Thursday, January 14, 2010

I used to be a big fan of late night talk shows. I cut my teeth on the great Steve Allen show on Westinghouse in the early 60s, and being a night owl anyway, I watched far too much of Johnny Carson, Tom Snyder's Tomorrow Show, Arsenio Hall, David Letterman's NBC show and God help me Joey Bishop, Merv Griffin, and even Regis Philbin's brief late night foray. I remember as a child listening to the adults talking in hushed tones about the original Steve Allen Tonight Show and did bluff my way into seeing a little Jack Paar.
But I haven't watched any of it for years (even though I was present backstage with Steve Allen at the Tonight Show anniversary during Jay Leno's first year), until one night this week, when the Conan O'Brien-Jay Leno kerfluffle at NBC hit high gear. If you haven't followed it, basically: Jay Leno left the Tonight Show 8 months ago and began a 10 pm show several nights a week, while Conan ( who previously followed Tonight in Letterman's old spot) took over Tonight, as his contract stipulated. But Leno's show bombed and Conan lost the Tonight Show's ratings over Letterman (now on CBS.) So NBC wanted to put Leno back on at 11:35, with Conan still doing Tonight, but at 12:05. Conan refused, in an open letter professing devotion to the Tonight Show tradition.
I tuned in that night to see him, switching back and forth to Letterman, and later also Jimmy Fallon and a touch of Carson Daly on NBC, Jimmy Kimmel on ABC and Craig Ferguson following Letterman on CBS. Not only did Conan have a lot to say about the NBC situation--they all did. Major dollops of their humor were about it, and almost all of it was hostile to Leno and NBC. There was less of it with Jimmy Fallon, who was clearly more taken with fulfilling a widely shared fantasy of singing a Beatles tune with a real Beatle (Ringo Starr.) But Jimmy Kimmel did his whole show as Jay Leno--though it was described as "unflattering," it got him an invitation to appear on Leno's prime time show. (It's also possible that I've confused the two Jimmy's.)
I dipped back into it last night, and the Leno/NBC/ insecure talk show host jibes continued, falling flat to me--I mean, poor poor pitiful Conan, who is likely to come out of this at worst with a settlement worth $10 million a year. My other takeaway, and this probably says more about me than about them, but I don't find late night interesting or funny anymore. And I haven't for years--clearly why I stopped watching. The guests are comparatively boring and almost exclusively show biz, and the humor isn't worth the increased commercials time. Though Jimmy Fallon is a nice enough, the only new guy who makes me laugh is Craig Ferguson. As for the kerfluffle, well, I don't think Conan is that good. Letterman's show is better. This may be an age thing (mine I mean) but Letterman's is better paced.
The other element in all this is Comedy Central's dynamic duo of Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report. So I suppose if I got back into the bad late night TV habit I'd start by switching around from Stewart-Colbert/Charlie Rose/Sports Center and Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns from 11 to 12, then check out Craig Ferguson's monologue. I don't know, maybe it is a better use of my time than blogging.

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