photo courtesy of forbes
There have been a lot of changes of late across the late night talk show landscape. Leno retired to that great classic car museum in the sky, otherwise known as his Los Angeles garage, putting Jimmy Fallon in charge of The Tonight Show, moving it for the first time in 40 years, back to New York City. Jimmy left his seat warm over at Late Night for Seth Meyers, who, as Jimmy is killing it over at Studio 6B in 30 Rock’s hallowed halls, is doing just sorta alright at his post. Lots stuff happening over at NBC. Shufflin’ and kerfufflin’ as it were.
Meanwhile, over at ABC, Jimmy Kimmel is holding down the fort and at CBS, Letterman has been holding his fort some 30 years. Granted, He began his reign in 1982 over at NBC with Late Night With David Letterman. But ten years later when Carson retired from The Tonight Show and everyone was just sure the job would go to Dave, they gave the job to Jay Leno instead. Dave did what a lot of us would’ve done – he lowered his Worldwide Pants to NBC, gave ‘em a late night moonin’ and a big F U, and moved his operations over to CBS, renaming the show The Late Show With David Letterman, where he’s been up until now.
I have to admit, watching the changing of the guard over at NBC, I marveled at Dave’s longevity. And it has been some chaotic piece of reworking on NBC’s part – if nothing else can be said of NBC, it can be said that they know how to give their stars the epic shaft. The first time Leno was to dethrone, the job was handed to Conan O’Brien. But when Leno’s prime time numbers fared less than successfully, he unceremoniously took back his late night spot, leaving O’Brien out of a job, as the network also stuck it to him with the contractual stipulation that he could not go elsewhere for several months. It seems Dave has always been sitting in that chair giving the celebs a reason to sweat through interviews that strayed past the norm into far more entertaining smart assery.
I remember back in ’82 or ’83, when on a school trip to New York, a friend scored us tickets to a taping of the show. I had not yet heard of the show or Letterman, but was keen to go to a live taping. As we filed into the small studio, we were lucky enough to grab the last available seats. I remember the guests that night included a guy who swallowed a book of lit matches (stupid human tricks?) and as soon as they went to break, PA’s rushed onstage with a bowl of water, plunging his face into it. He lapped that water up like a pit bull left out in the sun too long.) No celebrities that night, but I remember the collective groans as it was announced that Galllagher would be the following night’s guest. Perhaps it was just as well; I was decidedly without a plastic tarp.
But all of this is to say that so many years later, it’s been astounding to see that Dave has been a mainstay of late night ever since my high school days. That’s why, when he made the announcement last week that he would retire sometime in 2015, although I knew it would be coming eventually, like so many of us, it was a surprise and a true signal of the end of an era.
“(Les) and I … we have had this conversation in the past, and we agreed that we would work together on this circumstance and the timing of this circumstance,” Letterman said during a taping of Thursday night’s show. “And I phoned him just before the program, and I said, ‘Leslie, it’s been great, you’ve been great, and the network has been great, but I’m retiring.’ “What this means now, is that Paul and I can be married,” “It will be at least a year or so, but sometime in the not too distant future, 2015 for the love of God,”
Already there is speculation about who will fill those Worldwide Pants. Will it be Chelsea Handler? Gotta admit, ‘twud be nice to see a woman in late night. The white male demographic is more than covered. Or perhaps Tina Fey?, Amy Poehler?. Hell, let’s just give all of late night over to SNL alumni; comedy seems to be going that route anyway.
In the meantime, we’ll miss the stupid pet tricks, the top 10, the banter between Paul and Dave. Seems like we’re losing a couple of old friends. And really, we are. This changing of the guard seems more permanent somehow. LIke the moment we realized that all of our stalwart news anchors – Brokaw, Jennings, Rather, et al, had all gone fishin’, the realization suddenly hits us that the late night figures we’ve been getting our after hours jokes from are getting out their tackle boxes too.
So, go ahead; give me the top 10 reasons why that doesn’t make you just a little misty.