Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Simmons said it better

Bill Simmons posted a blog entry today about Letterman's show last night. For those of you who missed it, Letterman's whole show was a heartfelt tribute to Johnny Carson, with the only two guests being Carson's long-time producer and Doc Severinsen. Letterman opened with a flurry of jokes that were of varying timeliness - only to tell us during after the monologue that they were all jokes Carson had sent him over the last few months.

You can bet he never sent Leno any jokes. No way.

See, there's a fundamental difference between Leno and Letterman. Leno seems like a nice, genial guy who is genuinely proud of his blue-collar roots and his work ethic. Jay Leno is a guy I'd like to have in my bowling league - a guy I'd enjoy having a beer with at the Polish Club over in Danvers. He'd tell great stories, slap folks on the back, and generally be a guy nobody could speak ill of.

Letterman, on the other hand, is compelling. Sure, some days he mails it in, but even the bad shows are watchable - if only for the possibility that something could happen. Watching Letterman, you can get a little tired of the irony but you never know if this might be the show that really breaks it open. From Paul Newman standing up in the middle of his first CBS broadcast and asking "Where the hell are the singing cats?", to the post-bypass show, to the way Letterman told America it could laugh again after 9/11, to the way you could see his heart open up when his son was born - David Letterman is a Real Person. And he showed it again last night. Which is why I have never watched an episode of the Tonight Show since Carson went off the air, and why I won't start now. Jay Leno gets the ratings for the same reason that a plurality of Americans voted for Bush, and for the same reason a minority of Americans acknowledge that evolution is how the world actually works: he doesn't challenge anything. Ever. It's the TV equivalent of pouring sweetened milk on any cereal with "sugar" in the name. Empty mental calories.

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