Late Night Observations, Fate Of Spears’ TV Show Uncertain

They’re back but it’s not the same.  Last night, after an almost two-month extended vacation of sorts, Dave Letterman, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien and Craig Ferguson all returned with new installments of their after-hours chatfests, the ongoing Writer’s Strike being the reason for their prolonged absences.  Curiously, Letterman and Ferguson had their full writing staff back with them, despite the unresolved labour dispute, while the rest had to grin and bear it without any kind of comedic backup.  (The CBS comedians were able to work out a deal with The Writer’s Guild Of America before resuming production.)
 
Flipping back and forth through all five programs, however, reveals that, despite some welcome and much-needed moments of humour, all is not well with late night comedy.  Let’s start with Letterman.  Unlike longtime sidekick and bandleader, Paul Shaffer, he’s kept that ridiculous Kenny Rogers look.  (The good news is that it might be temporary.  He seemed keen on the idea of having his beard completely shaved off on a future show.)  His opening monologue wasn’t particularly strong.  The Top 10 list, read by ten striking writers, including the overrated Nora Ephron and SNL alumnus Alan Zweibel, was mostly a bust.  And there was no political humour whatsoever.  (What happened to Great Moments In Presidential Speeches?)  Were it not for the terminally caffeinated Robin Williams continually and hilariously goofing on his old friend’s dreadful appearance and a funny bit where a joke was interrupted in favour of promoting the writers’ cause, with apologies to Simon Cowell, this edition of The Late Show would’ve been a completely and utterly forgettable mess.  As it stands, this show needs to focus on politics again.  Quick.
 
While Letterman was on a break, I flipped over to The Tonight Show but didn’t stick with it for very long.  Canadian Press TV Critic Bill Brioux noted on his blog that host Jay Leno did a full monologue, unlike the others, which will most likely anger the picketing writers.  (Apparently, that’s a no-no, which I don’t quite understand.) There was also a Q&A with the audience.  I pretty much bailed when a Mike Huckabee supporter had the floor.  (The former Arkansas Governor and current Republican Presidential candidate, who once took out an ad proclaiming his wife is his “servant”, was the first guest.)  Flipping back a little later, Leno threw to an old clip of a much heftier Huckabee making a big chin joke.  Later still, there was a cooking segment with the recently canned Emeril Lagasse and a performance by St. Louis rapper Chingy.  I’ll leave it to others to decide how well or poorly he did since I didn’t catch most of the jokes.
 
Jimmy Kimmel bantered with his security staff, the terminally scowling Veatrice, the Mexican Pillsbury Doughboy Guillermo and reliable dum-dum Uncle Frank, before interviewing Andy Dick, who’s had funnier and more memorable appearances, but is never boring.  (Remember the time he had to be literally carried off the set after he refused to stop bothering fellow guest, Ivanka Trump?  Too bad that didn’t happen last night.)  I bailed after his first segment.  There was a bit where they played an old clip from 2003.  While waiting to do something with Kermit The Frog, Uncle Frank engages in endlessly unfunny banter with him.  (It’s never a good sign when a Muppet yawns while you’re talking.)  The whole point was to give the writers of that segment residual payments for having their work re-broadcasted while they’re not working.  (This was worth showing again?)  Also, Kimmel showed some Christmas cards his staff had sent out.  One involved a naked writer with a strategically placed puppet covering his genitals.  It had to be seen to be believed.  The only other moment I caught involved Jimmy disliking Guillermo’s new goatee.  He had Uncle Frank give him a shave which looked extremely dangerous.
 
By 12:35 it was time to check out The Late Late Show and Late Night.  Like Letterman, Conan O’Brien looks stupid in a beard.  He was reduced to spinning what looked like his wedding ring on his desk (but I could be wrong) and having a staffer keep track of the time it took to finally stop spinning.  (35 seconds.)  There was a pre-tape segment where he showed celebrity Christmas cards and the visual results of his frustration with Sudoku.  (I didn’t stick with the whole bit.)  Then, Bob Saget came out.  It was a lacklustre interview with the former Full House star (and current 1 Vs. 100 host) experiencing a few, uncomfortable moments of silence.  Whenever that happened, he commented on how good the water in his mug tasted.  Too bad it wasn’t filled with funny.
 
Over to Craig Ferguson.  He was in his element getting big laughs from his studio audience.  He’s the only host who doesn’t rely on cue cards for his opening monologue (he’s very much a storyteller during that time) nor does he rely on notes for his guest interviews.  (I don’t remember ever seeing that pesky blue piece of paper with talking points on his desk.)  On his first night back, though, there were no guests.  After talking about what he did during the two-month layoff (he learned to ski and joked about growing and shaving his beard in a day), he moved over to his desk where he wrote a fake letter to his boss, Dave Letterman (loved how he kept licking his inkless feather pen), and took a phone call from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  (It was a brilliant imitator who initially had me completely fooled for a little bit.  Was it Fake Arnold from The Howard Stern Show?)  I didn’t watch the rest of the program but of all the returning hosts, he seemed the most comfortable and relaxed. 
 
Regardless, despite ratings being up (and Leno still in the lead) and those occasionally amusing moments, those striking writers are sadly missed.  They better make a deal pronto.  Most of these guys are floundering.  Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, take note.  Don’t come back until this damn thing is resolved or you too will be spinning your rings on your desks in comedic desperation.
 
 
 
Meanwhile, there’s an update on the Jamie Lynn Spears scandal.  According to this, the fate of her Nickelodeon TV show, Zoey 101, is in limbo.  According to news reports late last year, the complete fourth season has already been filmed.  It’s supposed to start airing in February.  However, there’s a chance it might not air after all.  According to an anonymous source who spoke to BANG, “Nickelodeon bosses are still undecided whether to air season four or not. For now, it looks like it has been canned.”
 
The reason it might be scrapped?  The supposedly wrong message its possible airing might send to young viewers.
 
Bullshit.  If that source is right and the show is not returning, it will be because of cowardice on the part of those weaselly and clueless Nickelodeon executives.  Look, I’ve never watched Zoey 101.  I’ll probably never will.  I have no emotional investment in it whatsoever.  But isn’t it more than a little ridiculous to drop a popular TV show because its leading lady got knocked up?  How is airing any episode, new or previously aired, in any way offensive to its audience?  It’s transparent nonsense.  If this report is true, the channel wants nothing to do with Spears and her unplanned pregnancy.  Essentially, they’re abandoning her.  Pure and simple.  Not good for their image, you see.
 
From what I understand, this is the final season of the program anyway.  Why not squeeze as much advertising money out of it as possible?  Television is a business, after all, and considering how bad a year it was for the boob tube in 2007, why bail on a hit show like this?  It’s lunacy.  It’s also completely unfair to everybody else who worked on Zoey 101 to put them out of work in this manner.
 
Furthermore, the third season has a cliffhanger.  How annoying will it be for fans of this show to never know how things turn out in the fourth season because Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant?  Like I said, I don’t care at all about Zoey 101.  But if its imminent cancellation is true, then viewers should raise hell.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, January 3, 2008
10:02 p.m.
 
UPDATE:  Letterman’s second show back was much funnier.  His monologue was sharper, his normal desk bits were back and there was a welcome return to political humour.  The bearded host even took a fearless dig at Mike Huckabee and Jay Leno.  Nice to see some blood dripping from those satirical knives of his.  Juno star Ellen Page ended up being the most interesting interview.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, January 4, 2008
12:32 a.m.
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Published in: on January 3, 2008 at 10:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

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