Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Fallon

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

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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

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Keith Olbermann is back, but needs to set limits to make his show more entertaining

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John Kricfalusi is probably not a name you would normally see in this blog, but I can’t help but think of him as I watched the return of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on its new home on Current TV.

Kricfalusi created “Ren & Stimpy” and ran into a number of creative tug-of-war problems with Nickelodeon in the early 1990s. Kricfalusi felt he was hemmed in by Nickelodeon, and wanted more creative freedom. Unfortunately for the viewer, when Kricfalusi had the opportunity to create episodes in the way he wanted, they weren’t nearly as good as the shows were under Nickelodeon.

There was that same fear when Olbermann got more creative freedom at Current TV.

The first show was met with a few technical flaws. Tragically, the show is in SD;  just as I was about to get MSNBC in HD, the channel dumped Keith. There was a quote on the screen that was blocked by a graphic. The volume seemed really low, and the first segment was dreadfully long.  The straw poll graphic misspelled Jon Huntsman’s name, adding an extra “h” in the first name. Oh, and the show ran long, on purpose.

Once Keith speaks, we know why we sit through bad production values in SD.

Olbermann does have a point when he criticizes MSNBC for talking to Fox about the Olbermann-O’Reilly rivalry, and how big media companies unofficially don’t cover each other or their related companies. And he has a great point that corporate influence is a growing problem in news.

In interviews, Olbermann has made it clear that has had creative control. Good for him. But he needs to remember that responsibility makes for an effective show. Limits are a good thing as far as an entertaining newscast goes, but as long as those limits don’t involve corporate influence.

Olbermann told Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” why he gave those political contributions. His rationalizations sounded good, especially in that voice, but at the end, they can’t be justified.

Keith said he gave them based on threats to the candidates — laudable to those who aren’t covering the campaign, but not to those who do. Olbermann also said that he gave money after interviews and actually toward the end of the campaign. But campaigns keep going and you’re still covering the politicians. And the fact that Gabrielle Giffords was one of those politicians who got a contribution shows that limits are there for a reason.

The other limits that Olbermann struggled with at MSNBC and will likely do so on Current is this bubble or shell of liberalism. Don’t be afraid to confront those who might differ in opinion. Rachel Maddow, whom he helped get a show on MSNBC, does this quite well. And since Olbermann has made it clear, even in the 30 Rock building with Jimmy Fallon, that he wants Maddow on Current TV when she is available.

In the last 5 months, there has been a missing voice from the political media insanity. Olbermann proved this on Jimmy Fallon when he suggested that Anthony Weiner resign, then offer to run in the special election to see if the voters want him as their representative. Imagine using democracy as a solution. And Olbermann made it clear why David Vitter remained in Congress and Weiner didn’t.

“Because he’s a Republican and Republicans would never turn on one of their own. Very simple. They will stand up in this situation and the Democrats go, ‘Oh, no, we might have a controversy. We can’t possibly back this guy. The Republicans will hang it around our necks.’ They’re gonna hang it around their necks anyway. Stand up.”

And Olbermann and Michael Moore went after President Obama for extending the war effort in Libya, being actual newsmen. In fact, the most responsible journalist who has gone after Barack Obama has been Keith Olbermann.

Though it’s the first week, the technical glitches are glaring. One thing to start anew on a channel that nobody knows. But I have seen more graphics mistakes in one week than years on the previous outlet. And the show feels a little too loose; after all, if there is a show that will follow Keith in a similar fashion, won’t that host want to start on time at any point?

Freedom to do the newscast you want is a great gift, Mr. Olbermann. We know you will use that power for many sources of good to expose the truth, but do understand that you are doing a TV news show in 2011, and that show needs to look professional. We realize that this may take time on a new channel. For that, we wish you good night and good luck.