By the headline, one can correctly surmise the inspiration for me blogging for the first time in God knows when is David Letterman’s announced retirement.
Like many people my age, I loved Letterman. Like many people of many ages, I don’t watch Dave as much as I used to.
Obviously, Letterman changed how Late Night was done. He added an edge. Even when he went to CBS.
Man, when Dave first hit CBS, he was ruthless. He was hungry. He had something to prove. It was amazing.
I remember being in high school and staying up every night for the monologue and top 10 list it was fantastic.
That was the era of Dave vs. Jay. Clearly, Dave was superior. I don’t think – if you had a real sense of humor – you could watch both shows and come to any other conclusion.
My sense of humor is pretty simple. There needs to be an edge. There needs to be a darkness to it. It has to come from a mostly real place. And it can’t be for the masses.
I prefer Community to Big Bang Theory. I prefer Psych to The Mentalist. I prefer pretty much everything to Two and a Half Men.
Dave was the clear champion – and that’s before figuring out that Johnny Carson was writing jokes for Dave and not Jay.
But Dave retiring also shows a true shift in late night. It has nothing to do with Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel. But late night television is not the same.
It has to do with evolution. TV has evolved. Late night TV has grown.
The reason why Conan “failed” at The Tonight Show had nothing to do with Conan. It had to do with our television watching habits. It had to do with things changing.
When Carson was at his peak, it was when network TV was at its zenith. You watched Carson. There were no real other choices. It was what you did.
Cable hadn’t really taken hold – at least, not the way it is now.
Same thing was true for when Dave and Jay first ignited the Late Night Wars.
The best shows on television were on network television, not cable. That can’t be said now.
With shows like “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Sopranos,” etc., things are different now. The amount of people watching the shows on cable – and yes, the examples I gave were Sunday night shows, but bear with me – affect viewership of late night television.
With less eyes on network prime time television, there are less eyes on the local news. With less eyes on the local news – which, if people will recall, is the main reason Jay came back to the Tonight Show, not because Conan failed, but because local affiliates were revolting against his show because it was killing the numbers going into local news – less eyes are late night television.
But the main cause of why late night will never be the same – Comedy Central.
When Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show from Craig Kilborn the rules changed. When Stephen Colbert started The Colbert Report, everyone was put on notice.
The popularity of those shows – as well as the quality in the writing and the delivery – delivered a huge hit to the traditional late night menu.
Throw in Jimmy Kimmel’s show on ABC and now Conan’s show on TBS, not to mention a show like Chelsea Lately on E! and the choices are too many.
If you were to have asked Letterman 20 years ago – or anyone for that matter – what the landscape would be like today in late night, no one could have predicted this.
But Letterman has one more year. A chance for a lot of retirement jokes, old man jokes, a chance for all of us who were entertained by Letterman, influenced comedically by Letterman to say goodbye.
But do note one thing. Letterman’s leaving in 2015. Leno left in 2014. He wins.