Larry Gross e-mails:
Great overview of the current late night situation. I’ve been listening to Kevin Pollak’s podcast from the beginning for several years. I’m an older guy so I like him and his references, but I think he is not only older, he is old school show biz for the most part. Going along with that, it’s also kind of a boys’ club. Of the 164 podcasts he has done, women have been guests only seven times. Unlike network hosts, podcast hosts only have to interview people they’re interested in. I would see him being as bored as you characterize Letterman is these days with interviews. And as happens with all impressionists, Pollak’s great ones are getting a little stale, and the people he does will be leaving the landscape. That happened to Dana Carvey.
You are right about Letterman phoning it in these days. He gave a round of interviews surrounding his Kennedy Center honor, and he more or less said he’s taking it easy, doing a different show at 65 than he did at 35. Trouble is, there’s nothing fresh about it. So, I started watching Kimmel. I think he has the most show biz savvy and is young enough. I think he will rise to the top of the late night time bunch. Fallon is really talented, but like others, aren’t these people being rewarded with a job that doesn’t play to their strengths?
Larry is 100% correct about both Pollak and Letterman. As for Kimmel, he can be clever, and is doing the best of the Los Angeles-based late night show, but he relies too much on Guillermo and similar shtick. Also, his timing in the monologues is too quick – almost as if he can’t wait to get each joke over with, or he doesn’t have enough faith in the material to wait for the laugh.
Fallon is the first late-night host who can sing and do musical parodies, handle himself in sketches, and show genuine joy in some of the guests on his show. If NBC doesn’t force him to change (as they did Conan), he could be around for a long time. That said, the reverence so many hold for “The Tonight Show” is because they still think of it as Johnny Carson’s. It’s been more than 2 decades since he retired, which means most in the 18-34 demo never saw him as the host. For them, it’s always been “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and that’s not nearly as impressive as it was for the previous generation.
Truth is, the best work being done in late night is at Comedy Central with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. For years, they have owned topical comedy in a way the monologists and SNL’s Weekend Update can’t touch. It will be interesting to see the impact of Jon Stewart’s 12-week hiatus this summer, when “The Daily Show” airs 4 weeks of repeats and 8 weeks with John Oliver in the anchor chair. Meanwhile, Colbert continues to do something remarkable every night – improvising in character when he has a one-on-one with his guests.
Perhaps NBC’s next post-“Tonight Show” option isn’t a traditional talk show at all. They should consider other forms, such as a combination sketch-and-music show with its own repertory company of comedians/actors/improvisers with the kind of platform for stand-up comedians and bands that the other late night shows rarely offer. As long as Carson Daly isn’t involved, anything could work.