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The Late Night Show Must Go On

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For years I've been able to give Jay Leno the benefit of the doubt. That all ended last night.

You see, I've always been a Letterman person. I never really liked Leno's brand of humor. But, I thought to myself, maybe it's not him, maybe it's his writers that I don't like.

Last night, Jay did a show without his writers (they are, of course, on strike). Naturally, I gave him another chance. I had to see if maybe it was in fact the writers, maybe Jay I really did in fact like. Nope. Not the case. It's not that I think Jay isn't a smart guy; it's just that his brand of humor is not mine. Now Conan, on the other hand, who was also without writers, was great.

Both Conan and Leno did give nods to the writers, stating their support for the WGA and the strike. They also both did monologues (Leno explained, possibly incorrectly, that they were allowed to if they wrote the monologues themselves). Conan's was a short monologue, but there were jokes and the man was funny.

Conan's really got funny though once he sat at his desk. He spent time spinning his wedding ring on his desk, something he claims the staff times during rehearsals when they get bored. Sadly, Conan's ring only spun for 36 seconds (his record is 41 seconds). Okay, so it sounds weird, but it was funny; imagine it, the camera was focused on a spinning wedding ring last night for 36 seconds, purportedly because the show had no idea how to fill the time. The real genius during Conan's comedy bits though was a video of what Conan has been doing during the strike. Mainly it consisted of him annoying his staff, which it seems he excels at.

Conan and David Letterman (who, of course, does have writers) both sported beards last night. Leno and Ferguson (who also has writers) did not. Conan referred to his beard as a "strike beard" and even his executive producer was growing one. Letterman made an oblique reference to the beard existing due to the strike as well. All of the shows mentioned the strike and issued statements of support for the WGA and their cause, and some shots were even taken at the members of AMPTP by Conan.

Without writers, both Conan and Leno were up to their tasks last night. Of course, they've had weeks to prepare for last night's show. It remains to be seen, however, what will happen in the weeks to come. Leno did a full monologue last night, but can he possibly, single-handedly, write a new one every single day for the days, weeks, and maybe months to come? Is he even allowed to?

Only time will tell. Well, time will tell me, and then I'll be more than happy to tell you.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Baronius

    Josh, interesting article.

    I’m a big late-night tv watcher, and I’d been looking forward to the return of these shows. I turned on the tv around midnight, and there was Robin Williams on Letterman, and Huckabee playing the bass with Leno’s band. I turned off the tv.

    I did watch Conan. He’s funny. I’ve watched him since the early years, so I know he can be interesting even when he’s bombing. I also remember him post-9/11, when he was just getting his footing. I think he’ll do well. He’s doing a lot of management-bashing, and making sure that people know the show isn’t running smoothly.

    I’m scared that these shows are booking people with supposed improv talent (like Williams and Saget). I can only guess that they want a lot of banter to make up for lulls, even on the shows that have writing staff but are rusty. It’d be great if you had funny people, but come on! Robin Williams!? Besides, the dead air is more likely to occur during the non-interview portions of the show.

  • How did you like the dancing girls? Talk about a photo op! I’ve always thought Leno was a buffoon.