Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Posts Tagged ‘David Letterman

David Letterman is the bridge between Johnny Carson and the current late night crop

leave a comment »

Johnny Carson asked David Letterman on the “Tonight Show” in 1991, “Can you envision yourself 20 years from now doing your late night show?”

Letterman laughed, making it clear that he had no interest in lasting as long as Johnny Carson’s 30 years in late night.

The fact that Letterman lasted 33 years in late night speaks to two things about David Letterman. He would have been embarassed to say in front of Carson that he had that level of ambition. And Letterman wanted to outlast Carson in general and Jay Leno in the 11:30 pm Eastern time slot.

So if you are a Millennial and wonder if Letterman has gone past his prime, go back to that Johnny Carson episode in 1991. It’s not that Carson is bad, but that the talk show world was different from when Carson started.

David Letterman was that world for that generation. When “Late Night” started in 1982, the TV world centered around Baby Boomers. Late night TV had made a few pushes such as “Saturday Night Live” (thought the original cast had left), “Fridays” on ABC, and SCTV reruns on NBC. Monday-Thursday was the “Tomorrow” show territory but that show had an intellectual audience and had peaked a few years back.

In 1982, David Letterman was late night. Stupid Pet Tricks, The World’s Most Dangerous Band, Viewer Mail, velcro, legendary appearances (sometimes for the wrong reasons) from Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler as well as Crispin Glover.

Letterman would go outside the studio to dispute other NBC shows, national and WNBC-TV, New York. He would drop various items from a rooftop. This was not Carson by a long shot.

Letterman came up with a late night show that emulated Carson and also gave us something new. Letterman had a monologue and a band, but Carson had a longer monologue and a band that was more interested in old music than new music. Ironically, the shorter monologue and smaller band were demands from Carson to differentiate his show from Letterman’s. Turns out that helped Letterman greatly.

Then again, when Letterman had the opportunity to expand the monologue and band at CBS, he did both.

Letterman’s humor might have been too old for Millennials, but his music taste expanded instead of being held back. Carson would never have dreamed about having on what would have been the 1991 equivalent of First Aid Kit.

If Letterman is missing a beat these days, it’s that his style has lost some of its anger, its edge. Unlike the Incredible Hulk, we did like Dave when he was a little angry.

Letterman challenged his guests. Cher, Madonna, and Oprah had issues with that. Bill O’Reilly as well, but for different reasons.

Letterman might not voted for John McCain, but Dave had the presidential candidate on quite often, asking him better questions than his news counterparts. When John McCain blew Letterman off in 2008, and his people discovered the CBS News feed where McCain was on the Evening News, his feisty nature made for beautiful TV.

Letterman was sincerely hurt but recognized in the moment, and this happened while the show was going, that this was comedic gold. When Letterman shouts at the TV monitor, asking McCain if he needs a ride to the airport, the audience bursts into laughter and applause. The situation was legitimately awkward: pinch hit guest Keith Olbermann, in the height of his MSNBC run, looks shaken at what is going on.

In subsequent nights, Letterman went after the joke about being abandoned. Letterman’s efforts were rewarded as McCain went back on the show and admitted to a national audience that he had “screwed up.”

Jon Stewart had McCain on a lot, but after McCain turned the page, the presidential candidate never went on “The Daily Show” ever again. McCain did go back to Letterman.

That exchange with McCain was less than 7 years ago. Carson never had anywhere near that kind of moment in his last 15 years.

During the Jay Leno vs. Conan O’Brien battles, you wanted to watch for Letterman’s reaction. Watching Letterman’s take on Leno made you forget that they used to be friends and that Letterman helped Leno get famous during the Late Night era. But that anger made Letterman funny.

Letterman’s take on General Electric when the company bought NBC was amazing television. That is the major reason why Letterman didn’t get the Tonight Show. But the idea of taking on your bosses spoke to a generation that couldn’t do that in real life but could on TV through Dave.

Letterman’s comedy was about release. Throwing items off a roof to see what would happen when they hit the ground. Full disclosure: we did that in college though inside down the center stairwell in the process of emptying out our refrigerators at the end of the year. We felt the euphoria that Letterman and his audience did on TV.

So as Letterman does his last show tonight on CBS, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, James Corden, Conan O’Brien, and in September, Stephen Colbert will be some of the many choices the current young generation will have to mourn their retirement years down the road.

David Letterman is the bridge between the old time talk shows and the current crop. In Letterman’s NBC show, he would often give credit to Steve Allen — the first “Tonight” show host — for borrowing some of his old bits. Every single major late night talk show host has Letterman to thank and credit for their success.

video credit: YouTube/Johnny Carson

Advertisements

Mitt Romney won’t release medical records or tax returns; American voters deserve full disclosure

leave a comment »

If Mitt Romney is elected, he would be the fourth oldest person (Ronald Reagan, William Henry Harrison, James Buchanan) to be inaugurated. The issue of a 68-year-old becoming president was important in 2008 in part because of problems with cancer … and Sarah Palin.

Well, Romney is 65, and many find Paul Ryan more dangerous than Palin. Yes, Romney doesn’t drink, not even caffeine. In previous years, these concerns would be dealt with by releasing medical records. John McCain at 68 released his records somewhat and allowed only limited access. This was better than the standard for Palin, who got away with not releasing her medical records.

Medical records are magically not an issue in the 2012 race. No one seems to know why.

Heck, Romney didn’t want to release his tax returns beyond 2011 and 2012. His 2012 records had him underplaying his charitable contributions so his tax rate seemed somewhat more “normal” but still way under what average Americans pay. The fact that Romney hasn’t released any more (unlike other presidential nominees) does imply that he is hiding something.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to force Romney’s bluff. Reid could have looked extremely foolish, except for the fact that Romney never released those returns. The problem is that the MSM and most of the American public forgot that Romney never did release those records. The last media person I saw mention Romney’s tax returns was David Letterman, a late-night talk show host.

We had Donald Trump offer the sitting president of the United States, Barack Obama, to release his college records in exchange for a $5 million charitable contribution. We can’t get tax returns from the GOP nominee and Trump thinks something in college records, which no presidential candidate has had to release, is that valuable.

Trump said he’d be satisfied if Obama did this. No one believes this, not even Trump. While I couldn’t offer $5 million, we certainly could scrape up $10,000 — a typical Romney bet — to get Romney to release his tax returns.

George Romney released a dozen years of tax returns and he wasn’t even the party’s nominee. Like father, not like son.

The voters relied on a local journalist to uncover the DUI conviction of George W. Bush in 2000. Since the revelation came so late, the GOP felt like it was a last-minute trick. If the MSM had done their job, they would have found the DUI long before then.

You might think that DUI convictions, tax returns, medical files, and other personal information isn’t necessary to pick a presidential candidate. You might believe the information is important, but only if your opponent reveals that.

Unfortunately, there is no standard for what gets released and certainly no agreement on a penalty for not revealing information. The previous gentleman’s agreement philosophy has certainly been thrown out by the Republicans.

If Romney gets elected and we find out that he only paid 9% or 2% or really didn’t pay taxes in some or all of those years, we have ourselves to blame. If Paul Ryan has to take the oath of office because Romney had some medical condition and dies, well, we didn’t try hard enough to track this information down.

Past acts can’t guarantee what will happen in the future. But wanting to be president and vice president should lower your desire for privacy. In 2008, we had the candidate who was born in the United States release his long-form birth certificate. The guy who wasn’t born in the U.S. — he got a free pass.

If you want to be leader of the free world, you should let us know a few basic facts. The last thing we should want is a president or vice president who is more concerned about hiding something from the American people.