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Letterman 10

Late Night 10th Anniversary Special, 1992

Last year, David Letterman “celebrated” 30 years as a late night talk show host. “Celebrated” gets quotation marks because he didn’t mark the occasion at all, really. Even this year, when Letterman entered his 20th year of hosting The Late Show on CBS, the milestone was barely noted at all. Bill Murray (first guest on Letterman’s NBC and CBS shows) made an appearance as Liberace for some reason, but that was Letterman’s only concession to the date. He apparently loathes anniversary specials and is now at a place, career-wise, where he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do. Like work on Fridays, or answer questions about not wanting to do an anniversary special. (This Times article on Letterman’s 30th year in late night features zero quotes from the man himself.)

That’s a shame, because it was an anniversary special that first exposed me to David Letterman as a young lad. I assume so, anyway. As a kid, I never would have been allowed to stay up late enough to see Late Night as it aired. I had no real chance to see any of Letterman’s genius until I caught a prime time anniversary special full of clips. When I saw Letterman crushing things with a pneumatic press and throwing things off a five-story building, I thought to myself, in my own little kid way, “This is what TV was made for.”

Whilst scouring my VHS archives recently, I found a tape containing the Late Night 10th Anniversary Special, which aired February 6, 1992. This is a unique artifact for many reasons. Johnny Carson’s retirement was imminent and Letterman had already been officially passed over as his replacement. This, plus a decade of accumulated slights by NBC and parent company GE, made it abundantly clear he would leave the network when his contract expired in 1993.

Previous anniversary specials were more befitting Late Night’s weird, almost community access sensibility. Take, for example, the fourth anniversary special from 1986, wherein Dave, Paul Shaffer’s band, and a crew of technicians conduct the show from the cabin of a 747 flying from Miami to New York. Not a flight they’ve chartered, but a scheduled flight, full of confused, oblivious passengers who find themselves the unwitting audience (and occasionally, victims) of this program.

Then, take a look at the 10th anniversary special below, filmed at Radio City Music Hall with Rockettes, an all-star band, and huge studio audience. It’s almost an audition for the spiffier, toned-down show he’d soon do at 11:30.

Letterman killed The Talk Show Host by creating a talk show in which the host very obviously thought the very idea of a talk show was bullshit. It is strange to see him in this 10th anniversary special, attempting to undo that killing, in his own way. He even seems genuine when thanking the audience for waiting on line to get inside.

For all of the Picture Day propriety, though, there is still plenty of weirdness on display. Observe the studio audience and note that it is packed to the gills with mooks. From the outfits worn and the reactions hooted, you’d think it was Howard Stern on stage. I swear I spotted at least three dudes in Boomer Esiason jerseys. This serves as a reminder that during their respective 1980s heydays, Letterman and Stern were often spoken of in the same breath, comedy-wise, as being (each in their own way) purveyors of edgy, take-no-prisoners laffs.

You will also see a brief appearance by Bill Murray, Letterman’s first ever guest and kindred spirit in practicing the fine art of fake sincerity. Live Stupid Pet Tricks make an appearance as well, but the real treat here is to see the clips from old shows and be reminded of just how strange Late Night was. Try not to think about how, because of Letterman’s acrimonious split from NBC, we’ll probably never see these clips outside of YouTube again. (And while you’re at it, try not to think about how we’ll never see Conan O’Brien’s greatest stuff for the same reason.)

In the final half hour, we receive another reminder of how many amazing bands Letterman had on his show, bands that never would have appeared on The Tonight Show, or anywhere else on TV at the time, for that matter.

This leads into a special live rendition of “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan, backed by a band with an insane assemblage of musicians. I remember watching this as a kid and cringing because I hated Bob Dylan. Now I watch it and…I still kinda cringe. I’ve tried with Dylan, I really have, but me and him are never gonna happen. Since he’s the most influential songwriter of his age, I’m willing to concede the problem lies entirely with me, not him. I blame the abundance of harmonica in his tunes. I’ve reached the point in my life where I actually enjoy some of his songs, but once the harmonica kicks in, I check out. No harmonica here, but Dylan’s voice, ew boy…I think I’d take creepy Victoria’s Secret Dylan over this.

And as always, for you weirdos who like commercials, here’s a collection of ads that aired during this broadcast. Featuring: The hilariously failed Reebok “Dan & Dave” campaign, an NBC-4 News “special report” on “Sex & Sports,” a promo for a Matlock movie where he visits “a town that makes its money on murder!”, and a slew of rock-stupid Budweiser spots.

Twitter Snitches Get No Twitter Stitches

The Guy Adams/NBC/Twitter flap angered a lot of people, but if I’m allowed to have a moment of emotional narcissism, I’ve found it more infuriating than most. The incident not only echoes nonsense I went through not too long ago, but makes said nonsense seem even more weird and gross in retrospect.

In case you don’t know about this tale, here’s the short version: Guy Adams, Los Angeles bureau chief for the English newspaper the Independent, wrote a series of tweets ripping NBC a new Costas-hole for its terrible Olympics coverage. Shortly thereafter, his Twitter account was suspended. Twitter told him he’d been suspended because he’d tweeted a private email address of an NBC exec. In truth, the email address Adams posted was readily available to the public. Therefore, the email reason seemed a flimsy excuse to suspend a vocal critic of NBC, which is officially partnering with Twitter for these Olympics. Adams’ account was restored after he issued an “apology,” but not before it was revealed that it was Twitter who initially blew the whistle on him to NBC, not the other way around.

I went through something similar a month ago with my parody account @TimesPublicEdit, albeit for slightly different reasons and on a far smaller scale. Basically, a few news orgs mistook the account for the real New York Times public editor and reported one of my tweets as coming from him. Like Adams, I was never informed my account was suspended. Like Adams, I quickly found out that Twitter’s procedures for dealing with suspensions is to shoot and ask questions later; upon receipt of a complaint, they will both assume you are guilty and leave it up to you to figure out how to rectify the situation. Also like Adams, the burden was put on me to prove my contrition for an offense I didn’t commit. (In my case, that offense was “attempting to mislead” people, which was not even remotely my intent.)

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NBC Explains its Jay Leno Strategy

jayleno.jpgSimply put, Jay Leno is one of the most compelling entertainers in the world today. We defy you to think of a more immortal comedy routine than Jaywalking. Iron Jay is perhaps the most beloved character of all time. And when the history of humor is written, the works of Mark Twain and James Thurber will pale in comparison to The Dancing Judge Itos.

Jay Leno is a resource we can not afford to lose. If we don’t cater to his every whim, we have to assume he would take his classic cars and race track and march over to ABC or FOX, and take his entire audience with him. We also have to assume said audience includes the tens of millions of Americans currently avoiding his 10pm show in droves.

Therefore, we are reinstating Jay Leno into the 11:35pm slot. His program will run until 7am, preempting the first two hours of The Today Show. But don’t worry, Matt Lauer fans. Matt will get his own breakfast-time segment on Jay’s show, where Jay and him show you how to prepare eggs from the inside of a 1932 Ford roadster.

But this is only the first phase of our new Jay Leno-based programming schedule. Jay will appear in current the NBC programs Chuck, Mercy, and Heroes. Not in cameo appearances, but as a regular character named Jay Leno, who will deliver monologues at critical junctures during each episode. He will also receive 15 minutes of live airtime during each episode of Parks and Recreation to do whatever he wants. Headlines, Mini-Jay, change sparkplugs on one of his Hudson Hornets–the possibilities are endless!

And there’s even more good news, Jay Leno fans! Starting this fall, Jay will star in a new, 90 minute drama, Jay and the Jalopy, in which he and a talking robotic Stutz Bearcat solve mysteries.

As for Conan O’Brien, we had high hopes when we asked him to take over The Tonight Show. However, the ratings have been somewhat disappointing, and we feel these low ratings have adversely affected the audience for Jay’s show. It’s our theory that people aren’t watching Conan, and thus aren’t keeping their TVs tuned to NBC throughout the following 21.5 hours until Jay’s show is on. There really is no other explanation for people refusing to watch Jay Leno!

However, we greatly appreciate Conan keeping the seat warm for Jay during this past year. And we will recognize that appreciation with a special ceremony in the NBC commissary, where we will give Conan a very nice watch and a gift certificate to Bed Bath and Beyond.

Some may say this strategy is short-sighted, that it ignores the younger, more connected audience that loves Conan and will not watch Jay Leno under any circumstances. To these concerns, we would like to respectfully plug our ears with our fingers and yell loudly LA LA LA WE’RE NOT LISTENING!!

Holiday Triumphs: Christmas Ads from 1985, Pt. 2–McDonaldspalooza

Truth be told, very few of these ads are strictly Christmas ads. Or even obliquely. But they come from the same VHS tape that spawned the first collection I posted last week, and I’d like to maintain the continuity implied by my previous post. It’s my own web-based form of OCD.

Also, this portion of the tape contained some true McDonalds gems from years past. Once upon a time, McDonalds didn’t just run ad campaigns. They were more like ad battle plans: attacks on every conceivable front, using every conceivable tactic, and about as devastating (to the arteries, anyway). There were show stopping dance routines, simplistic set pieces, and cutesy spots that tugged at the heartstrings.

Plus, tons of ads aimed squarely at children. Did McDonalds have qualms about pitching horrifically unhealthy food to impressionable tykes? No, no they did not.

But first, the adult ads. For some reason, a huge number of these spots are obsessed with the HOTNESS of McDonalds food. I don’t know if they were accused of producing lukewarm food, or if this was a particular issue at the time. (I vaguely recall a Time Magazine cover story from this era that wondered, “Are Our Fast Food Burgers Too Cold?”)

Regardless of the cause, in 1985, McDonalds wanted to make sure everyone knew how hot their food was. And just so nobody could miss the message, they created a commercials aimed at specific groups. Like this one, which is clearly pitched to people who love neon.


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