Next week is the final week for David Letterman’s talk show. A lot has been written and will be written, and it is the end of an era. But a lot of folks miss the point when they criticize his show.
Letterman is credited with breathing new life into a moribund format, the late-night talk show. Johnny Carson was the king of late-night, and he was so good that he could just phone it in. And he often did. Carson’s show had become so predictable that Michael O’Donoghue wrote a vicious parody of his monlogues for The National Lampoon in 1973, and Carson kept doing the same stale shtick for nearly twenty more years.
When Letterman first popped up with his daytime talk show in 1980 it was a breath of fresh air, but the host’s inexperience was showing. When that show ended after a brief run and then later Letterman turned up in the post-Carson slot, he had polished his act considerably and brought a new vitality to the format. Harkening back to the earlier days of late-night television, Letterman did more comedy bits with recurring characters and conceptual humor.
By the mid-1980s Letterman was hitting on all cylindars and was hosting his dream show (except for the timeslot, but that’s another story).
And this is where I find fault with most of the tributes to Letterman. They all talk of how innovative he was, and how he stopped innovating after a while.
Of course he did. How many times can we expect one guy to reinvent the wheel? Jay Leno patterned his Tonight Show on Letterman’s program, not the show Johnny Carson hosted. Conan O’Brien essentially does his take on Letterman’s show, as do Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Myers. They’ve added their own takes to it, but they’re basically just doing updated versions of the show David Letterman’s been doing since the 1980s.
Carson did his monologue and maybe one or two comedy bits per week. The rest of his show was filled with interviews. Letterman broke that format up with top ten lists, off-site remotes, bizarre comedy bits and hipper musical performers. It’s the Letterman template that is still being used today.
So, having laid down the new ground rules for late-night talk shows, Letterman is faulted for following them? I don’t get it. Letterman rescued late-night talk from what may well have been a withering death. Had he not revived the format, late-night talk might be as moribund as daytime soaps are now.
So let’s give the man credit as a pioneer of sorts. For better or worse, he’s responsible for the talk shows that followed–Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, etc. He’s had a hell of a run, and it’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, he does next.
The RFC MINI SHOW
This week’s RFC MINI SHOW with Hobo Clay Swartz and Wayward BurlyQ’s Pepper and Kitty has been one of our most-watched shows of late–and that’s without the benefit of a mention in the Gazette (which we’d like to see happen again someday). you can see why, right here…
Stuff To Do Highlights
Deadline pressures once again force us to just run plugs for shows that give us cool graphics. Click the graphics for more details.
That’s it for this week’s PopCulteer. Check PopCult a whole lot for all our regular features, updated daily, even when explosions knock out the power at the Gazette.