January 30, 2005

Letterman on Carson

I was not a big fan of Johnny Carson's reign on The Tonight Show. In fact, I usually watched his failing competitors. But I've been fascinated by the television tributes to him on everything from the vulture-like coverage on the 24-hour news channels to Jay Leno's hour on the Tonight Show to Larry King's endless coverage to Craig Ferguson's low-key and charming monolog on the Late Late Show.

I am a big fan of David Letterman. Jay Leno is a fine stand-up comedian, but Letterman is a great broadcaster, and he shines at the moments of highest drama and greatest consequence. Leno delivered a beautifully-written ode to Carson, in lieu of his usual comic monolog last Monday, but in a surprisingly affectless manner. Whether his flat reading was prompted by his reputed frosty relationship with his predecessor or he was overcome by emotion is unclear. He recovered a bit when interviewing two of Carson's favorite guests, Bob Newhart and Don Rickles.

Last week, the Late Show with David Letterman was on repeats. This Monday, he's planning on devoting the show to Johnny Carson, and his guests include Peter Lasally, Carson's executive producer and close friend of Letterman's as well; Doc Severinson, who has appeared on several other tributes; and Ed Shaughnessy and Tommy Newsom, two of the better-known musicians in Carson's band.

I can't wait to hear what Letterman has to say about his idol. Knowing Letterman, he will not indulge in a gushfest. Yet in recent shows after troubling events -- 9/11 and his heart surgery come to mind - he was at his absolute best and most emotional.

Conan O'Brien will also be coming back from a dark week Monday night/Tuesday morning. The heir to the Carson-Leno throne should also be interesting to watch.