Tuesday, April 3, 2007

It's a Late Night World/It's a World That We Can Share

After recent posts on Larry "Bud" Melman and Brother Theodore, I thought I'd conclude my Late Night trilogy by discussing why that incarnation of Letterman's show seems so much better than what he's doing now. It was certainly stranger than what he's doing now, with regular visits from the above-named gentlemen and the indescribable Captain Haggerty and oddities like a dentist reviewing Quest for Fire. He used to feud with Chris Elliott; now he feuds with Oprah. It's not surprising which is more popular, but it's obvious to me which is more entertaining.

I could rattle off a dozen great, skewed gags from the Late Night days, including the Joe Theismann pencil sharpener (with his perpendicularly broken leg forming the spinning handle) and Dave's simple comment regarding smoking: "Sure, good health's important, but so is looking cool." I still have the T-shirt my brother gave me that reads "Don't Make Me Violate My Parole," ripped off from a Letterman gag.

The difference between Late Night and The Late Show, I believe, is the size of the studio. Seriously. The Ed Sullivan Theater holds three times as many people as the old NBC studio. and much of the time Dave seems primarily interested in getting a response from them. Thus we get recurring and re-recurring bits like that guy from the Hello Deli or the mercifully now-retired collapsible drinking cup, designed to strike a chord with the tourists in from Overland Park, Kansas. Back in the day, Dave told Newsweek his goal was to "pierce that flat screen every night." Now he seems to want to induce rhythmic clapping in the studio audience, preferably by employing the Rockettes.

I'm not saying The Late Show is bad, because it's certainly quality television, and there's no shame in falling short of the Late Night standards. Dave hasn't been able to match it, but hardly anyone else has either.


MJN said...

I've never actually seen The Late Show, on account of having gotten a day job, but I did watch Late Night regularly. Late Night was a good show, no question, but it also had its share of re-recurring bits that ran wayyy too long. Remember Arnie Barnes of Omaha Steaks? It was clear after two or three appearances that he wasn't all that interested in (or capable of) playing along, but Dave persisted in calling him for years.

Arnie must be around 50 years old by now. I wonder what he's up to?

Robert Cass said...

Even when bits didn't work on "Late Night," though, it was oddly satisfying to hear silence from the audience. On "Late Show," they seem to clap for anything, which makes Letterman not work as hard for laughs. One time on "Late Night" he was talking to Paul for a minute or so and no one reacted; he finally turned to the crowd and said, "You guys can hear us, right?"

Anonymous said...

I think 'Late Night' has lost some of it's allure considering it's not on anymore. You can put whatever host you want but it's not anywhere near the same thing at all.
I think the 'Late Show' has lost some it's lustre considering it's not on anymore. You can put whoever etc.....