It’s official. Stephen Colbert has been chosen to replace late night talk show host David Letterman. Personally I think it is a great move. Colbert is an extraordinary comedy talent and if the choice also pisses off right wingers I couldn’t be more pleased. Dave will be packing it in next year at the age of 68 after spending more than 30 years doing late night talk shows. With Jay Leno recently stepping aside for Jimmy Fallon and Dave’s retirement next year we are seeing an end of an era.
By the headlines you would think that the world is changing dramatically. It isn’t. Less than 5% of Americans and Canadians regularly watch late night talk shows. A recent survey showed that the average viewer watching Letterman is 58 years of age. For Jimmy Kimmel it is 54 and Jimmy Fallon it is 57.
The ideal viewing age group for advertisers is 18-49 years of age. When you get older you just don’t buy as much stuff. I think it used to be a common belief that most late night talk show watchers were college students who didn’t have to get up early in the morning and go to work. A lot of the current viewers were college students who grew up with Letterman and Johnny Carson before him but those college days were long ago.
Today younger people have more ways of getting their entertainment than in years gone by. Anyone today with a computer, laptop, or mobile device can access a wide range of entertainment and watch it when they want. Many younger people spend hours playing games on line instead of watching talk shows. YouTube lets them get their chuckles in short bursts. Social media like Facebook also occupies a lot of their time. And of course there are DVR’s where they can record Family Guy or The Simpsons and watch it later.
So who is watching late night talk shows anymore? I think in order to be able to understand who is watching we have to comprehend what happens to people at the end of the day. Most people want or need to get 8 hours of sleep at night. Some of us are capable of falling into a dead sleep moments after crawling into bed while many others read a book until they can’t keep their eyes open any more.
In some ways staying up late to watch late night talk shows is a form of rebellion. Some have decided at some point in their life that 6 hours of sleep is enough for them no matter what mom used to say and whose business is it anyway if they want to stay up a bit later and get the stimuli they feel they still need. Watching a late night talk show can be like being invited to a well-organized party. The host is their buddy and when he says goodnight they know that their old friend will be back the next night unless it is a Friday night.
There are some rules about having a late night talk show and it is a tried and true formula for the most part. First of all in order to be a host you have to be a man and over 35 years of age. (Conan O’Brien is 50 and Jon Stewart and Craig Ferguson are 51, Arsenio Hall is 58.) The “man” thing is because by far most watchers are men and the age thing is that most watchers are older and they don’t want to watch some cheeky young punk without much life experience trying to be funny in ways they often don’t understand.
All hosts must wear a suit. It is written somewhere in the corporate bible. You, the viewer, may be stretched out on your bed or couch in your skivvies or jammies but it is important that your host looks like he is at work. Each show must start off with a monologue which usually covers something current in politics or makes fun of some young entertainer who has gone off the deep end.
Almost all hosts have a side kick or a band leader to make small talk with. Some of the more notable side kicks in the past have been Ed McMahon (How did he ever go broke?), Doc Severinsen, Regis Philbin, and Paul Shaffer. Today Chelsea Handler has a midget as a side kick and Craig Ferguson has his skeleton Geoff.
Each show must have some bits that the audience can identify with. They don’t have to be very sophisticated and the sillier they are the better. Some of these routines are done every night as Letterman’s Top 10 is and other routines happen just every now and then.
The biggest laughs usually come about through spontaneity. Putting an audience member on the spot often works. Going out on the street and asking morons questions that have answers that most people should know but don’t is even better.
Most late night comedians are shit disturbers and most of the viewers are keen to see some kind of friction whether it is real or not.
More than anything else the host must make his audience feel like they would like him to be their pal, the kind of guy they could have a beer with or go fishing with.
Late night talk show TV has been around for almost 65 years now. A lot of the hosts and a lot of the guests we have seen over the years are no longer with us.
Here is my interpretation of the history of late night talk shows….
History Of Late Night Talk Shows
The first late night talk show I ever saw was Steve Allen’s in the mid-1950s. I’ve pretty well spent most of my life going to sleep late.
From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, when commercial TV was still in its infancy, any time after 11:30 p.m. was pretty well considered dead space. Some stations showed old movies while others simply went off the air until the following morning. I remember in the early 1950s in Canada that the local station would only start televising at about 5 p.m. in the afternoon and the only thing on the TV screen during the day was the Indian head test pattern.
Broadway Open House
Steve Allen wasn’t the first guy to host a late night talk show. In the early 50s (before my late night viewing time) there was a program called Broadway Open House. It only lasted for a few years. One of the hosts was Morey Amsterdam who later played a gag writer along with Rose Marie on the 60s Dick Van Dyke Show. Someone got the bright idea that it might be funny to have a large chested woman with a foreign name added to the Broadway Open House cast. She was given the name Dagmar and later took over hosting the show before the program was cancelled.
Steve Allen’s parents had both been in Vaudeville (variety entertainment) so he grew up in show biz. Aside from being a comedian he was also a prolific songwriter. He wrote “This Could Be The Start Of Something Big.” He was the first host of NBC’s The Tonight Show. When he first became host Gene Rayburn, who would later host Match Game, was his announcer.
Allen was very quick witted and had boundless energy. He has been credited as being the first host to include “man on the street” interviews and audience participation on his shows. In some ways Allen was a product of the 1940s. He loved big band music but had no time for rock and roll. His comedy often included a long laugh about something followed by another zinger that could extend the joke to several minutes. His black rimmed glasses gave him the appearance of being someone who was intelligent.
After a few years of doing The Tonight Show the brain trust at NBC thought it might be a good idea that they produce another show with Allen as the host to go up against Ed Sullivan at 8 o’clock on Sunday nights. On his Sunday night show he introduced the American public to comics like Bill Dana, Tom Poston, Louis Nye, Don Knotts, and Pat Harrington.
After a while it all became too much. An hour and a half weeknights and another hour on Sunday was an awful lot for anyone to handle. At first NBC cut his weekday workload back and had the weird and crazy comedian Ernie Kovacs take his place on Monday and Tuesday nights. And then they fired both Allen and Kovacs from The Tonight Show leaving Allen with just his Sunday night spot. Allen had lasted from 1954-1957 as the host of The Tonight Show.
Tonight: America After Dark
After firing Allen the NBC execs decided to take another route with their late night talk show spot and brought in veteran announcer Jack Lescoulie to host their new show called Tonight: America After Dark. Lescoulie was a nice guy but he wasn’t a comedian and if Americans were going to stay up late they wanted to see someone funny. The show only lasted several months and during that time a number of the NBC affiliates refused to air the program.
|Jack Lescoulie on right with Dave Garroway and chimp.|
Paar got his first big show biz break as a summer replacement for Jack Benny on radio just after WW2. He also played the 2nd and 3rd banana in some movies. In the early 50s he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show as a comic and hosted a couple of game shows.
Jack Paar took over The Tonight Show in 1957 and left it in 1962. Paar was a complex individual who often wore his heart on his sleeve. He was very thin skinned and could feel slighted very easily. He had running battles with Ed Sullivan and gossip columnist Walter Winchell and walked off The Tonight Show for 3 weeks once over a joke the censors wouldn’t let him tell.
Paar was more of a story teller than a laugh a minute comedian. He worked at a much slower pace than his predecessor Steve Allen. Sometimes he would end his little chats with his audience with his catch phrase “I kid you not!” His best asset was that he was a great conversationalist. Unlike other talk show hosts, Paar kept little of his personal life way from the public. On some nights on his show he would show home movies often featuring his young daughter Randy. At least one of those home movies was about a trip Paar and his family had taken to Africa.
In some ways Paar’s show was what they used to call highbrow. Intellectual if you like. He once interviewed Fidel Castro. Peter Ustinov was a regular guest and Paar often had people on his show who were part of the live theatre crowd in New York.
Unfortunately there is very little videotape of either Jack Paar’s or Steve Allens old shows. I was pretty young back then but I remember Paar having an American writer on quite often who was married to a Japanese woman and she would mispronounce a lot of English words and make some of them sound suggestive.
NBC knew Paar wasn’t going to last and unlike when Steve Allen left, this time they were prepared with a replacement. Paar packed it in in 1962. For most of his run, Hugh Downs later of the 20-20 TV program, was Paar’s announcer.
|Jack Paar with JFK.|
When I was in grade 8 in 1960 I would often come home after school and watch a quiz program at 3:30 called Who Do You Trust. The host of the show was a young skinny guy named Johnny Carson. The format of the show was a lot like Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life quiz show in that most of the laughs came from messing around with the 2 guest contestants and mixing them up with quick wit. I thought Carson was hilarious and sometimes brought friends over after school to see his show.
I was kind of surprised that Johnny Carson got The Tonight Show gig but thought he was an excellent choice. He brought announcer and side kick Ed McMahon along with him from Who Do You Trust to The Tonight Show. NBC had to wait about 5 months for his contract to expire with ABC before he debuted on October 1, 1962. Carson would spend the next 30 years hosting the show.
Skitch Henderson (later jailed for income tax evasion) had been the band leader on The Tonight Show when Steve Allen was host and returned to the same job when Carson took over. He was later replaced by Doc Severinsen. The show was based in New York City and moved to Los Angeles in 1972.
Johnny Carson was a very bright guy and picked up a lot of things that would help him in his comedy from other older comedians. I’m guessing but I think he got his silent cheesed off look from Jack Benny. He had also worked as a writer for comic genius Red Skelton in the 1950s.
Not to take away from Carson’s talents buthe was very fortunate in the timing of his break in getting The Tonight Show spot. He not only had the old greats still around from the movie business like Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Orson Welles, and others, he also had an amazing list of both veterans and new comers in comedy on his show.
The word in the entertainment industry was that if you were a new young comic making one of your first national appearances on The Tonight Show and Carson gave you the OK sign and invited you to sit down on the couch you pretty well had your career made.
Some of those comedians whose careers got a boost from being on Carson’s show included Richard Pryor, David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, Howie Mandel, David Steinberg, Steven Wright, Steve Martin, Jimmy Walker, Chris Rock, Robert Klein, and Martin Short.
He also had comedians on who had been around for years like Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Phil Silvers, Buddy Hackett, Bob Newhart, Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles, Carl Reiner, Joan Rivers, Rip Taylor, Jonathan Winters, Nipsey Russell, Flip Wilson, Redd Foxx, Paul Lynde, and Rich Little.
Carson was cool and almost anybody who was anybody in show biz wanted to be on his show. It was the place to be for many years if you wanted a good time.
Carson’s mannerisms were many. His shrug, his pulling on the knot in his tie, his golf swing at the end of his monologue, his flipping a pencil in the air, his dead pan look, were just some of them.
Every so often he would play a character that he had invented like Carnac The Magnficent, Art Fern the sleazy Tea Time movie announcer accompanied by big breasted Carol Wayne and lots of double entendres, or Floyd R. Turbo a dimwitted guy with a hunting cap.
There is so much to remember about Carson’s 30 years on The Tonight Show, the joking with Don Rickles and Dean Martin, the time Tiny Tim got married on the program, the wild animals who sometimes scared the crap out of Johnny, the sexual tension between him and Angie Dickinson, the jokes about his marriages and his lawyer Henry Bushkin, and of course his final farewell when Bette Midler sang to him and brought tears to his eyes.
|Johnny Carson in his last year on The Tonight Show|
Ed McMahon once said that Carson carried “a tight suitcase”. You knew that he wanted to keep his private life to himself. Apparently for a number of years he was a mean drunk. Whatever he was he was the best at what he did for an awfully long time. Singer Paul Anka wrote the theme song for Carson’s Tonight Show.
|A young Johnny Carson.|
In 1967 the ABC TV network decided to take a crack at late night TV with a talk show and chose Joey Bishop who had had a situation comedy show on TV and was one of the “Rat Pack” that included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford. Bishops’s announcer and side kick was Regis Philbin.
Bishop wasn’t the most interesting person in show biz and his comedy could be described as droll. His show lasted only 2 years and probably the best that can be said about it was it had a good theme song that went “Joey, ….Joey, Joey.”
|Joey Bishop with Regis Philbin.|
IN 1969 CBS decided to get in on the late night talk show action and chose Merv Griffin to host their show. Griffin started out in show biz as a big band singer in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Doris Day is supposed to have discovered him. Griffin had a minor hit with a song called I’ve Got A lovely Bunch Of Coconuts in the early 50s. He went on to host a number of game shows before having a day time talk show. He, along with his wife, came up with the concept for the quiz show Jeopardy. He also invented Wheel Of Fortune.
Merv Griffin was noted for his breathless enthusiasm. He seemed to be most at ease interviewing old friends from the entertainment world but he also took some chances. He got in a load of trouble for having Yippie and shit disturber Abbie Hoffman on his program. For many years his announcer was the tall elderly English actor Arthur Treacher who later had a fish and chips restaurant chain named after him.
Griffin may have been the only late night talk show host who was also a singer. He would sometimes sing with his musical guests. His late night show never took off and he went back to daytime TV. He lasted about 2 years doing late night. It wasn’t until after his death that the general public learned that he was gay.
In 1968 Dick Cavett was given Joey Bishop’s old spot at ABC. Cavett had gone to Yale and was considered by some as “a thinking man’s comedian”. He got his start on TV writing jokes for Jack Paar in the early 60s. One of the famous lines he gave Paar was “Here they are…Jayne Mansfield.”
Out of all the hosts that went up against Carson, Cavett lasted the longest at 5 years even though he never had high ratings. When Johnny Carson took over from Jack Paar, Cavett stayed on for a while as a writer. He was quick witted and gave Carson the line “Having your taste questioned by criticized by Dorothy Killgallen (a frumpy looking game show panelist) is like having your clothes criticised by Emmett Kelly (a well-known clown at the time who dressed like a bum).
Appearance wise Cavett looked like a small good looking gymnast which he was when he was younger. You could get the feeling that he was somewhat insecure in that he often seemed to be trying to prove his worth by name dropping famous people he knew and he often seemed to want to show others how bright he was. Never the less he was one of the best interviewers on TV and always did his research on his guests.
Cavett was once asked why he had long sideburns and he replied “It’s a form of mild protest. Sort of like boiling my draft card.”
|Dick Cavett with Marlon Brando.|
In the early 1970s NBC and Johnny Carson decided to cut The Tonight Show to an hour from an hour and a half. Not having any competition from the other networks Carson also took time off from the show every now and then and guest hosts were brought in.
NBC decided to double down on their late night success with The Tonight Show and created a new late night talk show that would come on right after Carson said good night. The new program was to be called The Tomorrow Show and it was hosted by Tom Snyder, a laid back kind of guy who smoked cigarettes one after the other while on TV.
Snyder’s first Tomorrow Show appearance was in 1973 and his last was in 1982. He had a good run. For most of those years there was no studio audience. Snyder tried to make his show more personal and casual than others. He would sometimes have conversations with his behind the scenes crew. He also liked to wander in the topics that he discussed with guests and viewers could get the impression that he wasn’t interested in following proven formulas for having a talk show. Because of the time slot there was no rush to get the next guest on and often conversations would get stretched out if Snyder thought the topic was interesting to his viewers.
Snyder’s show bit the dust not long after NBC decided to bring in an audience and a co-host in gossip columnist Rona Barrett. Years later Snyder would return to his old late night show without a co-host.
Before there was Cable TV there were only 3 US television networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC. In 1980 ABC had pretty well given up on having a comedian being a host of a late night talk show on their network. They decided to go a different route with a news based kind of show that would be hosted by Ted Koppel for 25 years. The show was on 4 nights a week. For a while there was a Friday night comedy show called….Fridays. Two of the comedians on that show were Larry David and Michael Richards who would later have great success with the comedy ½ hour Seinfeld.
The Midnight Special
The Midnight Special ran from 1973 to 1981 on Friday nights on NBC. It certainly wasn’t a talk show but it was easily the best music show ever on TV. Anybody who was anybody in music or comedy back then appeared on The Midnight Special. Fortunately, unlike a lot of other old TV programs, all those great musical talents were recorded for posterity.
After NBC dumped Tom Snyder they brought in Dave Letterman to replace him in the time slot that followed Johnny Carson. Dave has now been on late night TV for more than 30 years. If Carson was the king of late night Letterman was and is the prince.
Letterman was part of a group of comedians that got their first big breaks on The Tonight Show. He was a personal favourite of Johnny Carson and off stage they were friends. One of Letterman’s first national TV appearances was on a Mary Tyler Moore variety show along with Michael Keaton.
Dave was the wise ass with a sarcastic sense of humour. Tall and gangly with a gapped tooth smile he won over his audience with his zany antics. He was like the college guy who never grew up and by osmosis a good part of his audience, who had found jobs and now had families, could relive those days when they were younger and didn’t give a shit about much.
Before getting the late night spot Letterman had hosted a morning show on NBC that won 2 Emmy awards but it didn’t get good ratings.
Dave’s wit would get him into a bit of difficulty every now and then. Cher once called him an asshole. In the close to 10 years he hosted The Late Show there was very little of the drama in Dave’s personal life that was to come years later. Some of things he will be remembered for introducing on his late show are his top 10 list, his Velcro suit, his stupid pet tricks, and his monkey cam.
|A young Dave Letterman.|
Letterman and Jay Leno both started off doing stand-up comedy in Los Angeles at the same time in the mid-1970s at The Comedy Store. Back in those days they were pals. When Johnny Carson retired in 1992 he wanted Letterman to replace him. NBC decided to go with Leno and Letterman and Leno were pals no more. Dave moved over to CBS to compete directly with Leno.
When Dave went over to CBS he gave up the khaki pants and sneakers and started wearing suits. He brought most of his comedy bits with him but had to change the names of some of them. He also brought over Canadian born band leader Paul Shaffer from his old show. For the first 2 seasons Letterman beat Leno regularly in the ratings but there after Leno beat him.
From time to time before he died Johnny Carson would send over a joke or 2 to Letterman. They had similar senses of humour. For the most part The Late Show with David Letterman was a lot like his old show. Every year at Thanksgiving there would be a guessing game of what kind of pies his mom made. There were the bits with his announcer Alan Colter that would turn into a rant often with sexual undertones. Paul Shaffer was almost always the yes man to anything Dave had to say. Once in a while Dave would get into a running spat with one of his guests like Oprah Winfrey. One of Dave’s frequent guests was actor and comedian Charles Grodin and the two of them would get into fake arguments.
In 1995 Letterman hosted the Oscars and a lot of his jokes fell flat. For a number of years he would joke about the fiasco of that night. In January of 2000 Dave had open heart surgery. He would give up smoking cigars after that. He was quite grateful to still be alive and brought his doctors out on stage one night on his program. Other than the writer’s strike in 2007-2008, things were going well for Letterman and his show.
Like Carson, Letterman is a private person away from TV but a series of events over the past 20 years altered that privacy. There was the woman stalker who stole his Porsche and broke into his house who later committed suicide. There was his open heart surgery in January of 2000.
In 2005 police discovered a plot to kidnap Letterman’s son Harry for 5 million dollars in ransom. In 2009 he got a lot of grief for telling a joke about one of Sarah Palin’s daughters. He offered up a public apology on his show for that. In 2011 he received an internet death threat from a Muslim militant and laughed it off. Dave was the kind of guy a lot of other guys would like to hang out with. Nobody really seemed to care when it was revealed that he had slept with a number of his female staff. Many of his fans couldn’t see any harm and after all he wasn’t married.
One night Letterman did an open confession on his show and apologized for his behaviour to his later wife and his viewers. Personally I thought he was an asshole in his personal relationships with women. He cheated on women he was in long term relationships with for decades including the mother of his son who he would later marry. He even brought his intern Stephanie Birkitt to his homes in Montana and The Virgin Islands.
Aside from being the two best late night talk show hosts Carson and Letterman had something else in common. As they got older they stuck with the same routines hardly ever venturing away from their formats. They both also knew that once they finally said goodbye it was going to be forever.
Over the past few years I would just tune Dave in every once in a while channel surfing. At times he seemed a bit worn out and he would squint his eyes during his monologue and you could get the feeling that he might be saying to himself “What the hell am I doing here?” Letterman seemed to also be bored at times. How many Jakes, Justins, and Zacks with their 5 o’clock shadows can you make small talk with when they really aren’t that interesting and who really gives a rat’s ass about some pretty young thing’s tiny dog?
As when Carson was in his last years on TV, Dave was at his best when old friends turned up like Steve Martin, Bill Murray, and Billy Crystal. You knew that Dave was no longer speeding down a turnpike each day to get to the Ed Sullivan Theatre. His hair, what is left of it, seems to have a mind of its own and like the rest of us in his age group he was starting to look old.
Probably the hardest part for Dave in leaving his show will be saying goodbye to his crew. They are his family in some ways and he has a long history with many of them. His exit from late night will most certainly be a long goodbye. My guess is after he leaves, like Carson when he retired, we won’t hear much more from him.
|Dave with his first late night talk show guest Bill Murray.|
In 1983 Canadian born songwriter and actor Alan Thicke had a syndicated late night talk show called “Thicke of the Night” which lasted all of 1 year. Among the regulars on his show were Arsenio Hall, Gilbert Gottfried, Fred Willard, and Richard Belzer who would later play Detective Munch on the crime series Law and Order.
Joan Rivers’s career as a comedienne started in the late 1950s. Over the next 25 years she appeared on a number of variety shows doing stand-up including The Ed Sullivan Show. She was also the opening act for a number of singers. Her comedy was mostly about being Jewish and she would often take shots at her husband Edgar who later committed suicide. In the 1980s she became Johnny Carson’s go to person when he needed someone to fill in for him on The Tonight Show. In 1986 Rivers jumped over to the FOX Television Network to host her own late night talk show. When Johnny Carson found out he banned her from ever appearing on The Tonight Show which was honoured by later hosts Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. Carson and Rivers never spoke to one another again.
Rivers’s husband was involved in producing her talk show at FOX and the network executives hated him. In the end both Rivers and her husband were fired and her show barely lasted a year.
Since then Rivers has involved herself in pretty well anything in the entertainment business where she could make a buck. She was on The Apprentice, did a reality show with her daughter, and currently has some kind of fashion commentary show where she criticizes people in show biz. It is not surprising that her late night gig didn’t last long. Mean humour just doesn’t work with a wider audience.
Ross Shafer was the replacement when Joan Rivers was canned. He grew up in the Seattle area and had a local late night show there called “Almost Live” that is still on Seattle TV today. Shafer was part of the push in Washington State that resulted in “Louie, Louie” becoming the state song. His national late night talk show didn’t do well and was cancelled after a year.
Yes the host of Wheel of Fortune also had a late night talk show. It was on TV from 1989 to 1990. Other than having Rush Limbaugh sub for him which ended up being a disaster there isn’t much to say about Sajak’s show.
The late night talk show The Arsenio Hall Show was on TV for about 5 years starting in 1989. It catered to both a younger audience and the black audience. In 2013 his show was resurrected. Hall has been a big proponent of promoting black artists on both his old and new show. He was a lot cockier on his first show than the one he has now. Personally I have never found him to be funny. He often seemed to be fawning over friends who were guests like Magic Johnson and Eddie Murphy. What really made me lose respect for him was his ass kissing on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. Today he seems more old than cool.
Jay Leno made his first appearance on Carson’s The Tonight Show in March of 1977. Starting in 1987 he was a regular guest host for Carson. Many were surprised when Leno got Carson’s spot when he retired in 1992. There may have been a lot of controversy over Leno getting Carson’s old job and retaking his old job from Conan O’Brien but his personal life was never in the news in a bad way. Over the years he has known for his frequent stand-up shows away from The Tonight Show and it has been said that he lives on that money and saves every dime he makes on his show. Jay Leno also has a large car collection as does his friend Jerry Seinfeld.
The best bit on Leno’s show to me was his “Jaywalking” where he would go out on the street and ask people questions like “Who is the vice president of The United States?” The bits were funny and sad at the same time in that a lot of people seemed quite self-satisfied in their obvious ignorance.
Towards the end of Jay Leno’s run on late night TV he would sometimes throw in a joke or two about the Democrats. One could get the opinion that his politics are to the right but I think he is only conservative on fiscal matters. His long time wife is an advocate for women’s rights.
It is hard to say why Leno consistently beat Letterman in the ratings. Perhaps it was because many Americans who watch late night TV like to be lulled to sleep. Who knows?
In 1993 Chevy Chase got his own late night talk show. If you missed it you weren’t the only one. It lasted all of 6 weeks. The funny guy from Saturday Night Live and the “Vacation” movies just couldn’t cut it doing a talk show. He was simply just too awkward.
After Letterman jumped over to CBS Conan O’Brien was given Dave’s old spot that followed The Tonight Show. O’Brien’s forte back then was writing comedy for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. Personally I never understood why NBC chose O’Brien to replace Leno. He always seemed a bit out of his element in front of mainstream America. His kind of comedy seemed more suitable for college types. Sizzling nipples is not many American’s cup of tea.
The short conversations O’Brien had and has with his sidekick Andy Richter are pretty well always boring. To me Conan’s best bit was the inappropriate dog puppet Triumph who would insult people at will. These bits may not have been politically correct but they were damn funny.
For 5 years starting in 1999 Craig Kilborn followed Dave Letterman’s show at CBS. Kilborn was really tall and it would be fair to say quite good looking. The theme song for his show was “Play That Funky Music.” Before getting his late night gig he had been a sports anchor at ESPN. Kilborn’s manner was ultra-casual and he extended that casualness when he decided not to have his contact renewed. Craig Ferguson took his place.
It seems like Bob Costas has been around forever hosting the Olympics and a variety of other sports. For 6 years starting in 1988 Costas hosted a really late night talk show that started at 1:30 in the morning. He was great at doing in depth interviews with a single guest. If he felt that there was more meat on the bone he would continue the conversation on his next show.
Likable Greg Kinnear took over from Bob Costas doing the really late talk show spot in 1994 and lasted for 2 years. He was also hosting a program called Talk Soup on another network at the same time. If that wasn’t enough to keep him busy his movie acting career took off and he decided to give up on TV altogether.
My Critique Of Current Late Night Talk Shows
Not really a talk show other than with his one guest. Colbert to me is simply the funniest guy on TV today. I know he has a lot more in his bag of tricks than his conservative persona that he uses on his show. He is not only funny but you get the impression that he is a pretty decent individual.
Also not really a talk show. His opening segment is almost always really funny and informative but after that his show kind of drops off. Most of the skits are terrible and the guest interviews are much too short. He also seems to want to show how intelligent he is when talking to his guests which makes him look a bit insecure. For a guy who portrays himself as one who is looking for truth and honesty it seems kind of strange that he never has used his real name.
A little of him goes a long way. He is far too manic and it is not surprising that he has had alcohol problems in his past. Sometimes he borders on just being plain nuts.
A great comedy writer but is an awkward host. He is still catering to the college crowd he grew up with and a lot of his humour is pretty juvenile for a guy who is 51.
A great choice by NBC to take over from Leno. He fits all of the demographics. He’s the kind of guy parents would like their daughter to marry but is also hip enough for younger people to identify with. He knows how to keep a fast pace going that his younger viewers with short attention spans appreciate.
He’s the number 1 wise ass on late night TV today. Aside from being very funny his producers know what kind of music younger watchers want to see.
Former Saturday Night Live Weekend Update host. He seems like a one trick pony and a bit on the bland side.
She’s an annoying broad with a mean mouth. She has a big gay following. She should be arrested for midget abuse.
There has to be another black guy or black woman around who is actually funny. I get it that he likes to get a lot of black people on his show but some of them just aren’t that interesting.
He is pretty well humourless and seems a bit like a Ryan Seacrest clone. If you are into Indie music you might want to stay up and watch Daly.
He is only on TV once a week and is easily the best American political satirist there is today. You know that he is really, really funny when you see right wing guests trying to control their laughter. Maher would never fit into a prime time late night talk show on NBC or CBS. He is far too confrontational for that.
As someone who is white and about to turn 67 I think us baby boomers have had a long run of being catered to on late night talk shows. We are living in different times today even though politically and economically old white men still have a lot of influence.
Personally I think it is time for many older types to move aside and let younger people express themselves more. Yes it is nice to see Betty White now and then or some old comedy veteran but do most of us really give a rat’s ass what Barbara Walters has to say anymore?
One thing is for sure with Leno and then Letterman retiring. They both have tons of money and can do exactly what they want for their remaining years. It was fun while it lasted.