The thing about North America is, we have too much of everything. We eat too much, we drink too much, our internet pornography options are nearly endless (though I wish there was more “Well-Read Boys Satisfy Their Appetites In Fully-Stocked Library”-style erotica). We also tend to demand too much of the talent we enjoy, an ideal case in point being David Letterman. I love Dave, I think he’s a genius, but he’s on TV every night! He’s been on TV every night for 30 years! Like that woman says in the viral video, “There isn’t anyone who has time for that.” I’m sad that he’s retiring, but for goodness’ sake, let us allow the man to rest. Same goes for all nightly hosts of things. How can they possibly generate content every single night? Jimmy Fallon, in particular, seems so committed to creating YouTube-ready clickbait that he must never sleep!
Compare us to the UK, for instance, and see what they produce in quantity versus quality. I know not all late night is comedy and not all comedy is late night, but consider that the finest British tv exports are something like 7 episodes long. Most of their “chat shows” are broadcast weekly, not nightly. A comedic mind like David Letterman or Stephen Colbert can be pretty funny on a given night, but they had to produce only 1/5 of their current offerings, think how much of it would be gold.
I’m sad that I’ll likely never see a Letterman taping. Tickets to his remaining shows must be scarce, and I’ve heard of waiting lists being months long at a time. To that end, we may never see Letterman again after he retires. I mean what I’m about to say with the utmost respect: that would be great. For Dave to bow out as a man with a great career in television and spend his next chapter home with his wife and son would be a really classy way to go. Apparently, Jay Leno still performs stand up in comedy clubs every weekend, and that makes me sort of sad.
It is truly the end of an era in late night TV, and, though Dave’s replacement was announced this morning, it’s not too late for CBS to tell Colbert to cool his heels while they take a few moments to really think things through. I can help.
Dream: Revamp late night television.
Goal: Unachievable. Who am I, Lorne Michaels? No one’s gonna listen to me. But on the other hand, broadcast television has worse ratings across the board now than they’ve ever had, and Conan O’Brien was virtually unknown when a show fell into his lap, so let’s work from that premise and assume I get to decide what happens with this time slot.
Plan: Change everything around about the late night talk show. Here are my suggested tweaks:
The Guests. Talk show guests are so boring and horrible. Even the best ones have to do so many rounds that by the time whatever project they’re plugging comes out, they have another one on the way. Like can Mark Wahlburg just stop making public appearances for a bit? I know he’s in every third movie, but a less charismatic, more stupid man you’d never hope to hear from. The best work David Letterman ever did was when he would decide to make a star of a random person. When I lived in Regina, Saskatchewan as a kid, there was a man who pumped gas named Dick Assman. I guess there’d been a robbery at his gas station or something, and he was interviewed for a piece in the paper, so a picture of him ran along the article with his name, Dick Assman, below the picture. So Dave had this segment where he pointed out funny/stupid things in newspapers, and somehow he got ahold of Dick Assman. He began joking about Dick Assman’s ridiculous name and speculating about his life almost every night. Signs went up all around Regina, “Home of Dick Assman!” and, at the gas station where he worked, “DICK ASSMAN WORKS HERE!” It all came to a head when Dave invited Dick Assman on the show. Dick Assman came out bearing flowers for Dave and stammered through a sweet interview. It was a puerile premise, but I’d watch a hundred Dick Assman interviews than one more Mark Wahlburg, y’know?
The monologue. Monologues are hard, and an overly indulgent audience doesn’t help matters. A joke that doesn’t really land, followed by a blast of music and wild applause isn’t funny to watch anymore. We’ve all seen it. I think between a monologue and an audience, you have to lose one to make the other work. Tom Snyder was an old man who used to host The Late Late Show after Dave, and he did an audience-less monologue, straight to camera, followed by a long form interview. Julie Klausner hosts How Was Your Week, which is my very favourite podcast, and she begins every episode with a lengthy, topical, hilarious monologue that doesn’t have an audience, doesn’t need an audience to work, and succeeds brilliantly precisely because there isn’t one. She, too, has a long interview afterwards with a really interesting person who is not necessarily super-famous. She talks to authors, or comics just on the verge of breaking through, or obscure musicians one wants desperately to Google and download immediately afterwards.
The music. This idea is so simple, I can’t believe no one has thought of it. I understand the appeal of having a house band, but stages always look so crowded when the musical guest for the evening plays their song and the band stands there and watches them. Why not have the musical guest that is traditionally part of the last segment, be the band for the entire show? And when there is no musical guest, have whatever comedian is doing a set that night be a Paul Schaffer-y sidekick throughout? Wouldn’t it be more exciting to have Kanye West select and perform the songs that open the show, bring out the guests, etc? Or have Jimmy Fallon bantering back and forth with Patton Oswalt for a night?
I love Stephen Colbert, but I feel like this deal takes away everything about him that is great. He’s leaving behind his blowhard character, and will surely be encouraged to be less political now that he has a broader audience. Let’s strip him of his finest attributes and see how he does. Nobody owned The Late Show because Dave started it, so why must his successor continue in that forced mold? We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here, but give me a better reason to stay up late.