Leno and Zucker Are Mean to Conan
It was an exciting year at the Late Show. The biggest story of the year unfolded a continent away, in Burbank, California. Jay Leno's prime time show was failing. NBC affiliates were irritated about losing lead-in for their late newscasts. Jeff Zucker got involved, and Leno repossessed the Tonight Show. Conan O'Brien got a $45,000,000 contract buyout, with $12,000,000 of it earmarked for his staff and $33,000,000 to help with his kids' Harvard tuition. Conan eventually landed on TBS, as we understand it.
Why do we care about the soap opera in Burbank? Dave, having experienced Leno's shenanigans in 1992 (well documented in Bill Carter's The Late Shift in 1995), had more fun than human beings should be allowed to have making fun of the situation, and everyone involved (except Conan). Night after night we got another hilarious, no-holds-barred desk chat from Dave on the latest twists and turns in the mess at NBC. I don't think I've ever seen Dave so happy! (Well, maybe when Julia Roberts used to relentlessly hit on him back a few years ago.) On January 13, Dave's desk chat included, "Many, many, many top stars - proven television personalities - and their careers and futures are at stake here, and it's all because of the bungling machinations of the idiots at the NBC executive level." Dave went on to say, "Here's my goal, my dream, for American television. I just want everybody who wants a show to have a show. That's all. It's 2010. If we can't get these kids shows, then the terrorists have won!" Dave concluded by telling about Jay Leno hiding in a closet to eavesdrop on an executives' meeting to discuss who should get the Tonight Show. On January 18, Dave announced, "I'm telling jokes and making fun of Jay Leno, over and over and over, relentlessly, mercilessly, simply for one reason, and that is, I'm really enjoying it!"
Here's some of the comedy gold that CBS has on YouTube:
- January 11 - "Dave's Advice to NBC"
- January 11 - Top Ten Signs There's Trouble at NBC
- January 12 - Dave Discusses Conan, Leno & NBC" (over a million views on YouTube)
- January 12 - "Law & Order: Leno Victims Unit"
- January 13 - "Tales of the NBC Pinheads" (Dave's "bungling machinations" desk chat)
- January 14 - "What Does Jay Leno Stand For?"
- January 15 - "Letterman Jabs NBC Late Night"
- January 18 - "Dave Responds to NBC's Dick Ebersol"
- January 18 - "The Future of the Tonight Show"
- January 19 - "Don't Blame Conan."
- January 19 - "The New Tonight Show with Jay Leno"
Dave wasn't the only one having fun. Jimmy Kimmel Live put together a really clever Ken Burns-style spoof documentary on the fiasco. Here's Jimmy Kimmel on the Late Show on March 16. The Today Show actually covered Conan's guidance to kids, "You can do anything you want in life, unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too."
For the play-by-play on the fiasco at NBC, Bill Carter's done it again, with The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy.
If you'd like to have more details on stories mentioned here, check out my 2010 Episode Logs, or get the professional version from Mike McIntee's Wahoo Gazette archives.
Live on Letterman
"Live on Letterman" was a brilliant idea. I'm sure we can expect Leno to try to steal it sometime soon. Vinnie Favale, CBS's Vice-President for Late Night Programs, East Coast told Variety, "We just started thinking, these bands do their huge load-ins and then they do one song. So we said, 'Let's do it for the Internet.' " CBS Interactive Music executive David Goodman was another major player. Obviously Jerry Foley, Late Show director, Sheryl Zelikson and Sheila Rogers are involved in making these happen.
After the spectacular success of Paul McCartney's concert on the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater on July 15, 2009, CBS knew they were onto something great. Unfortunately (or maybe not), the City of New York denied a permit for Jay-Z and Eminem to play on the marquee on June 25, 2010. No problem. Dave decided to take it to the roof of the theater, about 14 stories above Broadway. Camera shots alternated between the performers and beautiful shots of Midtown Manhattan. Jay-Z played first, and later joined Eminem for his huge hit, "Not Afraid." Now here was a production! New York City made an amazing backdrop. Obviously, the show can't rely on this every time, because sooner or later you're going to have an unannounced thunderstorm spoil the show. I'm happy for all involved that Mr. Roker delivered fine weather for the outdoor concerts attempted so far.
"Live on Letterman" continues as a live Webcast at 8 P.M. EST, which becomes an on-demand offering afterward. Bypassing city bureaucrats, these performances are inside the theater. We've seen Katy Perry, Brad Paisley, My Morning Jacket, Gorillaz, Florence + the Machine, Jamie Foxx, Taylor Swift, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, MGMT, Brad Paisley, Bon Jovi and Rascal Flatts this year. Who knows what it's like to arrange this with record producers, but as the list of performers grows, we'll see more performers saying yes.
The rules are different. During a Late Show taping, pictures and recordings are totally prohibited, but in these Webcasts, you see practically everyone with either a digital camera or cellular phone, recording away. Also, to be a Late Show audience member you must be 18, and your age is checked, while children are allowed in at least some of these Webcast audiences.
Taylor Swift's Webcast is the one I've paid the closest attention to (since she's a goddess), so I'm using it as an example. Her televised Late Show interview and performance of "Speak Now" (on YouTube HD, with 500,000+ views) were on Tuesday, October 26. Taylor's awesome yellow dress set off an Internet frenzy to find out where she got it. For you ladies, it was Dolce & Gabbana. (ClevverTV and Instyle.com)
In was not until December 8 that Taylor's Webcast concert (also recorded on October 26) became available. You can still watch it. She has her hair fixed differently, and is wearing another pretty dress. So, she changed clothes and her hair, and considering the fair number of children there for the Webcast, it appears that a different audience was loaded in. It's a mystery to me how the Webcast audiences are chosen. As Taylor performed her 5X-Platinum "Love Story" (which she wrote when she was 17), she spent some time in the aisles holding hands with fans, hugging a little girl, connecting with the audience in a relaxed setting. For anything I've seen, the audience behave themselves. I've noticed that the studio has some fog machine action, and the on-demand videos aren't exactly HDTV. Fans trying to record them at home won't have a crystal clear video, and I doubt that that's an accident. They're good enough quality to watch and enjoy, but they won't replace buying the official video on iTunes. I was so taken with Taylor Swift's Webcast that now I'm buying the videos on iTunes for $1.99. It's a win-win.
Fun with Staff
We're getting better acquainted with some staffers this year, and I hope we'll see more of them.
- January 12: "Gary Mintz: Sex Robot": Now that's the way to start the year! It was awesome, but please, Mr. Letterman, don't turn your back on "Late Show Technical Minute."
- January 15: Costume Designer Sue Hum appears onstage, and begins working on Dave's jacket with a lint lifter. (Sue): "Want to make sure you look good." (Dave): "Oh, thanks, Sue." (Sue): "Don't want your ass getting canned, too!"
- Stagehand Gene Szymanski appeared on a regular basis to interrupt Dave's monologues, often with implausible excuses (volcanic ash from Eyjafjallajokull, 60-mile traffic jam in China, trapped in a mine in Chile) for not being at work that day.
- Gorgeous Segment Producer Sarah Billington is turning up in skits two or three times a month. Dave interviewed her for "Know Your Staff" during the writers' strike on January 4, 2008. (video) For a "Tony Mendez Show" for Halloween of 2008, they had her setting an intern straight. They should have her be mean to Dave, along the lines of what Jude Brennan does. Recently we've seen Sarah joining the picnics on the stage floor with the insufferable heir to CBS, Alden Emerson Provost. I haven't yet figured out who Alden and his overprivileged buddies are. Some or all of them may be staff, as well.
- Todd Seda, who did cue cards for everyone but Dave, was turning up often, playing an intern or a fan, or delivering the latest cart of Dave's hate mail. (Note to Todd: Lift with your legs, and not your back.) He was naturally funny, and the writers obviously recognized that. We all especially enjoyed "Lighting the Late Show Intern" on Dec. 10, when Todd was incinerated by exploding Christmas tree lights. We'll miss him, but what a way to go! My, oh my, did he ever squawk about the searing heat, toxic fumes and shrapnel released by the multiple detonations. You know the old saying, "Die young, and leave a better-looking corpse." Here's my video of Todd's tragic accident. He had such a promising future. I'm looking forward to Dave's heartfelt, on-air eulogy, if he ever gets around to it.
- Writer Joe Grossman had a big year on the Tiffany Network, playing the not-quite-right characters that Chris Elliott gave us years ago. (Remember February 10, 1989, when Chris played a barking desk maggot in "Viewer Mail?") Joe introduced us to "Ox, the Wildnerness Expert." Don't ask, don't tell what Joe's beverage of choice is, out in the wild. Seriously, please don't leak the information. Joe and Herbie Hancock take these leaks personally. Here's a video of Ox's first appearance. The most awesome part of this comes at 1:45, when Joe almost breaks character and busts out laughing when Dave asked him about the source of his beverage. Jerry Foley almost had an edit on his hands. He did have to switch to an extended shot of Dave while Joe composed himself. It was awesome.
- Joe Grossman's been writing segments that involve three top models who come onstage with him to fawn over him and make indecent proposals, until Dave tosses them off the stage. Obviously Joe has gotten some pointers from Big Red himself, Alan Kalter, on charming the ladies.
- Unfortunately, we only saw our old friend Rupert Jee three times, but you can still get an awesome sandwich from him at Hello Deli.
- Another staffer who turns up occasionally is Dave Dorsett, usually when he loses interest in the show and lets Dave's shot get out of frame.
- I always enjoy Will Lee's "Dick Cheney's Dungeon" scream and demented laugh. Did you know that Will's Toph-e & The Pussycats are nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist? Will has been with Dave and Paul since Day One in 1982, and we're extremely thankful for his talent and loyalty. (my photo of Will and Kate / Will Lee's Funk House)
- Who doesn't love it when Dave asks a rhetorical question, and the horn section (Al, Tom and Bruce) all raise their hands? Sometimes it results in a scandalous personal admission, but they never let us down.
- It's always fun when Producer Brian Teta has a part, because you know he's going to 1. start shifting his eyes from left to right and back, and 2. take off running after his phony scams are found out. (Joe Grossman wonders aimlessly after his skits, always in the wrong direction, while Brian takes off in a 40-meter sprint.)
- August 14: Writer Steve Young registered celebrigum.com, beginning a gallery of Late Show guest photos taken from a window on the 53rd St. side of the theater, all with a gently-used piece of chewing gum in the foreground. For example, here's a pretty sweet picture of Natalie Portman. If you're cool enough to be on Facebook, Celebrigum is there, too. We look forward to radiocarbon dating of the gum sometime in mid-2011.
Super Bowl XLIV Ad
Oops! I haven't yet mentioned the huge media frenzy over Dave's Super Bowl XLIV MVP ad on February 7. Dave somehow lured Jay Leno in from the West Coast, along with Oprah, to secretly tape a 15-second promo for the Late Show. Leno came to the theater in disguise. I'm not sure how Oprah got in unnoticed. The ad was taped in top secret in the balcony of the Ed, and somehow got on the air without anyone leaking it to the media. And this was right after the story broke about Leno swiping the Tonight Show from Conan! It was an awesome stunt, and I have to give credit to Leno for playing along. CBS has the ad on YouTube. Here's a report from Entertainment Weekly.
Calls from Jeff Altman
Dave's relationship with Jeff Altman goes back to the stand-up comedy days of the 1970s in California. Jeff's not been as frequent a guest on the Late Show as on Late Night. "I'll flip you like a cheese omelet." "I'll hit you so hard, by the time you stop rolling, your clothes will be out of style." I always looked forward to his visits. Now Jeff's calling in practically every Wednesday, with his phone calls from a drunken ne'er-do-well. My appreciation for these segments grows when I write 'em up for the episode log, and see how they're put together. For all you dog lovers, there's plenty of barking and growling. If you want to check the episode logs, some of my favorites were on June 7 and 28, July 13, August 24 and September 8 and 15.
I like the random detours in the calls. Before the call's over, Jeff's sure to get distracted by the chaos in his household. For example, on December 15 Jeff had to excuse himself from Dave for a few moments to holler into the next room, "Ma, could you get off phone for five God-forsaken minutes, get the rake and do somethin' about the raccoons?!"
I still haven't figured out if Altman's actually on the phone, or his parts are recorded in advance. Regardless, they take you back to the silliness of the Late Night days, and I hope to see (hear) more of them in 2011.
Ken Kensei as Akio Toyoda
I have to mention the appearances by actor Ken Kensei as Toyota boss Akio Toyoda. I got to see one of them in person! A dignified, diplomatic beginning soon gives way to a mocking rant about crybaby Americans, who lack the backbone to drive exploding automobiles. I don't know who dreamed up this idea, but I thought it was inspired, and the delivery was perfect.
- "Toyota is not at fault. You are at fault. Americans drive like frightened kitties. Little tiny meowing kitties. Such sad, poor little kitties. Meow, meow, meow."
"Crying little fat babies. Ooh help, help. Car won't stop. Ha ha ha. Ooh, car won't slow down when you go to Dunky Donuts. Dunky Donuts. Ahhhhh, Dunky Donuts. Must eat Dunky Donuts. Get fat, sooo fat. Car won't stop. How do I get to Dunky Donuts? Help, help. I want to be fat. Cars won't stop. I love Dunky Donuts. I love Dunky Donuts. But Toyota won't slow down. Too bad fatties."
What I Missed in 2010
- I was a huge fan of "True Tales of the Old West," with America's foremost Old West storyteller, Bob "B.B." Boberson, played by Dave's old friend, Tim Thomerson. (6/26/09 10/09/09)
- We only saw Johnny Dark one time!
- We didn't see Jimmi Simpson as Lyle the Intern. It's clear from his IMDB listing that he's been busy with several TV shows and movies.
- It's two seasons now with no Cher impression from Paul. (video)
- Could Phoebe Cates please check in once in a while?!
What I Didn't Miss in 2010
4 - Dave's resolutions: 1. Win a competitive eating trophy. 2. Make a YouTube cat video. 3. Come to terms with living in a man's body.
7 - We read the first reports that Leno will move back to the Tonight Show.
11 - monologue: "Ladies and gentlemen, once again I did not get the Tonight Show." We have the first of many desk chats on the topic.
12 - "Law & Order - Leno Victims Unit"
14 - Dr. O. Wayne Isom, the cardiothoracic surgeon who saved Dave's life, appears 10 years to the day after the quintuple bypass.
21 - Blind Boys of Alabama with Lou Reed
21 - Writer Joe Grossman has his first of many awesome visits.
22 - Producer Brian Teta has his first of several funny bits this year as various characters
who come onstage, act weird and sprint off, once found out for some indiscretion.
2 - Pete Fatovich has "Tales of Old Hollywood."
4 - Scott Brown, former go-go boy and naked model, was sworn in today as a Senator. LSDL writers are smiling.
5 - In a billboard over Broadway, Brooklyn Decker is revealed as the Sports Illustrated cover model.
7 - Dave, Oprah and Leno appear in a Super Bowl XLIV ad for the Late Show that was kept top secret.
8 - Biff Henderson trips on a step while attempting to catch Dave's football pass. He's fine after an operation.
8 - Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees
12 - Super Bowl XLIV combo ad for Doritos® and Cialis®: "Crunch and fornicate all you want! We'll make more."
16 - A tower air traffic controller at JFK let his kid pass on landing and departure instructions. Dave's writers are smiling.
17 - Abby Elliott plugs Saturday Night Live, with proud dad Chris Elliott in the green room.
Dave announced Abby's birth on Late Night with David Letterman on June 17, 1987. Abby turned out awesome, didn't she?
1 - Dave proposes the takeover of Canada by the United States, then sings "O Canada."
2 - It's the first of several hilarious appearances of Japanese-American actor Ken Kensei as Toyota President and CEO, Akio Toyoda.
5 - In one of Todd Seda's first appearances, he's nervous that he accidentally invited Dave to his Oscars party.
9 - Harry Smith's March 10 colonoscopy sets the stage for endless gags this spring.
10 - Rod Blagojevich does a Top Ten.
10 - animation: Blagojevich's hair vs. Trump's hair (growling at each other like doggies)
11 - "Small Town News" returns to the Late Show.
30 - monologue: "Happy Passover... not to be confused with what happened to me and Conan. That was passed over."
2 - We see the last of the awesome "True Tales of the Old West," with Bob "B.B." Boberson.
14 - The Eyjafjallajokull volcano (the scariest thing since Bjork) erupts in Iceland. Dave's writers are smiling.
20 - An oil rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, creating the oil spill that provides 71 days of comic fodder for Dave.
20 - Demi Moore teaches Dave how to Twitter.
28 - Dave tapes an episode of Live with Regis and Kelly. He claims he was deloused before appearing.
1 - Faisal Shahzad tries to blow up Times Square. Dave goes to work on him soon after.
3 - Dave claims he watched the Kentucky Derby with Oprah and Jay Leno.
7 - Dave's mom, Dorothy, presents the Top Ten Pieces of Advice for Being a Good Mother. (video)
13 - A 55-gallon drum of Superballs is dropped onto 53rd St.
17 - Close-Up Magic Week begins.
20 - DaveCon 2010
25 - Joe Grossman as Piedmont Bird Look-Alike Contest winner Elliot Rosen
25 - It's Jeff Altman's first of many calls as a drunken ne'er-do-well.
25 - Michaele and Tareq Salahi come out during the monologue for a photo op.
8 - Dave makes waffles at this desk.
14 - Alan Kalter bad mouths Slovenia. / The guy who beats up Alan, Brian Donahue, beats him up.
17 - Dave's in the audience for the first installment of "Know Your Current Events" since February 21, 2008!
23 - It's Dave's 30th anniversary as a talk show host!
25 - Jay-Z and Eminem both perform on the roof of the Ed. Eminem did "Not Afraid."
24 - Mark Odgers jumps over a Ford Fiesta and dunks a basketball on 53rd St.
29 - Dave drives the Coke-Mentos car down 53rd St.
29 - Larry King's December retirement is announced. Dave's writers are smiling.
1 - Taylor Lautner appears for his interview, wearing clothes!
12 - The saga of desk chats about Sully, Harry Letterman's new Yellow Labrador Retriever puppy / Satan / hell dog begin.
15 - Dave's mom, Dorothy, presents the Top Ten Thoughts Dave's Mom Would Like to Share About Her Birthday. (video)
19 - Sarah Palin coins the word refudiate.
21 - Bill Murray takes a dip in a trash dumpster / swimming pool on 53rd St.
21 - Alan Kalter has advice for America's princess, Lindsay Lohan, in prison.
2 - Dave contributes $20 for Annette Guardabascio's Schnauzer's gall bladder operation.
4 - The celebrigum.com domain is registered by writer Steve Young, paving the way for a series of celebrity photos on 53rd St.
6 - Vacation begins - August 6 to 22.
23 - Brian Williams sneaks into Flash Dancers at 1674 Broadway after his interview!
26 - Joe Grossman is "Ox, the Wilderness Expert," who drinks his own urine, and almost busts out laughing during his straight segment.
30 - It's Dave's 17th anniversary on CBS.
7 - Dave appears on The View. It's Barbara Walters' first day back after a heart operation.
17 - Bill Maher airs a clip of Christine O'Donnell referring to witchcraft. Dave's writers go to work.
20 - Dancing Animal Week begins.
22 - Joaquin Phoenix returns for his first interview after the disaster on 2/11/09.
Dave tells Joaquin of his last visit, "It's like you slipped and hit your head in the tub!"
24 - Dave actually does a pretaped segment, a promo for Devil, from Universal Pictures.
29 - Segment Producer Sarah Billington has the first of several fall appearances.
4 - "People & Their Vegetables" premieres. We have several days of giant or freakish home-grown items.
7 - It's Alden Emerson Provost's first appearance as a spoiled rich boy who happens to be the heir to CBS. (link)
21 - Dave and Joe Grossman show up at Jon Stewart's autism benefit, "Night of Too Many Stars."
26 - Taylor Swift sings her new number, "Speak Now," the cutest song ever written, by the cutest singer.
28 - "New Halloween Costumes"
2 - Orange crybaby Congressman John Boehner becomes Speaker of the House-elect, and will be the butt of jokes for years to come.
4 - Rescued Chilean miner Edison Peña is interviewed about his 69 days trapped underground.
9 - George W. Bush's Decision Points is released, much to the delight of Dave's writers.
18 - Mike McIntee, as a TSA employee, and his monkey puppet, Hugo, give traveler Jay Johnson quite a security check.
23 - It's cue card assistant Todd Seda as Todd bin Hussein.
24 - Dave's mom, Dorothy, appears via satellite with pies (pumpkin and sugar cream).
24 - Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta discusses his experiences in Afghanistan which led to his historic Medal of Honor, in multiple segments.
3 - Cher appears. Producer Brian Teta is infatuated with her, and even takes a shower for the occasion.
10 - Cue Card assistant Todd Seda appears for the Lighting of the Intern. Explosions result.
17 - Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman are interviewed together, resulting in unmixed reviews.
20 - Jack Black eats a habañero pepper. (A milkshake helped the medicine go down.)
22 - Shannon Eis appears with toys, and Dave knocks over the Christmas tree with a Razor Electric Drifter® Go Kart.
23 - It's the Christmas traditions, with Jay Thomas, and Darlene Love with "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)."
23 - We're all sad that we didn't get Paul Shaffer's impression of Cher's "O Holy Night." Here's the 2006 version.