Another decade, another network jump for Letterman?
February 28, 2002 7:55 PM   Subscribe

Another decade, another network jump for Letterman? Dave is very seriously considering an offer from ABC for its 11:35 slot, for reasons not unlike the ones he gave for jumping to CBS from NBC in the first place: little network support. More distressingly, the article strongly implies that Nightline is doomed in its present form regardless of whether Dave decides to join ABC or stay at CBS.
posted by aaron (37 comments total)
Well, ABC did make half-hearted offers back during the previous round, and Nightline was doing better in those days. Today it's up against three major and at least two lesser cable news networks (depending on how you count), all of which run the same general kind of mix of programming all during prime time and late night. This may not be something that can survive; it may only remain because of Ted Koppel. And if they cancelled, he would very possibly be lured by a cabler, given the personality competition that's been happening recently.
posted by dhartung at 8:15 PM on February 28, 2002

OTOH, there's a sort of symmetry if Nightline were to go off the air now. I mean, Nightline™ began because the U.S. was directly, physically, attacked by Islamic fundamentalists. While Ted was the appropriate response to Iranian students (and I warn our local affiliates that we will be running over for a few minutes this evening), perhaps Dave is the appropriate media response to Al Queda?
posted by dchase at 8:18 PM on February 28, 2002

Also interesting to note Politically Incorrect will go if Letterman jumps to ABC... I wonder if PI would move back to Comedy Central.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:25 PM on February 28, 2002

And to complicate the whole thing, for anyone who didn't read the New Yorker's Jon Stewart profile a few weeks back, Comedy Central's president is terrified about losing Jon to a major network. Could ABC trade PI for Jon? How do CNN and FoxNews factor into this? Who can we trade Geraldo to?
posted by Sinner at 8:34 PM on February 28, 2002

I think PI is pretty much toast no matter what also... Maher's been talking about moving to talk radio. I like Ted Koppel, and I love Dave. Switch networks again? I dunno... I'd say just take the best offer I guess. But what I'd really like to see Dave do is stop using the first 30 minutes of every show to do basically the same stuff over and over again. Mix it up a bit Dave!
posted by spilon at 9:06 PM on February 28, 2002

Please don't tell me that anyone here still finds Letterman terribly good. His comedy hasn't felt "new" since, around 1986, or something.....
posted by ParisParamus at 9:09 PM on February 28, 2002

Wow, dropping Nightline for Letterman, that would be fucking pathetic. Dropping PI would be sad too. Nightline is an excellent show and one of the only TV news programs worth watching, along with the Newshour and 60 minutes. This would really suck.
posted by homunculus at 9:12 PM on February 28, 2002

So.. could this pave the way for Conan on CBS at 11:35?
posted by stopgap at 9:30 PM on February 28, 2002

With all news moving to cable, it sucks for people who don't have it.
posted by ArkIlloid at 9:32 PM on February 28, 2002

Letterman isn't good enough to carry Stewart's hat. And Leno is considerably worse. Stewart deserves a primo network slot--but I hope he doesn't get it, because it would probably ruin his show, which is the only thing I watch on tv anymore.
posted by rushmc at 9:57 PM on February 28, 2002

when Nightline started many moons ago there weren't several dozen news magazines and hoards of news channels. by the time Ted Koppel gets to tell us his two cents, we've heard it several times - from his own network, oftentimes.

the prospect of nabbing Letterman must be appetizing to ABC and I don't blame them. sure he hasn't had the same magic that he had when he was younger, but he's still Dave, and totally capable of making it worth your while.

with that said, I would agree with you stopgap, that Conan, depending on his current contract, would seem the likely choice for CBS to replace Dave.

and call me crazy, but I think Conan could definately hold his own in the ratings, proving a real alternative to both Jay and Dave.
posted by tsarfan at 9:59 PM on February 28, 2002

So is this why Dave was drunk off his ass tonight on CBS? If Dave moves, he better not keep his present format. Paris is right. I love Dave to death but his parody of The Tonight Show isn't funny anymore. He's not Johnny Carson.

A Little History..

Heck, Jay Leno's not Johnny Carson. When Carson walked, he made everybody think he just threw the crown of late night up in the air and then there was a mad frenzy of Letterman, Leno, Koppel, Arsenio Hall, Chevy Chase, Pat Sajak -- God who DIDN'T take a lunge for that crown? No one got it. Carson still has it. When he walked, that ended the era. The dictatorship became anarchy. The king of late night is dead. Long live the king.

Had NBC given Letterman the crown, Leno or someone like him probably would have ended up on CBS. Or maybe Arsenio Hall would have gotten more of the younger audience and competed better with Letterman. Cuz Hall's show almost blew them both out of the water before the controversies between him and Leno began. Hall was a contender. Chevy Chase? Pat Sajak? They were just painful to watch.

David Letterman's dream was to be Carson's replacement. That's done and over with. He was denied, and his trip on CBS has been an attempt to rekindle that and prove NBC wrong. He needs to let it go.

Good Night America

Most recently, Letterman's come up with some real crap. His writing staff's purposefully writing junk on purpose and has been for at least a year. "Is This Anything?" No it wasn't. "Does it Float?" unfunny. They bring in a guy with a toupee and argue over whether or not it's real. It was funny once. I think he's been purposefully doing this because CBS has ticked him off and he's just no longer trying.

I think if he goes to ABC, he needs to take his crew with him. Biff, Paul, Alan Kalter, Stephanie. Everybody. They all come with him and he takes over Koppel's spot by doing a parody of ABC's news format. The show would be a painful montage of ideas from Good Morning America, Nightline, Saturday Night Live, and the Ed Sullivan Show. Every weeknight, ABC would give Dave's crew access to satelite feedds all over the planet, but his focus would not be where the wars are or to show the audience all the terrible things that are reported the rest of the day. His job would be to report where the party is. Where normal people are doing silly fun things. I'd watch it. I think Dave should drop the suit and tie and just wear a T-shirt, shorts and a baseball cap. He should sit on an elaborate set which has a reclining armchair and a big screen TV, and all these satelite feeds all over the world come to him and by proxy come to us. He'd control the remote for the entire world for an hour every night, and ABC should let him smoke cigars and drink beer while the cameras are on. He should look at home and comfy just like most of the people who are tuned in watching him.

This new contemplation of network hopping might also explain Dave's recently demised obsession with bugging Oprah Winfrey. I can't remember if Oprah's show is only syndicated or if it's an ABC affiliate program. It's on ABC where I am. I wouldn't be surprised if when talking with ABC executives, Dave half jokingly mentioned that he would do it if he could get on Oprah's show. If Oprah was approached with that behind closed doors she'd probably tell the executives where they could stuff their shirts. Which would explain why Dave thought it was so funny.

But the closer Dave gets to this ABC thing being more than a vague possibility, the less funny Oprah must be even to him.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:41 PM on February 28, 2002

Conan just signed - as in this very week - a new four year, $32 million deal with NBC. I'm sure it includes a clause preventing him from so much as thinking about talking to other networks about anything without NBC's express permission. I don't think he's going anywhere anytime soon, unless Jay Leno dies.
posted by aaron at 11:26 PM on February 28, 2002

Oprah is syndicated, but I think practically every big-city ABC O&O station has her, which is why so many think it's an ABC show. She's on the NBC affiliate in my little dump burg.
posted by aaron at 11:31 PM on February 28, 2002

Letterman isn't good enough to carry Stewart's hat. And Leno is considerably worse. Stewart deserves a primo network slot--but I hope he doesn't get it, because it would probably ruin his show, which is the only thing I watch on tv anymore.

True, but let's not forget -- Craig Kilborn was much funnier than Stewart on the Daily Show. And look at what late night did to him.

The more I think about it, the jumps of Kilborn and Maher and Whose Line is It Anyway? and the Tick lead me to believe that making the transition to broadcast TV from Comedy Central more or less ruins every person or show that tries. Can't wait until the inevitable disaster that will be The Man Show on ABC.
posted by dogmatic at 11:34 PM on February 28, 2002

Letterman has had 2.5 golden ages. The first was his second-fourth seasons on NBC, the second was his 2-3 seasons on CBS, and the half one was part of last season and part of this season. He found a new low in depression and managed to make it wry armor, with an almost absurdist love of failure (common to all three golden ages, but brought to the fore with a non-simulated disgust in the most recent), coupled with a genuine show of emotion that both belied and reinforced everything he's ever done.

That being said, he's on the way out, unless he can reinvent himself again. Always streaky, his good streaks keep getting shorter.

Nightline is a great show, but Kopple has been muzzled by the fact that today's brand of celebrity journalism and multiple outlets mean that anyone who is afraid of looking bad doesn't have to do his show. If he could do whatever he wanted, with whoever he wanted, he'd have the best late-night show of all time. But he can't and they won't, anymore.
posted by chaz at 11:47 PM on February 28, 2002

I am continually stunned by how big The Daily Show got after Jon Stewart took it over, because it truly is a shadow of its former self under Kilborn. With Craig, it was rude, sarcastic, scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners comedy. With Jon, it's just silly. Amusing, sure, but not FUNNY. And certainly not the risk-taking program it was under Kilborn.

But as luck would have it, I did watch Kilborn's show last night for the first time in eons, and boy did it stink. I think there's a corollary to dogmatic's theory about moving shows off CC onto the broadcast networks: Moving New York shows to LA ruins them. Politically Incorrect was great when it was in NYC and the ratio was usually three intellectuals to one actor/actress bimbo. When it moved to LA, that ratio reversed, for the worse. Likewise, Kilborn had a New York attitude on TDS; now he has an LA attitude, and watching him suck up to Jay Mohr-level celebs five nights a week just isn't much fun.
posted by aaron at 11:47 PM on February 28, 2002

After going back and actually reading the comments on this thread (I had the browser window open in the background for ages) I have to say it's almost comical to even be discussing 'networks'. Why are there still networks? Distribution. As soon as distribution is standardized, there's no need for 'networks'. Just shows, advertisers, and webloggers.
posted by chaz at 11:50 PM on February 28, 2002

For a long time I didn't watch the post-Kilborn Daily, but now it's a nightly must. The show's funnier and not so focused on frat-boy Kilby. I like PI though, but I tend to align a lot with Maher's school of thought.

Jay is an unfunny hack. I never "got" Dave. Teddy Koppel almost always gets my 11:30 vote.

Conan is the One True God of Late Night. No matter what happens with Jay, I hope Conan stays on at 12:30. Having him on at that time is almost like "we" snuck one of our guys on the big network to screw around. Two words: Masturbating Bear. Three more: For me to poop on. If that isn't comedy, I don't know what is.
posted by owillis at 11:58 PM on February 28, 2002

Actually, that's more than three, but my brain misfired to my keyboard. I blame Carson. Daly.
posted by owillis at 11:59 PM on February 28, 2002

Four words: Andy Richter is gone.
posted by aaron at 12:03 AM on March 1, 2002

Why are there still networks? Distribution. As soon as distribution is standardized, there's no need for 'networks'.

Just like how artists will be able to bring their music to the masses without record companies, as soon as distribution is standardized? We've been hearing that for years now, and it's never happened. And, sadly, probably never will. You need record companies, and networks, to achieve critical mass. Without them, you'll never get enough people to even sample your product, much less partake of it regularly, for it to be financially viable.
posted by aaron at 12:06 AM on March 1, 2002

Four words: Andy Richter is gone.
True. But his new show looks like it may be cool
posted by owillis at 12:08 AM on March 1, 2002

Aaorn, you myopic slut. (a little late-nite humor reference twist, appropriate to the thread)

You think because the record industry killed Napster that they're going to hang on for ever? That's what they want you to think. But they're running scared, they all are. Don't let "the media" influence your thinking on this. A lot of those fuckers are out of a job. I don't know if you worked in the print or television media in the mid-90s, but those dudes freaked out when the internet rose. Why? Because they were smart. Coporate juice has kept them in power, but even a corporation isn't stupid enough to only invest in distribution anymore.

Don't believe the hype. The revolution will happen, and soon it will be orthodoxy and people will laugh at conversations like this. And then the next thing will come.
posted by chaz at 12:45 AM on March 1, 2002

is this anything? no it wasn't. does it float? unfunny.

Actually, these might have been funny in 1984 or even 1987, but they are now very old. The most nauseating thing for me has been watching Letterman go from relatively cerebral to parodying television/the media to being that media and having an audience of Sioux City tourists. But, I suppose that's inevitable. Being funny is a fragile thing; probably as fragile as being a rock band. Howard Stern was once funny... Nothing lasts.... Some teenager who wasn't alive in 1984 may think Letterman or Stern is funny because they're "new" to him. Or her.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:22 AM on March 1, 2002

Whatever the thoughts of the posters here, the Daily Show now (with Jon Stewart) has skyrocketed since the Kilborn days (which I liked equally) in terms of ratings, cultural relevance and critical acclaim. The all-too-important "MeFi demographic" may differ on its quality now v. then, but there'll always be dissent from early-adopter groups like this one which would tell God himself that he "was way cooler in the early 90's" just to be the first to do it.

Sorry to be blunt. Think I need coffee.
posted by Sinner at 5:23 AM on March 1, 2002

Forgot to capitalize the "H" in "God Himself." Does that mean I'm going to hell? Or is it Hell? Where is that coffee fairy?!
posted by Sinner at 5:29 AM on March 1, 2002

I never saw the Daily Show with Kilborn, so I can't comment on it. I haven't liked him at all the few times I've seen him since, though. What impresses me most about Stewart is his dead-on senses of (a) irony and (b) timing, which are the best since Carson and make Lamo/Letterman look like mike newbies on amateur night. He does seem to be veering toward self-parody lately, though, as they all seem to eventually do. I hope he manages to avoid this trap.
posted by rushmc at 8:26 AM on March 1, 2002

Just being himself, Kilborn was a much better parody of a news anchor than Stewart is. Stewart doesn't act like a news anchor at all. This makes The Daily Show less a parody of a news program and ... well ... something different. Personally I think Stewart, while funny and enjoyable, is overshadowed in terms of pure humor by many of the "reporters" on the show who do the remote segments. They play it much more straight than Stewart does, and the result is much funnier.
posted by kindall at 9:24 AM on March 1, 2002

kindall -

is overshadowed in terms of pure humor by many of the "reporters" on the show who do the remote segments. They play it much more straight than Stewart does, and the result is much funnier.

These folks, unfortunately, have been poached like nobodies' business (to varying, but generally low, levels of success): Dave Attell, Vance Degeneres, Beth Littleford, Brian Unger, A. Whitney Brown.

Of current personalities, Steve Carell has been in tons of commercials, and is now doing "Watching Ellie," while commentator-but-not-correspondent Lewis Black is doing a pilot for Fox as we speak.
posted by Sinner at 9:43 AM on March 1, 2002

[WARNING: Outrageously opinionated hyperbole ahead.]

I ::heart:: Dave. Always have; he won me over way, way back in the day of his ill-fated morning show during the early 80's. I try to watch him as often as I can, because I feel he's one of the broadcasting "greats" -- one of those entirely original, one-of-a-kind personalities most people don't appreciate until they're gone. Whip-smart, sassy, classy, something of a minor-league personal hero to me.

OK, now that you know my bias, here's my take on the rest of the late night crop.

Daily Show with Craig Kilborn: loved, loved, loved this show. Smart, but even snarkier that it was smart. One of my all-time guilty pleasures -- "guilty" 'cause of how frequently I felt like I needed a shower after the way they'd savage the victims of their no-holds-barred ridicule; you know, like how you felt when you laughed at that line from "Heathers" about how the high school would be better off without the doomed football jocks' legacy of "date rape and AIDS jokes"?

Daily Show with Jon Stewart: less snarky and even smarter than the original. But an entirely different animal with the change in hosts. Cooler in its appeal; not as loveable. Enjoy, but not a must-see for me. Although I do positively adore "correspondent" Steve Carell. (The spot he did from "Splash," the Chelsea gay bar he mistook for an 'isn't all this male bonding wonderful?' "sports bar" [wink, wink] was a classic.)

Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn: it's grown on me. A night and day difference from Kilborn's Daily Show. He's perfected his frat boy schtick to a fare-thee-well, and it's delicious, if you're in the mood. (I'm usually not.) "Prop Dreams" from early first season (during show with guest Jeff Goldblum) an all-time highlight; a truly inspired bit, one of the most imaginative I've seen on TV, period.

Late Night with Conan O'Brien: the late night show that nearly every time I see, I say to myself, I should make a habit of watching this show. Conan's unease, while a major part of his charm, is also probably the most significant factor (although a subconscious one, I'm pretty sure) that keeps me from tuning in more regularly. But, damn, I love the writers' outrageousness and their willingness to take risks. (And yes, Andy Richter is profoundly missed.)

Tonight Show with Jay Leno: let me put it this way... at the time Princess Di and her paramour died in that limo accident in Paris, I wished it would've been Johnny Cochran and Sally Jessy Raphael instead. Five or six years later, I still wish Sally Jessy Raphael had taken her place, but now I wish Jay Leno had been along for the ride, too. (An overstatement, to be sure, but you get my drift.) And to think that there was nothing funnier than when he used to go on the old Letterman show and tell Dave about his "beefs"; oh, how the mighty have fallen...

Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher: an "I can't live without it!" show for the first six months I watched it on Comedy Central. Is the show that lost the least in its transfer to a broadcast network. But ever since my initial six month honeymoon with him, I can only take Maher in very small doses. He just... grates on me. On the other hand, I find his quarterly (or so) appearances on Larry King Live thoroughly enjoyable; truly, absense makes my heart grow fonder.

Nightline with Ted Koppel: I remember watching this as it began in the form of nightly recaps of the "American hostages in Iran" situation. Ted's gotta be one of the best interviewers there is -- but I've never had a passion for the show, or watched it regularly. I mean, 'cmon, ABC... this show is not funny -- at all!

My bottom line: Wherever Dave ends up, he's sure to land on his feet... and I will follow.
posted by verdezza at 10:31 AM on March 1, 2002

but let's not forget -- Craig Kilborn was much funnier than Stewart on the Daily Show.

I find this so incredibly hard to believe. I've loved Jon Stewart since he had a late nite show on ABC. Didn't last, of course, but it was so much better than the other options. Dave was funny back in the day, when he was on after carson and was just random and seemed so unlikely to be on TV. Kind of the anti-carson, to me. Leno, eh. Conan's brilliant; his show almost made up for the fact that stewart's was dropped. I've only seen Kilborn by accident, and god does he suck.

I absolutely adore the idea of Politically Incorrect, and sometimes it's great. But sometimes it's so pointless and boring and loud. (hey, like metafil... no, no, of course that's not true...)

Sad about nightline, even though I never remember to watch it anymore.
posted by mdn at 12:26 PM on March 1, 2002

"Wherever Dave ends up, he's sure to land on his feet... and I will follow."

Well, verdezza, at least Dave will be guaranteed an audience of two. I'd even watch *gulp* Fox or UPN, if they managed to land him.

You know what would be perfect, though? HBO. I can't even imagine how funny Dave could be without the network censors looking over his shoulder.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:12 PM on March 1, 2002

i just don't get late night with craig kilborn. whenever i tune in it has this creepy, it's-all-in-craig's-head feeling. weird jokes about his cats, cuts off screen to some guy in a recliner holding a note that says "poopy" in a weird font...maybe these are running gags, but it's just weird to watch.
posted by pxe2000 at 3:13 PM on March 1, 2002

Dave's appeal has always (well, at least in the past 6-7 years) stretched beyond comedy. Time Magazine, in a bit that described Dave's 9/11 return as the best TV moment of the 2001, called late night comics "those unacknowledged legislators" (an epithet that Shelly once used to describe poets, and which HE lifted from Plato). If comics are congressmen, then Dave is the speaker of the House, though no longer the majority leader. He both reveals and defines America's opinions. Much more than Jay, he is seen as the "everyman", the real purveyor of the folksy wisdom Dubya's handlers have attempted to instill in him, but with a brain and a razor-edged tongue to boot. I don't mean to elevate him beyond the facts, he is an entertainer, but in my mind he has as much of a claim to the soul of America as anyone today.
posted by gsteff at 8:00 PM on March 1, 2002

...a bit that described Dave's 9/11 return as the best TV moment of the 2001

posted by spilon at 9:01 PM on March 1, 2002

Whatever the thoughts of the posters here, the Daily Show now (with Jon Stewart) has skyrocketed since the Kilborn days (which I liked equally) in terms of ratings, cultural relevance and critical acclaim.

Stewart is much more accessible to the average viewer, as he is much more self-deprecating than Kilborn would ever pretend to be. (For the record, I don't believe Kilborn would ever pretend to be self-deprecating...) As kindall noted above, The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn was much more of a mock news program, and I believe it played much better that way. Most of its fun was in the way Kilborn approached the parodied news as if it were real; his confidence and manner lent to the suspension of disbelief as a news program gone awry.

Stewart is much more of a late night host than a news anchor, and it's reflected in his delivery. You can't take him seriously, and you're not really meant to. This has taken a lot of edge off the program, and has changed the focus. While the best part of Kilborn's Daily Show was normally his delivery of the news, Stewart is much more comfortable interviewing. Personally, I preferred Kilborn's Daily Show as news program over Stewart's Daily Show as late night comedy hour.

But that's just me.

This could also probably explain why Kilborn makes such a crappy late night host: he's at his best as a news anchor. The comedy and prop set-ups of the Daily Show (rare as they were) and the interviewing sessions always seemed strained...It was not unusual for Kilborn, at a loss for anything else to ask or say, to simply insult his guests at every given opportunity.
posted by dogmatic at 9:36 PM on March 1, 2002

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