January 29th, 2005


Carson, Letterman and Leno

Johnny Carson, like Ed Sullivan and Walter Cronkite, seems so much like an artifact of the Sixties that it's sometimes hard to remember that he was around well into the wretched 70s. Colby Cosh, like a lot of folks my age, didn't care much for Johnny and his iconic status, and this may be, as Colby says, part of the reason Dave Letterman has always played Avis to Jay Leno's Hertz: he's trying to channel a personality that most people who are watching TV at that hour of the night don't much care for.

Slamming Carson as "the Valium and Nembutal of a nation", to quote Billy Wilder , may have been accurate but misses the point. Americans in the Sixties and Seventies had had enough excitement already, thanks, and weren't much interested in watching more of the same repackaged as "amusement" before they went to bed at night. Things aren't so screwed up these days, and we're a little more willing to tolerate bad craziness on the air. That's why Jon Stewart is probably going to get the next shot at dethroning Jay Leno as the king of late-night, if he wants it.