Even though I haven’t been able to enjoy late night talk shows as much in recent years, I still have a fondness for the genre. Entertaining an audience on a nightly basis for years is a huge challenge and not something that just anyone can do. Although network execs seem to think anyone can do it.
I loved the old Late Night with David Letterman shows. I started catching his show when I was in high school and I loved the offbeat, irreverent humor of Letterman. Carson was funny, but his show was more polished and mainstream. I liked the show that not as many people cared for. I loved the idea of finding things that should not be funny and making them funny. Very little was as funny as when Letterman would go out in public. Still under the radar, he could evoke responses from people that were priceless because no one was all that starstruck to meet someone they didn’t even know.
When Carson left The Tonight Show, that set into motion the domino effect still in place today. Jay Leno, a regular guest host of The Tonight Show, took over and Letterman moved to CBS. With all the drama and an earlier time slot, Letterman could no longer fly under the radar. And as his move from a tiny studio to a big theater shifted his humor from snarky to more accepted. No longer could Letterman interact with the public in the same way he used to. He had to use Mujibur and Sirajul, Rupert Gee or Biff Henderson and even then, all those guys became instantly recognized. I still liked Letterman, but I missed (and still do miss) what he had been.
There was another to come along and fill the void. Conan O’Brien, a nobody, replaced Letterman on “Late Night” and instantly impressed me. Yeah, he was rough and quite green, but I saw potential there from the first few minutes of his show. And he stuck through the criticism and created a show that was a worthy successor to Letterman’s Late Night and yet stands alone as something different.
Coming in June, O’Brien will have achieved what Letterman was not able to and he will graduate to The Tonight Show. And it blows my mind to think about this guy and his rise to fame and what it means for him to get the big show. And like with Letterman’s move to the more mainstream audience, I have to wonder what will happen to O’Brien when he gets on The Tonight Show. Will his humor change? Will his recognizability hurt his show? Will the move to LA affect him at all? It will be interesting to see.
Sadly, my little glimpses of Jimmy Fallon do not evoke the same response I had about early Conan O’Brien. I see a guy who is perceivably nervous and shouldn’t be. He laughs at his jokes before he tells them and he slurs his speech to a point that the rhythm of his delivery is off and he’s hard to understand. Maybe he’ll get better, but I don’t have a lot of optimism about his future.
Although, it really doesn’t matter anymore. Between all the other viable choices out there (Stephen Colbert chief among them) and the sheer lack of ability to stay up that late anymore, I don’t see Jimmy Fallon ever really affecting me all that much.