One of the commercials from the Super Bowl which has garnered the most attention – and certainly the one which interested me the most – was not as much a commercial as a promo spot. The promo, which was for Late Show with David Letterman, showed us Letterman sitting on a couch, complaining about how unfun the party was to his couchmate, Oprah. Why was the party less than amusing? Because Jay Leno was there as well.
The last time the Super Bowl aired on CBS there was also a spot with Letterman, it as well featured Oprah, and this year's promo was certainly building off any audience memory of that one as well as the famous "Uma, Oprah! Oprah, Uma!" introduction. While that certainly played into the joke itself, from an industry standpoint, the presence of Leno is what really made the entire experience somewhat odd.
For years, when Leno hosted The Tonight Show, something he'll be doing again in a few weeks, he routinely beat Letterman in the ratings. In fact, as has so frequently been reported with NBC's recent late night woes, it was only after Conan took over the host duties at The Tonight Show that Late Show began winning the ratings war on a regular basis. Thus, in a very real world sense, Letterman would most certainly be displeased with Leno's returning to the late night party.
Why then did Letterman do the ad? I'd like to think that the answer is because it was funny – making the joke was funny and Letterman is nothing if not a funny man. Additionally, Letterman, as we saw with his personal scandal last year, is able talk openly about, and therefore get out in front of, issues – be they personal or professional – that he may be facing. Leno's return to the late night scene is, potentially, definitely an issue for Letterman. Leno was the ratings king before his departure to primetime, and the current question among pundits and industry execs is whether or not he'll be able to regain that crown.