Category Archives: Late Night TV

The Late-Night Wars: Politics by Other Means

No, I probably won’t be watching tonight when Jay Leno returns to the Tonight Show, but I’m still fascinated with how this whole mess is going to play out. Certainly, the late-night wars are far from over, with Jay once again going head to head with longtime-rival-turned-Super-Bowl-buddy David Letterman, or with the deposed Conan O’Brien possibly barnstorming America with a live show before his likely face-off against both Dave and Jay if he lands on Fox this fall. The struggle is still of interest because. as seemed clear during the depths of the public Jay-vs.-everyone-else battle that played out in January, this is about a lot more than which pampered white guy gets to tell jokes at 11:35 p.m. It’s about great fault lines criss-crossing both our popular and political culture.

Some of those fault lines are: Continue reading

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Filed under 2008 Election, Arts, Barack Obama, Feuds, Late Night TV, Media, TV

Finding Myself in the Awkward Position of Defending Glenn Beck

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AOL asked me to write a blog post this week on all the comic invective directed recently toward Glenn Beck, knowing that both his defenders and detractors would come out of the woodwork to wage war in the comments section.* And come they did, by the tens of thousands, thanks in part to a headline on the AOL welcome screen that overstated my concern about some of the more below-the-belt spoofs. (“Attacks on Beck Crossing the Line: Our Writer Says Recent Parodies Are Anything but Funny: Skits Under Fire”)

Now, I’m not a Beck fan, as even a cursory reading of the article would make clear. If anything, the assignment gave me an excuse to embed videos of several Beck-lampooning sketches, some of which I think are perfectly fair. The best of these was the Stephen Colbert monologue embedded at the top of this post, which perfectly mimics Beck’s performance style, calls him on his BS, and does so without resorting to ad hominem attacks. What I objected to was those sketches that got personal — Jon Stewart appearing to make fun of Beck’s recent health woes, Andy Cobb taking Beck’s icky incest fantasy from his book The Real America: Messages from the Heart and Heartland out of context to imply that Beck really meant it (he did not; he was merely making an offensive analogy to gay relationships), and The Onion wishing for Beck to die a violent and gory death (a video that contains some NSFW language). Continue reading

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Filed under Barack Obama, Feuds, Late Night TV, Media, Saturday Night Live, TV

Conan O’Bama

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Remember when George W. Bush became president, and the pundits said that, at last, the grownups were now in charge? (And how did that work out, by the way?) It’s a lot easier to imagine that the grownups are in charge now that the cool, seemingly unflappable, roll-up-your-sleeves Barack Obama is president, and when he took office, I felt a surge of almost familial pride. At last, the reins of power were passing to someone roughly my age (Obama is about five years older than I am.)

I felt a similar emotion this week when Conan O’Brien took over The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson had made the forum into the voice of national consensus; Jay Leno tried to maintain that role even as consensus crumbled around him (we’re a much more fragmented, factionalized people now, not just in terms of our politics, but also in our tastes in pop culture and our countless entertainment options). Now that desk was passing to someone of my generation (Conan is four years older than I am), and it felt like a momentous, torch-passing occasion.

The president himself seemed to acknowledge the similarity between these two transitions in his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams this week (see above video). It was a puzzling moment; Time columnist James Poniewozik seemed to find it crass that Williams spent valuable face time with the president getting Obama to plug an entertainment event on Williams’ network, and O’Brien himself wondered why the leader of the free world should be devoting any attention to Conan’s career move. But such pluggery is standard procedure these days for TV news (which is more entertainment than news anyway, with the cotton-candy puffery throughout Williams’ primetime special as just another example), and the fact that Obama responded to Williams’ prompt not by saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” but by deadpanning a good joke about it without missing a beat indicates that, not only is Obama as media-savvy a chief executive as we’ve ever seen, but also is thoroughly conversant with the ironic, absurdist humor that is Conan’s (and our generation’s) preferred mode of expression. Continue reading

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Late Night TV, Media, Movies, Music, TV