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Rhapsody in blue: 'The Simpsons' say goodbye to Letterman

Both Bart and Homer made the cut in

(Credit: Fox)

"The Simpsons" have put together a couch gag for David Letterman - already - and it's certainly worth watching, heaven knows. (I mean really: You haven't really done anything until you're the subject of a couch gag, right? Guess Dave's done something...)

 Set to "Rhapsody in Blue"...but you knew that...

 

More David Letterman retirement jokes from Friday's 'Late Show'

Host David Letterman during a taping of his

(Credit: AP/CBS / John Paul Filo)

You may have heard that David Letterman announced his retirement yesterday, and as any Letterman fan well knows, there's nothing like material that's generated by your own life (or in this instance, Dave's...). He taped his Thursday "Late Show" Retirement Edition yesterday at 3:30 p.m., and then promptly taped the Friday edition at around 5 (or thereabouts...). Here's a clip from tonight's show, and yes -- expect retirement jokes, good ones...Billy Crystal appears tonight as well; as has been noted, Crystal appeared on Jay Leno's last "Tonight.:" 

 

What will David Letterman do in retirement? Considering the options...

David Letterman in retirement: The very phrase is daunting, an existential conundrum. A riddle without an answer.

We kid, but not by a large margin: Letterman in retirement does not compute. He is devoted to his show, his staff, and the daily routine of putting out broadcast television's best talk show, late night or otherwise. He does not have, or is not known to have, hobbies, or anything that would comprise a time-consuming pastime which people in retirement are supposed to typically consume their time with: Golf, tennis, travel, the grandkids, Myrtle Beach . . . Mowing the lawn at the North Salem place? Hard to imagine.

But that doesn't mean he has no outside interests -- those are well-known and well-established. He has an LA-based charitable foundation, has close ties to his alma mater, Ball State; there's a budding record company and, of course, Worldwide Pants.

Probably the most exciting outside venture is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing -- his IndyCar team that he owns with former racing great Bobby Rahal and which had considerable success in the middle of the last decade, and only recently returned to full-time competition, and is also involved with the American LeMans circuit (they race a custom built BMW).

Letterman is every bit the motor head Jay Leno is, absent the compulsive need to buy everything on wheels. Dave is not exactly a collector by nature.

But these ventures are already operating concerns -- successful side-businesses with their own staffs. Does David want to become involved more fully with each of those when his absentee ownership status has sufficed nicely all these years? Presumably a question only he can answer.

Then, there is this question: What about a return to television in some capacity? That presumes the old saw that great TV talents just can't stay away from the hot light -- that Bill Cosby just has to get back in the game, or that Oprah can't be far from TV so she'll just buy a network instead, or that Jay really will go to Fox, and so on.

Of course I don't buy it. Letterman really doesn't need it. He really doesn't need the fame or fortune -- he doesn't have that burning desire to be loved, to hear the audience applause or to be fulfilled -- as part of some sort of deep-seated narcissistic impulse -- by the omnipresence of cameras and that blinking red light.

He's long had a curious ambivalence to fame -- which is part of his appeal, certainly. I can take this stupid job and shove it has long been implicit in the Letterman MO -- a sense that the world is mad, television is madder and there's certainly no reason to go completely insane along with it.

For that reason, don't bet on a TV future in retirement. But that doesn't mean there couldn't and shouldn't be one. A Charlie Rose-like show, hosted by the Thoughtful Dave, with thoughtful questions offered in the spirit of thoughtfulness . . . a deeper exploration of his interests absent the quips or jokes or Paul Shaffer one-liners over to the side (not that there's anything wrong with any of that . . .)?

Something a little more PBS-like, or fringe-cable-like? Once a week even?

Only Dave has the answers to these questions. We'll see how he answers them.

Who will replace David Letterman? Let the errant speculation begin!

Host David Letterman during a taping of his

(Credit: AP/CBS / John Paul Filo)

We know David Letterman is irreplaceable. But who will replace David Letterman?

There are many names, few truly qualified. Which means you must immediately rule out the superficially appealing names because they will never happen.

These include people like Jerry Seinfeld or Neil Patrick Harris or someone I'm not thinking of at the moment (Pee Wee Herman, Bruce Jenner . . .) They have never hosted a late-night talk show, and I am mindful of many stories of late night past: Stars like Billy Crystal (who had the sense not to do one for Fox) and Chevy Chase (who did not have the sense to do a show for Fox) believing that this gig must be a cinch.

PHOTOS: Notable 'Late Show' guests | Late-night TV hosts

VIDEO: Letterman announces retirement

("Hey, you show up, tell a few jokes, talk to some guest, then say goodnight . .. ") 

This is the hardest job in show business, by far. It's every day, weekends off. It's grueling work where you manage huge staffs, spar with networks -- the worst part of the job -- and then stand out there every night and try to be funny.  It's lucrative, but I can't imagine Jay Leno or Letterman did this for the money, which was ridiculously good, as they would be the first to admit.

 So who does this leave?

 To a list.  

 Stephen Colbert: Front-runner, without question. His contract at Comedy Central ends this year, CBS is interested (I have heard this from a senior industry executive) and he is very good and very funny. Questions, no doubt, about whether he will "break character." Should be a cinch. Plus, he's an excellent interviewer.

Jay Leno: Jay's name has to come up here. He's one of the most successful late-night talk show hosts in history, and he's unemployed. Why shouldn't it come up? One possible reason: His "Tonight" attracted an "old" audience (pushing 60, on average, which is old, I guess.) TV covets youth.

Chelsea Handler: The dark horse candidate and the long-shot candidate. She's leaving E!, she's funny, she has a following, and she knows how to do late-night TV. Drawback: She's a she. Late-night TV hosts are usually men. Don't blame me -- I don't make up the rules. Plus, she's leaving E!. I mean really . . . "Former E! host replaces Letterman." Rather sad headline, wouldn't you say?

Jon Stewart: Of course everyone wants Jon Stewart -- but could some watered-down approximation of "The Daily Show" work at "Late Show?" Hard to believe, possibly harder to stomach. Stewart is -- I don't use this word lightly -- a genius at what he does. He would be miserable to the point of throwing-himself-in-front-of-oncoming traffic to chat with the latest star selling the latest lousy movie. But who knows what's going to happen? He's certainly smart enough to figure out some sort of inventive way to reshape "Late Show." I still say: Long shot.

Craig Ferguson: The in-house star and a long-shot. Ferguson is excellent, funny, inventive, interesting, and has a terrific animatronic sidekick in Geoff. But "Late Late Show" always lost to Jimmy Fallon's "Late Night." How would a Ferguson "Late Show" then do opposite Fallon's "Tonight?" (Again, I don't make up the rules.)

David Letterman's retirement announcement: The clip

During the afternoon taping of the "Late Show"

(Credit: "Late Show with David Letterman" via YouTube.com)

Here it is, a bit of TV history: David Letterman telling the world that he'll end a remarkable 32-year run in 2015.

 

Analyzing David Letterman's retirement: The bigger picture

David Letterman announced his retirement last night, but why now? Quickly, some background: Here's what I wrote a couple weeks ago., but to add to this -- there's no indication this was any decision other than Dave's.

What about Dave? Letterman turns 67 April 12. He is -- yes -- the second greatest late night talk show host in TV history, and also the second oldest: Johnny Carson was 66 when he retired in 1992.

The rule in television is, just to restate, ironclad -- older audiences mean reduced profits, and with younger crowds at ABC and NBC, there will also be pressure at CBS to lower its average age, by grooming a new generation of "Late Show" viewers with (alas) a new "Late Show" host.

Letterman, who has a contract through 2015, has given no indication that he plans to step aside -- or as he put it to Oprah during an interview a year or so ago: "When it’s time to go, somebody else tell me. Because I don’t know when it’s time to go.”

No one wants to see Letterman go. I never want to see Letterman go. He is the greatest, most entertaining, most inventive late-night host in my lifetime. He is Dave. There is no other Dave and never will be.

That said . . . reality is reality. Letterman will be moving along someday. For whom? Replacement possibilities remain the obvious ones -- and Craig Ferguson is not among them.

Because "The Late Late Show" host lost regularly to Fallon's "Late Night," there's appears to little chance he would succeed at 11:35 opposite Fallon again, or so the logic goes. A shame: Ferguson's "Late Late Show" is endlessly amusing, his monologues funny and his sidekick, Geoff, probably the single finest animatronic skeleton in late-night history. But still. Stephen Colbert's contract at Comedy Central ends this year, Jon Stewart's next year.

There now appears to be growing industry consensus that Colbert may now be the heir apparent. Is it the CBS consensus? The Colbert one? By the way, the average age of "The Colbert Report" viewer is 43. My kicker:

Stephen Colbert could well be the next host of "Late Show."

And of course, this: We'll see.

Lindsay Lohan on 'Late Show with David Letterman' Wednesday

Lindsay Lohan talks to David Letterman about rehab,

(Credit: AP)

Welcome to TV Zone, AKA Where-the-Lindsay-Lohan-Watch-Never-Stops: To that end, she'll be on "Late Show with David Letterman" next Wednesday, April 9. She's also on the following Monday's "Two Broke Girls," where she plays "Claire," or as CBS notes:  

As Max and Caroline get to know her, it quickly becomes clear that Claire has trouble making decisions.

(Just to re-iterate, as to avoid confusion, Claire/Linds has "trouble making decisions," not "trouble-making decisions...")

 

Josh Charles on 'Late Show:' Clip

As proof that major TV characters on CBS hits like "The Good Wife" never die (but instead come back to be interviewed by David Letterman on "Late Show")...this:

Josh Charles, AKA Will Gardner, on "Late Show."

A clip: 

 

'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon' is a month old: Status report

Jerry Seinfeld visits "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy

(Credit: Getty Images / Theo Wargo)

"The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" turned one month old Monday, which means party time!

But hold on. Let's settle down. The party must wait.  First, some facts and analysis and critical perspective and quotes. Late night television has changed forever. Has it changed for the better?

To the questions:

So, how is "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" doing?

If the words "spectacularly well" offer a clue, then you have your answer. This launch has exceeded even NBC's expectations, and mine -- an aside offered by someone who has lived through both (and also  covered) the Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien "Tonight" successions...umm, all three of them. 

If numbers tell part of the story -- they almost always do -- then let's get straight to those. Last week, "Tonight" was seen by an average 4.5 million viewers at the regular 11:35 p.m. time, compared to 4.9 million in Jay Leno's last full week on the air.

That was a high-water mark for Leno -- expected for his swan song week. One of the more relevant figures is "Tonight's" performance among viewers 18 to 34 -- Fallon has around a 1 rating, or 700,000 viewers in that age group last week, compared to a 0.7 or 500,000 for Jay in his final, heavily viewed week.

Then, finally, this number: "Tonight" has just less than double the total audience of second-place "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Late Show with David Letterman" -- both at about 2.7 million last week.

 Thanks for the math, but what does it mean?

One month in, the math appears to have resolved the single greatest concern that NBC had going in: Would "Tonight/Leno" viewers sample "Tonight/Fallon," then return for more? So far, the answer is yes and yes.

NBC is completing research to determine how many Leno loyalists have remained, but the preliminary read at the network is that many have -- possibly even most of those who refuse to break their habit and have so far found no reason to do so.

This is a key metric because the bottom fell out from under Conan O'Brien's "Tonight" fairly quickly after his June 1, 2009, launch. Yes, this is something an apples-to-carrots comparison. "Conan" launched midsummer five years ago, and "Fallon" had a tail wind (the Winter Olympics).

Nevertheless, this is March -- a huge month for "homes using television" -- and Fallon's figures are holding up.

What is the age of Fallon's viewers?

The average age is 54, or five years younger than Leno's viewers, and "Late Show's," which is now the oldest audience in late-night TV. It's also a year younger than Kimmel's average. 

Just to restate the obvious, youth rules in late night, or at least rules with advertisers -- a key reason Fallon is now host of "Tonight.' But the relative youth of Fallon's crowd indicates that his "Tonight" has actually added new viewers to the mix. Leno's "Tonight" was doing the exact opposite -- losing them.

What does NBC think?

Ted Harbert, NBC Broadcasting chairman, said in a recent interview, "I have an odd relationship with A.C. Nielsen, and deep in my heart get superstitious [when predicting ratings]. I thought we could run the table with both Jimmy and Seth [Meyers, whose 'Late Night' is also doing very well], but we didn't think it would be this high.

"My read is that we kept who we had and added more [audience], which is hard to do in any day part. That's what makes this so fascinating. It seems too early after a month to make any big general statements, but this could be one of those rare game changers where people have caught on to this guy."

Harbert -- a TV veteran and former chief of ABC Entertainment during its glory days -- says credit is due, beyond Fallon and his team, to "Lorne [Michaels], who has set this network up to be flush in late night talent."

What does the Newsday critic think?

Fallon's "Tonight" is excellent -- superior to Leno's "Tonight" (sorry, Jay, but true). Most of all, the new "Tonight" is refreshing, comfortable and often surprising, which are words seldom heard about late-night TV anymore.

This also feels like a show that knows itself -- knows what it wants to say, and how to say it, or at least how to perform it. Almost all key elements click -- the monologue especially, as well as the many sketches that made the hop from 12:35 to 11:35 with Fallon.

What's unexpected is that this really does appear to be the exact same show as Fallon's "Late Night," right down to the curtain (actually, "Late Night's" curtain was a solid blue. Fallon's "Tonight" is two-tone. Plus, that skyline). NBC and Fallon promised the same show, but how many times are promises kept in this business?

Harbert puts it this way: "The mistake we made at this network is that a lot of time was spent telling Conan how his show should change, but [this time we] said, 'You're not going to have the network telling you what to do and screw it up. Just keep doing what you're doing."

Differences, in fact, are subtle but significant: More host cross-chat with Steve Higgins, most of it improvised and most of it funny; more sketch tie-ins with members of The Roots, like James Poyser or Tariq Luqmaan Trotter, AKA Black Thought; and more monologue (but not that much more; Fallon's monologues still appear to run only around seven or eight minutes at most --  a good length for him.)

The guest segments are the weakest element, to date. Fallon's instincts are to perform, not to interrogate, so these can sometimes feel like free-form chats that lead nowhere fast. He tends to be a "fan" of everyone, has his TiVo filled with "all of their shows" or his iPod with "all of their songs."

Jimmy's a nice guy -- we know that -- but he needs to develop a critical distance and perspective. Even a coolness. That's not a bad thing when you are the host of "The Tonight Show" and therefore arbiter, or at least gatekeeper, of pop culture tastes and trends.

Has the late-night landscape changed with the advent of Fallon?

Perhaps the better way to approach this question is with another question: What about Dave?

Letterman turns 66 April 12. He is -- yes -- the second greatest late night talk show host in TV history, and also the second oldest: Johnny Carson was 66 when he retired in 1992.

The rule in television is, just to restate, ironclad -- older audiences mean reduced profits, and with younger crowds at ABC and NBC, there will also be pressure at CBS to lower its average age, by grooming a new generation of "Late Show" viewers with (alas) a new "Late Show" host.

Letterman, who has a contract through 2015, has given no indication that he plans to step aside -- or as he put it to Oprah during an interview a year or so ago:  "When it’s time to go, somebody else tell me. Because I don’t know when it’s time to go.”

No one wants to see Letterman go.

I never want to see Letterman go. He is the greatest, most entertaining, most inventive late-night host in my lifetime. He is Dave. There is no other Dave and never will be. 

That said ... reality is reality. Letterman will be moving along someday.

For whom? Replacement possibilities remain the obvious ones -- and Craig Ferguson is not among them. Because "The Late Late Show" host lost regularly to Fallon's "Late Night," there's appears to little chance he would succeed at 11:35 opposite Fallon again, or so the logic goes.

A shame: Ferguson's "Late Late Show" is endlessly amusing, his monologues funny and his sidekick, Geoff, probably the single finest animatronic skeleton in late-night history.

But still.

Stephen Colbert's contract at Comedy Central ends this year, Jon Stewart's next year. There now appears to be growing industry consensus that Colbert may now be the heir apparent. Is it the CBS consensus? The Colbert one?

By the way, the average age of "The Colbert Report" viewer is 43.

My kicker: Stephen Colbert  could well be the next host of "Late Show."  

And of course, this: We'll see. 

 

Will Jay Leno return to TV? His Hall of Fame speech suggests otherwise

Jay Leno got into the Television Academy Hall of Fame on Tuesday, and when that sort of thing happens, they just don't send you a citation thanking you for "your many years of great service." Oh no: You have to actually go to a dinner and give a speech. You have to work for the thing. Leno gave his speech, and it was gracious and in parts interesting, even a bit reflective. There's a tempus fugit quality to this that indicates Jay really, truly has moved on, not just from "Tonight," but from television altogether. Check this out and wonder -- as I did -- whether this is Jay essentially saying he is done with TV forever. 

Of additional interest, he directs some comments to Rupert Murdoch in the audience; Fox, of course, has been rumored as Jay's next stop. But that is probably not going to happen, nor is CNN, nor (I suspect) is anyplace else.  (Why, you ask, is Murdoch even attending a rubber chicken dinner? Does he perhaps have his eye on Jay...?) 

Naturally, talk show hosts who have spent their lives in front of the camera always reserve the right to change their minds. The tab shows gathered outside this speech the other night and pryed some additional news out of Jay -- that he's certainly going on "Late Show with David  Letterman." I do in fact expect that to happen. But a regular TV gig again? Doubtful ... or maybe Jay just has to ask himself the chilling rhetorical question, "Do you really want to become Billy Crystal's character in "Mr. Saturday Night?' "  

 

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