Saturday, January 23, 2010

The late night debacle: Wayne's Take

During the latest late-night talk show shuffle, you've probably been wondering: "What is Wayne Kotke's official position on this whole fiasco?" If you follow me on Twitter (and if you don't, shame on you), you may have seen some of the avatars featured above in which I remake my own image into that of carrot-topped Conan O'Brien, gap-toothed David Letterman, and lantern-jawed Jay Leno. Depending on my work and school schedules, I have been a pretty steady viewer of late-night TV talk shows since at least the mid-to-late-1980s. I was able, for instance, to witness the last few years of Johnny Carson's reign on NBC's The Tonight Show, and I can remember when Late Night With David Letterman only ran from Monday through Thursday, making each (rare) opportunity to see the show a special treat. Letterman was muscled aside on Friday nights in those days in favor of NBC's long-gone music show Friday Night Videos, a situation which Letterman routinely parodied.

Ah, but that was many years ago! In the decades since, Leno usurped the Tonight Show throne from Carson's heir apparent Letterman -- prompting much outrage and consternation -- and is now set to reclaim that same post from Conan O'Brien -- prompting additional outrage and consternation. During those middle years, let us not forget, Leno became TV's top-rated yakker by sanding away the rough edges of his comedic persona and aiming straight for the middle (middlebrow, middle class, Middle America) with predictably middling results. Meanwhile, Letterman soldiered on with his crankier, snarkier persona to great success on a rival CBS show, and O'Brien carved out his own niche with his brand of cheerful absurdism -- beloved by many (including me) but apparently not what the Tonight Show audience was looking for. Clearly, what America needs is a talk show host who can deliver the strengths of all three of these men. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the future of late night television:

"Hi. Wanna be my friend?"