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Late Night Stuff

Jimmy Kimmel had a good week last week, owing mainly to his Thursday night show with Matt Damon. If you didn't see it, ABC is rerunning it tonight in prime-time at 10 PM. The fact that Letterman was in repeats all week also seems to have given Kimmel a little boost.

If you're scoring at home, all three shows are neck-and-neck with Leno slightly ahead. No one is finishing a distant third so no one is in danger of cancellation. There seems to be some speculation that if Letterman consistently finds himself running third behind Kimmel, Dave might take that as a cue to announce his retirement…but that's just speculation, mostly (maybe wholly) from folks who don't know Dave.

If that did happen, there would be some sort of O. Henry ending to it all. Imagine if Kimmel who loudly proclaims his dislike of Leno and love of Letterman wound up knocking Dave off the air. He may already be helping Jay in that he's demonstrating that a young guy with allegedly great demographics will not necessarily do any better in that time slot with the 18-49 age bracket than Jay is doing. All the recent rumors that Leno was soon to be ousted flowed from the belief that a younger host would do markedly better in that department.

Me, I find myself watching less late night TV than I have in a long while. I record Leno and Ferguson every night on my TiVo but rarely make it through either show. I still think Leno's monologues are sharp and I like the fact that he's the only late night host who looks like he (a) even wants to do one and (b) seems to have seen the jokes before he reads them off the cards or prompter. (Yes, I know they all do but the rest all seem so disconnected from the material they're performing.) Craig Ferguson used to be an exception to that but lately, he seems to care more about dancing and making faces at the camera…the exact same thing that caused me to lose much of my interest in Conan O'Brien. Yeah, guys. The studio audience loves it. Does it matter to you that the folks at home probably don't?

I don't watch Conan at all…which surprises me because I used to love his show. With Jay, I may watch the first comedy bit if it's not about how stupid people are when you put a camera on them or arrange some Candid Camera bit designed to make them look stupid. If it's a comedy bit that's actually written — as opposed to being written to seem spontaneous — it's usually pretty good…and I sometimes like one of Jay's guests, though rarely both.

Ferguson, I will usually watch through his first guest. I wrote here not long ago that I thought he was the best interviewer of all the late night guys…and I still think he was. But a couple of you wrote to me that he's been talking more and more about himself lately and not letting his guests get to where they were trying to go…and you're right. Some nights, it's like the guest is intruding on a private conversation between him and the robot. I still like the guy but an hour of Craig Ferguson is starting to have too much Craig Ferguson in it for me.

Letterman? I find the best thing about Dave's show when I watch it is that he occasionally reminds you of when he was really, really great. He's had a lot of tributes lately and I notice that every time someone assembles one of those, they always put in a montage of bits from his NBC show, especially the one where he donned the Velcro® suit. That was 29 years ago. 29 years is almost as long as Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show.

In his day, Letterman was terrific — better than Carson in many ways. But he doesn't show a lot of enthusiasm for the monologue (or any prepared material) and only minimal interest in most of his guests. His well-noted crankiness used to strike me as the humorous complaining of a smart guy who had valid criticisms of the world around him. Now, he's starting to sound like an unhappy guy who just doesn't like anything very much including himself. When I watch him now, it's when he has a guest on that I like…or better still, someone he likes. That's when you get echoes of the old Dave. If I got more of them, I wouldn't just watch when he has on someone I really, really want to see.

I've tried watching both Jimmies, Kimmel and Fallon, and will try again in the future, probably when they have on guests I really, really want to see. Right now, my view is that I really like Jimmy Fallon as a person and don't enjoy watching his show…and I really don't like Jimmy Kimmel as a person and don't enjoy watching his show. I also don't like Bill Maher as a person but do enjoy watching his show. Maybe one of these days, I'll again find a case where I like a host and also like his or her show all the way through.