In the PBS documentary, The Pioneers of Television, there is a chapter about the greats who started late night TV in the 1950s. Namely Steve Allen, Merv Griffin, Jack Parr & Johnny Carson. Personalities that won over viewers, in the still very new landscape, of late night TV viewing. Late night TV was a good source of laughs before going to sleep, for many decades.
As most know, Carson called it a day in 1992 after 30 fantastic years and many challenges to his late night throne on other networks. Even syndication couldn’t work the same magic. ”Very” late night was dominated by Conan O’Brien for over a decade. He now has a home on TBS, after the fierce fallout with NBC, who simply gave in to Jay Leno and put him back on The Tonight Show. Supposedly some timid viewers found Conan’s humor offensive.
What is left after all this is, Jay doing the same show he did before but not as well. Conan only being available to those who have cable or satellite. Jimmy Kimmel Live (which only appeals to the youth market). A still funny but aging David Letterman. The somewhat amusing Jimmy Fallon (again appealing for the younger market) and CBS’s Craig Ferguson who has probably the most avant-garde style of talk show (little talk, a lot of comedy).
While it’s true these hosts all have their own style, the question is, has it all become fairly routine and predictable? Opening monologue, first guest, second guest, maybe a crazy stunt or audience participation game, musical act, goodnight.
Sometimes it’s enough to make a person long for the days of late night movies on TV or even a test pattern where you could be fascinated by the pretty colored bars or the station’s funky logo. Maybe pop a movie into your DVD or VHS player and pretend your bedroom / living room is your own private network. Tonight on KYON (yawn), fall asleep fast to Airplane 2 and then Cabin Boy!
Or maybe even, oh I don’t know, do what so many did before late night……get some sleep!