|A Letterman appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny|
Was Letterman the greatest late-night talk show host ever? Ha! Are you kidding?
Even he will tell you he's only No. 2 ... if that. Because it has been obvious over the years that he revered Johnny Carson -- the all-time King of late-night television.
As I said in a blog piece almost 2 1/2 years ago, a year after I began this blog, Johnny was -- is -- my favorite entertainer ever.
Shows how "old school" I am. Because Letterman, only two months and four days older than me, should have been my guy. But while I watched the Carson show as many nights as I could, and now I revisit the many Carson highlights out there (especially on YouTube), I don't often visit with Letterman.
He was too hip for me, too contemporary maybe, too crazy, too weird. I wasn't into stupid pet tricks or throwing things off buildings, or his often sharp-edged comments and interviews.
My bad perhaps?
After Carson left, indeed, I watched Jay Leno on NBC, on The Tonight Show, much more often. Of course, Jay had become a semi-regular during Johnny's infrequent absences (yes, that's a joke).
Then in the summer of 1994, I had nothing to do ... no regular job, just baseball and scorekeeping a lot of nights. And one night in the press box, the discussion turned to Leno vs. Letterman, which was then a hot topic, NBC having picked Leno to succeed Carson permanently (although Carson had publicly stated he preferred Letterman).
So David went from Late Night on NBC to Late Show on CBS ... with a mega-deal, of course. The guys in the press box kept touting how much fun and how funny Letterman was.
For the next month, the post-baseball routine at home for me was to watch Letterman. If baseball ran long, I recorded the show, then watched.
I liked him, but not that much. The music was too loud, Paul Shaffer was too zany looking and acting. Doc Severinsen (loved him) dressed weird, but what a band he led, and I can't even tell you who Letterman's announcer was (or is). He was no Ed McMahon; that I can tell you.
And nothing ever will equal The Tonight Show theme music. Period.
I found Letterman's Top Ten lists funny at times, but too often a reach. Much preferred Carnac The Magnificent (but not necessarily Art Fern, Floyd R. Turbo or Aunt Blabby).
I thought many of his stunts also were too wacky. And, yes, I know Carson had many skits that were duds.
As for Leno, he was -- and many people still think he is -- a funny, witty stand-up comedian. I was not particularly impressed with his interviewing skills and he often was stiff/contrived doing skits. As he aged, I thought the humor in his monologues became too hard-edged.
Eventually, I did not watch Letterman or Leno very often, except when I was aware -- through promos or TV listings -- of guests I wanted to watch. But I will say that I began to appreciate Letterman's poking fun at himself or being the butt of the jokes.
His personal life, his flaws, his stalker, his health issues ... he didn't hide from it. Carson might've joked about his divorces, but we never really learned much about his private life and ways.
|Our last live look at Johnny Carson on TV: A cameo, non-|
speaking bit -- May 13, 1994 (www.people.com)
One other comparison: Carson rarely, maybe never, turned serious about political and national matters on the air. I saw Letterman make some statements, after national tragedies such as 9-11, that were timely and inspiring. He hit the right tone.
I think Letterman also is correct in making his exit. He realizes that the men in the 10:30 p.m. Central late-night spots -- Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon (our daughter's favorite) and Stephen Colbert (taking over for Letterman) -- are terrific entertainers and comedians ... and today's guys.
Letterman has been humble as guests make their final appearances and offer tributes. And while the recent tribute show to him on CBS had many highlights, you can guess my favorite portion -- the Carson-Letterman relationship.
Maybe we'll see more of Letterman in the future than we saw of Carson after his retirement. Johnny was on TV only a couple of times afterward, just cameo spots on the Letterman show. The audience response when he appeared unannounced on the May 13, 1994, show was one to remember.
We kept hoping, but ... no more.
So for those who'll miss Letterman, good for you. He had many, many great moments, and he was a great one, I suppose. He wasn't Carson.