I wrote this piece in 2012 when it was Dave’s 30th broadcasting anniversary. My feelings remain the same. I’ll only add: it confounds me that Dave would continue the show for so long when his posture behind the desk (especially in the past few years) has suggested the emotional investment of a death row inmate…until I remember one of my favorite Dave remarks:
“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”
You overdid it, Dave, and as perverse at it seems we respect you for it.
See you later.
I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by investment in late night talk shows. There’s gotta be a prescription medicine I can take to stop caring about this stuff before my own pretty alright mind completes its inevitable transition to clam chowder.
At any rate, Colbert’s a genius, he commits, he’ll give us plenty hilarity in Dave’s chair before fatigue sets in (and it will, it always does). For some reason when I heard the news today the above clip from “Strangers With Candy” was the first thing that came to mind. Classic.
Letterman’s retiring in 2015, which I guess means I have a year to finish that papier-mâché statue of him I got an “incomplete” on in ninth grade art class. It was always my intention to send the end product in to “The Late Show,” but the hair wasn’t coming out right and somehow giving up on this statue didn’t affect my final grade…so I did. Even though I’ve not done any papier-mâché since I’d like to believe my skills have somehow improved and Dave will be thrilled to receive his pulpy likeness as he exits stage left.
On this date in 1993, Conan O’Brien made his debut as host of NBC’s “Late Night,” a program many people didn’t think could or should continue without gap-toothed treasure David Letterman. Unlike “The Tonight Show,” which passed through a few sets of hands before it found Johnny Carson, “Late Night” at this juncture had only seen Letterman. The eleven year old outing was soaked in Dave’s DNA, seen by most as an extension of the sarcastic Indiana-bred genius himself. How could “Late Night with David Letterman” have a replacement? How could that replacement be an unknown entity named Conan?
As a fourteen year old Letterman stan at the time, these thoughts certainly swept through my noggin. Conan hooked me from the get-go, though, with that brilliant “Good Luck, Lotta Pressure!” cold open on his first “Late Night.” Talk about a perfect response to the avalanche of criticism and uncertainty the guy was facing. The execution is flawless, too. More importantly, “Lotta Pressure!” set the tone for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” This guy wasn’t trying to project Dave’s oddball detachment. If Letterman was your older brother, the guy who for all his charm you knew would never really let you inside, Conan arrived as your chipper school chum, a kid at your level who wanted to make you laugh so neither of you felt alone and weird anymore.
And such was “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” Though it debuetd at a time when basic cable comedy was entering a golden age, most nights you’d be hard-pressed to beat the clubhouse atmosphere coming from NBC’s 12:30 slot. This is the show that centered itself around a shit-talking dog puppet for a stretch, a Rickles clone that seemed too bizarre/amateurish to make any kind of cultural dent. Yet this puppet feuded with Eminem, this puppet was sued by a dot com, this puppet released an album. There’s another Conan/Dave difference. If Letterman were ten years younger he’d be the one bickering with rappers and getting in Internet entanglements. Conan has always seemed more than happy to let his inmates run the asylum.
That said, I’m not gonna sit here and pretend I wasn’t crushed when “Late Night” sold more ad time and could no longer allow Conan to just riff for a few minutes at his desk after the monologue but before the first comedy bit. Some of the funniest stuff he ever said and did was in that pocket. To wit: the Chocolate Lucky Charms spiel from 2005. “They took Lucky Charms, the most decadent horrible cereal of all time, and they made it CHAK-LET!”
This will probably sound stupid and crazy considering all the real problems going on in our world, but watching Conan get chewed up and spit out by NBC is 2010 really wounded me. It was the ball going through Buckner’s legs in Game Six. Sure, Conan rebounded, his TBS show is often as good as anything he did at 30 Rock, but it’s not the same. Turning on the tv that seven months he had “Tonight,” it just felt like victory. They didn’t chase this guy off to another channel. Conan O’Brien had graduated. To watch it go down in flames like it did…well, it wasn’t fun or funny like it usually is to watch something go down in flames. A shitty Stooges album I can handle. This, not so much.
On the other hand, seven months is such a small sliver of a two decade span. The positive far outweighs the negative. And who knows how far Conan will go into the future? I’m not a big routine type of person but I’m happy to imagine Conan popping up on whatever dumb gadget we’re watching tv on in ten years. I imagine it’ll need regular tire rotations and some sort of gravity-defying liquid to keep it “alive.”
But I digress. Thanks for all the yuks, O’Brien. The pressure’s off. Have a good show tonight.
When reached for comment on Fallon’s rumored promotion, Greene remarked, “You know, this is all Jean Doumanian’s fault. If her version of ‘Saturday Night Live’ had been a success in 1980, Lorne Michaels wouldn’t be “LORNE MICHAELS” inasmuch as NBC probably would have ignored his suggestion to replace Letterman with Conan in ’93.
“Look, I love Conan, but it’s obvious NBC only went with him because he had the ultimate reference. Coco’s not a rabble rouser in the style of the guy he replaced but he’s still not as ‘company’ as Leno. They needed a Leno Junior in there. Instead, they got a Lorne-endorsed headache, one that plagued them through an entire second Bush presidency.
“It’s all ‘SNL 80.’ If Jean Doumanian had made that shit work, check the alternate timeline: Lorne Michaels spends the majority of the 1980s turning Three Amigos! into a trilogy, we get ‘Late Night with Greg Kinnear’ once Letterman bounces, Jay Leno hosts ‘Tonight’ until he drops dead in 2023, and Charles Rocket lives to appear in another Dumb & Dumber movie. It’s sick, it’s twisted, but it’s also probably fact.”
I’d like to tell you about my favorite talk show moment of all-time.
This was five, six, seven years ago, maybe, when David Letterman had his heart surgery and CBS trotted an endless array of guests hosts out to do his show. The host on this particular night was tennis legend John McEnroe. John’s a big personality, obviously, and although he may lack certain social graces, the guy never fails to be very entertaining.
So I think John’s conceit here was, “I don’t really know how to do this, let’s take the camera outside the studio and see what’s happening around the neighborhood.” By virtue of incredibly dumb luck, McEnroe’s “Late Show” stumbled upon some sort of ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Michael Imperioli from “The Sopranos.”
“Oh, hey, Michael, how’s it going? What’s happening here?” McEnroe most likely said in that forceful brogue he’s so famous for. Imperioli yammers on about whatever the hell this ceremony is. Standing behind Michael, plain as day, is former child star Macaulay Culkin.
Macaulay Culkin is one of those poor souls who perpetually looks the way he did when he was six—the white hair, the painfully red lips, the sunken eyes that still project a strange amount of world weariness. This was before his mini-Aughts comeback, I think, and it looked like Culkin using all of his human energy to blend in with the scenery. The poor guy didn’t want to be noticed. Of course, Culkin’s worse nightmare was about to come true: John McEnroe was about to accost him on national television.
Now, this clip isn’t on YouTube, but believe me when I swear up and down that the second McEnroe spotted Culkin, he practically exploded. An obvious fan of the Home Alone franchise, John simply couldn’t contain his glee.
“HEY, IS THAT MACAULAY CULKIN BEHIND YOU, MICHAEL? MACAULAY! MACAULAY CULKIN! HOW YA DOIN’? MACAULAY?”
Culkin: deer in headlights nanoseconds before an SUV impact and certain bloody death. He managed a weak smile and a few words after the studio audience applause died down.
“HEY MACAULAY,” McEnroe shouted again. “WHEN ARE YOU GONNA MAKE ANOTHER MOVIE? WE LIKE YOU IN MOVIES!” The camera cut back to the tennis god, who had the most earnest and almost heartbroken look on his face. I’d pay eleven dollars to see you in anything! his desperate expression seemed to say.
I don’t remember what Culkin said in response, but my jaw was on the ground. In retrospect, I can see how McEnroe got his own chat show a little while later on that financial news network. It probably only failed because he wasn’t yelling at enough former child stars.