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iStock

Should you find yourself in a snake-infested area and unlucky enough to get bitten, what’s the best course of action? You might have been taught the old cowboy trick of applying a tourniquet and using a blade to cut the bite wound in order to suck out the poison. It certainly looks dramatic, but does it really work? According to the World Health Organization, approximately 5.4 million people are bitten by snakes each year worldwide, about 81,000 to 138,000 of which are fatal. That’s a lot of deaths that could have been prevented if the remedy were really that simple.

Unfortunately the "cut and suck" method was discredited a few decades ago, when research proved it to be counterproductive. Venom spreads through the victim’s system so quickly, there’s no hope of sucking out a sufficient volume to make any difference. Cutting and sucking the wound only serves to increase the risk of infection and can cause further tissue damage. A tourniquet is also dangerous, as it cuts off the blood flow and leaves the venom concentrated in one area of the body. In worst-case scenarios, it could cost someone a limb.

Nowadays, it's recommended not to touch the wound and seek immediate medical assistance, while trying to remain calm (easier said than done). The Mayo Clinic suggests that the victim remove any tight clothing in the event they start to swell, and to avoid any caffeine or alcohol, which can increase your heart rate, and don't take any drugs or pain relievers. It's also smart to remember what the snake looks like so you can describe it once you receive the proper medical attention.

Venomous species tend to have cat-like elliptical pupils, while non-venomous snakes have round pupils. Another clue is the shape of the bite wound. Venomous snakes generally leave two deep puncture wounds, whereas non-venomous varieties tend to leave a horseshoe-shaped ring of shallow puncture marks. To be on the safe side, do a little research before you go out into the wilderness to see if there are any snake species you should be particularly cautious of in the area.

It’s also worth noting that up to 25 percent of bites from venomous snakes are actually "dry" bites, meaning they contain no venom at all. This is because snakes can control how much venom they release with each bite, so if you look too big to eat, they may well decide not to waste their precious load on you and save it for their next meal instead.

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