We’re losing Letterman. Oh my. Let me begin by saying that the pundits need to stop referring to Letterman’s show in the past tense. He hasn’t gone yet. He’s here for another year, or perhaps even a bit longer. Get a grip. Sheesh.
Moving on to my point (it’s sometimes so hard to get there). In the interest of full disclosure I should say I now TIVO both Letterman and Jimmy Fallon. I keep saying I tape Jimmy for work, but that’s a lie. I tape it because I find him very entertaining in that faster-than-a-speeding-bullet kind of way that I enjoy when I’ve had too much caffeine. He also seems to me like a nice guy; he has no desire to do anything other than waterski through the surface of interviews with guests who can’t wait to come on his show. No deep sea diving into the guest’s issues the way Letterman does. Remember Letterman ‘s interview with Paris Hilton? She was on the show to tout her ridiculous products, and everyone was watching to see if she had changed anything about herself that had previously landed her in the slammer. Fallon is never going to do that interview.
Watching late night TV is about winding down. It’s about not rushing through anything. It’s about falling asleep during the show, or turning out the light just after the host signs off. Well, you can’t watch Fallon late at night because you will be wired — on the prowl wired — and no way are you going to drift off to sleep during the show, or even soon after. And the kind of fifteen-minute, one-commercial interview that often gives us a real look into a star’s inner self is never going to happen while Fallon and said star play beer pong.
So, I can wind down with Letterman’s style, but not with any of these new shows — Fallon, Kimmel, et al. The new breed of late-night TV hosts bring technology and social media to the bedroom, and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. Again, please understand: I like Fallon’s show. I like watching parts of it; not the silly stuff but the fun, political stuff. I loved Billy Joel’s and Springsteen’s duets with Fallon. More than 10 million views on You Tube between the two. Not too shabby. But I like to watch them while I am homo sapien upright, not when I’m drifting off to sleep horizontally.
My fear is that the networks don’t realize there is a place for both types of late night show. Losing Letterman is okay, I guess. I will miss him the way I missed Johnny Carson. I cried during Johnny’s last show and eagerly watched the first few shows featuring his replacement, Jay Leno. I never took to Jay, however, and I moved to Letterman with relative ease. It’s sort of like transitioning from H1 (husband one) to H2 — different, but comfortably similar.
So hear me, NBC. Do not try to make Fallon into a mini-me replacement for Letterman. Seek blue ocean. Be bold, and recognize that one size does not fit all, and that Fallon is a genius at what he does. You do not want to go in the ring with him. Go into the ring with someone else, someone who delves a little deeper into each night’s topic. Please hear me. Actually, I’m available for the job if you want. Choose me. Pick me.
Either way, know Mr. Letterman that your place in television history is secure, and that you will be remembered with great affection. Your first monologue after 911. Your confrontation with Bill O’Reilly. Your gentle prodding of guests in order to get them to comment on difficult subjects. Your show was usually flawless, even when it’s a little ‘quiet’. Even your apology to Oprah was perfect.
So, let’s make sure we speak of Letterman’s show in the present tense until it’s not on anymore. Let’s thank Letterman for being a part of our lives through the good and the bad. And, let’s hope they don’t replace him with a mirror image of Fallon.