Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Somewhere Johnny is Smiling - Just Not During His Old Show

Like many different aspects of conventional TV, the late night talk show is gaining traction on cable TV. Several cable TV shows are stealing viewers from Jay and Dave. There are a few reasons for this.

Jay Leno is a washed up hack who is using the same recycled bits, some of which he stole from Howard Stern, to placate an audience he hijacked from Conan O’Brien. But Jay’s still on TV and at the top of the ratings so two things we can surmise – 1: A lot of Americans wouldn’t know a good talk show host if it fell on them and 2: being a washed up hack people are tired of seeing pays well, just ask Brett Favre.

Dave Letterman, while a comedy and talk show icon, has slipped a bit. Why he could never take down Jay I will never know. It might have something to do with #1 in the previous paragraph. However, lately Dave has become a little too political for most people. Viewers want to be entertained, not bear witness to one-sided partisan hits on Sarah Palin and John McCain. If I wanted to see that on a regular basis I’d read the New York Times.

A problem that Jay and Dave share is their format. They have three guests on every night, two of which are probably not worth sharing a cab with, let alone listening to what they have to say. With a bit between the monologue and first guest, people get distracted. There’s only so much Jay Walking someone can watch before hearing about the shitty new Drew Barrymore and Justin Long movie that won’t make any money. Between all the filler, worthless guests and kibitzing with the house band, you’ve seen enough and want to go to sleep.

But before you do, think about watching one of two late night shows that are on at 11:00 - not 11:30 – feature a stand-up comedian born after 1950, has one guest, runs for only a half hour, and hosted by two of New Jersey’s best. Which is not an oxymoron.

Chelsea Handler is the funny, intelligent and blatantly honest host of E!’s Chelsea Lately. Being easy on the eyes doesn’t hurt either. She’s from New Jersey and girls from Jersey rule. When I was in college I spent four years desperately wanting to sleep with a particular NJ girl. I assumed being an Italian Jew would give me a better than even chance with her since those backgrounds make up most of the NJ populace. Well, you know what happens when you assume. You don’t get the girl from NJ, I can tell you that much.

The show has two primary features. The first is a roundtable discussion of the day’s pop culture events. Chelsea leads the talk and lets the three panelists, usually comedians, run with it. This part of the show lets the viewer enjoy something everyone likes doing – taking pleasure in the misery and idiocy of people who are famous because they chose their parents well or fucked the right athlete.

The second main part of the show is an interview. Similar to other talk shows, Chelsea spends a few minutes talking to an actor, author, singer, etc about an upcoming show or book the person is promoting. Even if they've never met, this seems more like two friends talking than a standard interview, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s also nice to see if there’s some genuine hatred involved, those feelings aren’t masked either.

Like any good late night talk show, Chelsea has a sidekick. In this case he’s a vertically challenged Hispanic guy named Chuy - prounced like the Wookie.

Jon Stewart is the former William & Mary soccer player who has since gone on to host the main news outlet for high school and college kids. The Daily Show, in my opinion one of the best shows on TV, was originally hosted by Craig Kilborn. Kilborn left ESPN to host The Daily Show. ESPN got better with him gone (even though it has recently taken a huge turn for the worse). Kilborn then left The Daily Show to host a talk show after Letterman on CBS, which is now Craig Ferguson’s show. As you can see, both shows also got better once Kilborn left. I wish Craig Kilborn owned my house before me.

Jon Stewart, although clearly a Democrat, is one of the closest things we have to a neutral commentator on the political landscape. He just as easily takes shots at MSNBC as he does FOX. Granted the shots at FOX are more frequent than to those at the Peacock, but what fun is it to pick on the losing team? They already feel bad enough losing to FOX re-runs. For as well as Stewart came off destroying Jim Cramer as the fraud he is, Stewart’s crying the night Obama won the presidency might have hurt his credibility just as much. Everyone knows the media was in the tank for Obama, but come on, Halliburton execs giving to Bush’s campaign was less transparent.

Despite being left-leaning in his politics, Jon Stewart is always willing to give someone on the opposite side of the aisle a fair shake in an interview. He’s had on numerous Republicans and Conservatives, including those he’s panned in the past. Other left-leaning news agencies make it a policy to not have on those with opposing views, which doesn’t really make them sources for news but more sources of red-meat for their base. Say what you want about FOX, but Democrats appear on their shows. They get shouted down and mocked, but they’re there. At least going on The Daily Show you can get a parting gift of Baconnaise.

Unless Jay Leno steals it.

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