“It’s the Tonight Show, starring…”

In a previous career, I did publicity work for a book publisher. Each Memorial Day weekend in the early nineties, I found myself at what is now called Book Expo and part of that weekend was inevitably spent in the company of Steve Allen, comedian, author, musician, founder of “the Tonight show.” He was our lead author for a number of years running. At the 1992 Book Expo in Anaheim, we were able to get a press conference to launch his latest book. These are tough gets and we knew this would help. He got all kinds of questions over the then current handling of Johnny Carson’s retirement from the Tonight show and the fiasco over the hiring of Jay Leno over David Letterman.

In person, Allen could be a little curt. Conversations with him always made me feel like a truant student in the principals office. He was always thinking, dictating, etc, but the final question about late night made him understandably explode with “It’s just a tv show!”

He was absolutely right. It is just a tv show. All the sound bytes and whatnot seems a little bizarre at the moment. It seems a little, well, odd, for late night comedy to occupy such a place in the news cycle. The barbs are entertaining and all. It is fun to watch NBC executives verbally paint themselves into a corner for mistakes of their own making, but really. And it has occupied an unusual amount of airtime, which I guess says a lot about the Tonight Show brand, despite the fact that it’s no longer the show of Allen, Johnny Carson or Jack Paar. The sheer volume of media has taken care of that. During the week, I’m in either reading or watching Stephen Colbert at that hour. Dave is still the best of the bunch and has the most reasonable take on the shenanigans.

A friend bought up the question of shouldn’t we be paying attention to Haiti instead of talk show non-developments. This, to me, seems a very reasonable question, but the other respondents to the poll took her to task a little bit about bringing news into something that wasn’t about news.

How dare she speak of something so “trivial” when the future of late night is at stake.


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