Back in 1992, NBC offered David Letterman his own prime time show in an effort to keep the star after bestowing The Tonight Show upon Jay Leno. It could’ve been The David Letterman Show, weeknights at 10 p.m. 17 years ago. But Letterman didn’t want prime time, he wanted Johnny’s time. He wanted 11:30. So when Dave cracks on Jay’s new TV Guide grid box nowadays, he’s cracking on Jay’s dubious commitment to the tradition of late night television. It’s a joke, but he’s seriously disappointed.
Around the same time NBC big wigs tried to give Dave his own 10 o’clock show in the early ’90s, a network affiliate in Waterloo, Iowa wanted to give Jay his own prime time spot thanks to promising early Tonight Show ratings. But the Iowa bumpkin wasn’t even factoring in Letterman—he just wanted to run Jay’s Tonight Show twice each night to save some cash. And that’s the difference, isn’t it? When NBC attempted to bump Letterman up, they wanted to save money, sure—but they also wanted to keep a genius in the ranks. When the Waterloo station manager suggested putting Jay on during peak hours and at 11:30, he was just being lazy. The Jay Leno Show makes sense if you’re trying to suck cash out of an uncertain medium. Still, it’s a white flag and it’s tremendously disheartening for anyone who still has hope in late night talk shows. That many couches in a row, five nights a week is too much. It’s self-cannibalizing, diluting. It’s a quick fix for a genre that’s all about longevity. Nobody expects Ben Silverman to think ahead. Jay Leno, though? Has he learned nothing?
Leno is a striver. For pretty much every comedian on earth, hosting The Tonight Show would be good enough. Not Jay. He’s a worker who mistakes tenacity for excellence; he’s never the best but, boy, can you see the sweat on his brow. Granted, he’s led in the ratings for 14 years now, but a legacy isn’t defined by a couple tenths lead in the 18-49’s. Letterman’s got the legacy down, especially if he can make it to Johnny’s 30 year mark. Leno’s got little legacy to speak of, so this seems like a desperate move to define something—to be somebody. Ultimately: pitiful. Carson-era Tonight Show producer Peter Lassally once described Leno as a “limited talent.” That assessment still holds true in 2009. Limited act; unlimited space.
Dustin Hoffman [Late Show with David Letterman, 12.22.08]: Stories get a bad rap because they’re the default. “Hey, got any stories?” “Got any kids? “Got any stories about kids?” are questions prep people ask famous actors and actresses who don’t know how to tell stories. I’m not sure if that’s a great job (I’m thinking Garofalo on Larry Sanders), but I’d like to try it for a week. Anyway, I’m sure Hoffman was prepped but the guy’s got stories. Real ones. Three segments worth. How long has he waited to tell the yarn about putting some 3 in a Dusty/Duvall sandwich in a shower on 109th 50 years ago? New to me. Did I mention the man is 71?! Incredible. (Letterman’s right about the Hoffman/Duvall/Hackman tell-all, too—publishers make note.) Jose Ferrer/Tootsie is gold, clearly. And he’s so relaxed, as if these are just a few of thousands of Hollywood tales he’s got hidden away, ready to be spontaneously remembered at some time or another. Looking at IMDB, Hoffman’s been on Letterman three times total. An injustice. A [clip/full episode]
Night Fight: Zooey Deschanel [Jimmy Kimmel Live!, 12.11.08] versus [The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, 12.18.08]: The difference between half-asleep and two and a half espressos. Also: No ribbons. [champion]
Kate Winslet [The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, 12.15.08]: Hey Movie Star, I would like to thank you for keeping the camera off Jay. Was just discussing this with some terrible Scene It? player—why no comedies for Kate? She’s got the timing, get-go and accents (Trinidadian in-laws! fussy daughter! delusional son!) to pull it off. Let me repeat: even the kid stories fly. Kate Winslet’s toddlers are so much cooler than me it’s sickening. A- [video]
‘I didn’t want to go against Conan. It’s not so much Conan; well, it’s Conan and it’s everything I’ve worked for. […] I think we will have an advantage saying to press agents, It’s prime time; reach a wider audience.’» Jay Leno [The New York Times, 12.15.08]: Douchebag central.