Thursday, May 21, 2015

Not The Same


Last night I did something that I haven’t done in a long time… I stayed up to watch David Letterman. This being his last show, I wanted to see what kind of sendoff he would be given... especially the last Top 10 list. I guess you could say that curiosity got the best of me as I kept on thinking back to the night when I watched Johnny Carson sign off one last time before heading into retirement.

The evening was definitely not the same as the one I watched back in 1993. Not just in my perception and perspective but the final night had a completely different feel then that which happened 22 years ago. And that pretty much sums it up, the Carson departure was a happening while Letterman’s last night was something that happened. There were, of course, memorable moments (including an overdue (for many reasons) standing ovation for his wife and son) but it was not the same sad farewell that I remember so many years ago. However, I do prefer Foo Fighters over Bette Midler. 

With that said, I still recall many nights watching Letterman over the years. Once Carson retired, there wasn’t much of a choice for me as I was never a big fan of Leno and some of the newer hosts just didn’t catch my attention. Nothing compared to the classic Tonight Show but Letterman seemed to be the closest (albeit a tremendous departure itself) to that feel. At least that was the case years ago… since then things have most certainly changed and I have pretty much foregone  the late night shows altogether. 

Over the past 20 years Letterman and late night have changed. The politicizing dialogues / monologues that he and others have employed in recent years haven’t made me want to watch these shows. This is what truly differentiates Letterman from Carson. The Tonight Show was not a place for politics (decides a few light jabs during the opening) as Carson knew that his job was not to form public opinion or influence public policy (or the supply of toilet paper). This is why politicians were seldom seen on the set. Letterman has made his views very clear both in his monologues and in his banter with guests.

Carson was a mainstay in the media and on the television. We watched him to wind down and forget about the day. All the BS that happened during the daylight hours were put behind us as we were entertained for an hour each evening. There were other places to turn to get riled up and/or discuss politics. While he once embraced that basic concept, Letterman veered to the far left as time went on and that evening respite slowly evaporated.

The new crop of hosts seem to be turning back to that formula and reaping the benefits. This is why there are many that will continue to miss those evenings with Johnny and why Letterman’s departure seemed to be more of an inevitability rather than a surprise. Hopefully, with the last of his generation stepping down, we can continue our progression back to the way late night was supposed to be. I guess, like many things, only time will tell.