The much ballyhoo about NBC’s recent late night kafuffle is in stark contrast to the eerie calm-before-the-storm over at CBS. There are no plans for who will take over from David Letterman. I’ve been a fan of Dave my whole life. To me he is the root of modern TV. The godfather of post-modern ironic snark. Being clever enough to do stupid stuff, his show in the 80’s was an assault on TV itself. I got into him more during the CBS run. By that time Letterman clones and devotees were all over the entertainment landscape; snark sort of seeped into the cultural milieu. He is also the best late night interviewer.
Leno, who’s been doing this awhile, is still clunky. You can feel the pre-interview screening with Conan. Jimmy Fallon awkwardly fawns over his guests. Kimmel and Craig Ferguson are solid, but Dave’s the man. Anybody can be good with an Alec Baldwin or Martin Short. Dave has dragged seven minutes of entertaining banter with the likes of Katie Holmes and Kate Winslet. (I may be thinking of Cate Blanchette though.) I often don’t care who Dave’s guests are as I’m confident he’ll make it work.
The Letterman Christmas show is a personal favorite. It’s pretty much the same every year. Jay Thomas tells a story about how he was bailed out of a jam by the actual Lone Ranger and throws footballs at the tree. Darlene Love destroys the crowd with her rendition of Christmas Baby Please Come Home. Every year it is my own personal holiday touchstone.
But I’d say Dave has about two years at most left in him. Just about the time left on his existing contract. If you watch every night, Dave is often bored with bits and guests and doesn’t try to hide it which, in itself, is quite entertaining. It does beg the question as to who should be his successor. Craig Fergusson, host of The Late Late Show, has publicly stated he does not want the scrutiny of a 10:30 (central) show. Conan O’Brien and Jon Stewart would probably be the front runners. Let’s round up some unusual suspects and speculate at the tone of their respective shows:
Tina Fey: An obvious choice in terms of star power and comic ability. Plus, with the way her film career is going, she may need the work. We can also all lazily write the “Can a woman make it in late night” blog. Somebody like Stewart Copeland would lead the band. It would contain a small cast of 3-5 improv/sketch players (Fey-ers) who she can mentor/yell at. A feature bit done once a month or so, “Tina and an 80’s supermodel drink wine.” So it’s Tina and Paulina Porizkova guzzling chardonnay while watching old episodes of Laguna Beach. If she wants it, I’m sure she could have the gig.
Joel McHale: I’ve previously discussed my man crush for The Soup host and Community leading man. He would have to be careful to keep the show from turning into an hour long daily soup, although Jimmy Kimmel has kind of usurped clip mockery. Joel has the classic Pacific Northwest looks for mass appeal. I see Chrissy Hynde leading his band. Feature bits would include “Joel does blow and explains his screenplays” and “Joel helps his chubby writer get dates”. That’s kind of the tone for the show. He’s the cool guy from college faking his way at being confident. He’s a dick…but hey, he’s our dick.
Jason Jones: Who?? Samantha Bee’s husband from the Daily Show. A dark horse as he doesn’t really have a big name. What I’d do is give whoever follows Dave the Friday night spot in a guest host capacity so viewers can get used to them. Jones was very enjoyable on a Canadian spoof entertainment show and had a run with some beer commercials. I see his show with a little more Pee Wee’s Playhouse attitude. More character based stuff; a lecherous Italian news man, a dude obsessed with Breckin Meyer, a hilarious tee shirt author, etc. A band led by Blues Traveler. Jason does the dumb guy routine well. He’s the guy in college who everybody thought would end up in jail or playing Madden on his Mom’s couch. But it turns out he’s okay. In fact he has a show!
Colin Quinn: A real dark horse mainly due to his age and the fact that most of his mainstream stuff was on MTV in the early nineties. He’s perhaps best known as Norm Macdonald’s replacement on Weekend Update when Norm ruffled some feathers with OJ Simpson material. Quinn is very much a “comedian’s comedian” frequently hanging out with Seinfeld and Louis CK. He has a working class style with Ivy League content. Maybe better suited for an 11: 30 (central) show, but he’s a stark contrast to what Jimmy Fallon brings – a beat down sense of dank. A darker show both in tone and in lighting, Quinn’s show would be an informal bar chat. He has the talent to bang out a solid monologue and an occasional round table of comedians doing a panel as seen on his Comedy Central show (which was replaced by the Colbert Report.) He used to do a bit on SNL called “Colin Quinn explains the New York Times”. He managed to do just that without talking down to his audience. The band led obviously by Hank Williams III, Quinn would be the anti-hipster, thus making him an uber-hipster (I really don’t know what a hipster is by the by –so I’m going to go with anybody who listens to The Arcade Fire.) The show would serve as an oasis for the misanthropic: college kids, single dads, and pretty girls who don’t wear make up so they are stuck watching Late Show with Colin Quinn.
That’s the best I got. Please comment if you have somebody else in mind. While you’re at it, watch Letterman if you haven’t done so lately. He hasn’t thrown the pencil through the window in a while. But the stupid pet tricks pop up from time to time and the Top 10 is still pretty solid. However, this is Dave on his last legs. This is Bobby Orr playing for Chicago, Van Halen under Gary Cherone, and colour episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. Check out this clip of my favorite Letterman bit where he runs the Taco Bell Drive Thru.
Raphael Saray is a writer/producer of independent theatre. He was scolded in broadcasting school for eating a KFC 12 piece dinner during a course in media sales.