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Johnny Carson with David Letterman: 1978-2005 — a YouTube collection in nine(!) parts.

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by AKA, Sep 5, 2019.

  1. zakyfarms

    zakyfarms White cane lying in a gutter in the lane.

    San Francisco
    Eddie Van Halen! Wasn't expecting that.
  2. Dwight Fry

    Dwight Fry Forum Resident

    Gulfport, Florida
    The thing about early-80's Letterman and "Late Night" is that it truly was revolutionary. I vividly recall how a lot of older viewers simply didn't "get" the humor, and my mother was freaked out by how "weird" people like Larry "Bud" Melman were.

    The problem is that nothing stays edgy and cool forever, and what is hip one day invariably becomes unhip. (Leno was never hip.) I lost interest after the Madonna thing. Why was it such a scandal that she used the F-word on Letterman's show, given some of his "Late Night" hijinks?

    MAYBEIMAMAZED and Dan C like this.
  3. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    Two words: Hugh Grant.
    kouzie likes this.
  4. JediJones

    JediJones Forum Resident

    Absolutely, some of the audience preferred Leno. As said above, the stereotypical "mom" never got Letterman even in his Late Night incarnation. That's why his morning show failed, it didn't work for a mainstream audience. The Tonight Show also had the built-in name recognition and was the channel people were used to watching at that time of night. CBS was the last channel people watched at 11:30. So Dave had the responsibility to create a completely new brand and product whereas Jay was on the same #1-rated show under new management. I think the local 11 PM news lead-ins also played a factor, aside from the general ratings position of the networks. I think I read CBS was known for having much weaker local news ratings than NBC. CBS definitely still has the lowest-rated evening news, and I think has for decades, so I assume that trend holds through the 11 PM local newscasts.

    Of course him being lower in the ratings than Leno works against anyone who claims Dave toned himself down, lost his edge, went mainstream or anything like that. He never became mainstream enough on CBS to win over all of the people who never liked his style of humor before CBS. I've seen some people claim Dave's ratings started trending down after he hosted the Oscars and never recovered. No one can accuse him of doing mainstream comedy when he hosted the Oscars. You can argue that the ratings he did get and the fact that he survived for over 20 years on CBS are a small miracle given the bizarre, surreal, sometimes mean and/or cerebral nature of his comedy. Late Night talk definitely left a pile of corpses under the Tonight Show's desk before Letterman started the Late Show.

    People also say Leno had access to better guests due to being in L.A. The night he overtook Letterman in the ratings was the night in 1995 when Leno interviewed Hugh Grant. Certainly, Hugh would've felt safer being interviewed by Leno than Letterman. Just look at a Letterman interview of Lindsay Lohan to see how rough it could be for a Letterman guest who was in the tabloids at the time.

    There's no question that Dave developed a harder core fan base than Leno. And that Leno himself never achieved the success or admiration by anyone that Carson did. Leno remained the safe choice for people who were not looking to think too hard or be overly stimulated. It's like comparing Three Men and a Baby to Naked Gun. Baby was twice as successful at the time, but Naked Gun has proven to be about three times as popular in the long run because it has far more enthusiastic fans.
    Dwight Fry likes this.
  5. Dwight Fry

    Dwight Fry Forum Resident

    Gulfport, Florida
    Another factor seldom mentioned as far as Leno's gradual rise in the ratings:

    His first batch of "Tonight Show" episodes were truly horrible. For whatever reason, Leno's on-screen demeanor very suddenly changed from his relaxed, wiseguy demeanor as guest host to being uptight, eager to please, and kind of desperate. There were also many immediate and overt attempts to cast aside the Carson approach, suddenly booking acts such as the Ramones. (I think at least some of the early shows might have been live, which probably didn't help. There was a particularly disastrous live broadcast with the cast of Cheers; Leno kicked off that episode by warning home viewers that the cast was drunk, and he wasn't lying.)

    So I'm not a huge Leno fan, but my interpretation is that he was able to rebuild the show's ratings when he finally just chilled out and went back to doing what made him successful in the first place.

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