Robert Hampton

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20th May 2015

The Late Late Show
Posted by at 7.46pm | Television | No responses

Tonight marks the end of an era in US TV as David Letterman hosts his last Late Show, retiring from late night TV after 33 years.

The American love of the “late night talk show” is a bit of a strange concept to us here in the UK. We have our Jonathan Ross and Graham Norton, but they confine their witty banter to prime-time, one day per week. Even Terry Wogan never had the temerity to show up more than three times in seven days. Over in the US, TV networks spend a not inconsiderable amount of money on a show which not only goes out five nights a week, at a time when most people are in bed (NBC’s late night line up goes on until 2am every weeknight).

There are now dozens of shows following the same basic format – topical monologue, desk-based banter, comedy sketches, a house band – but David Letterman is still the best one around. Letterman’s original NBC show became legendary for its dangerous, unpredictable nature, thanks to stunts like the 360 degree show, where Letterman interviewed Peter Ustinov as the screen gradually turned upside down.

Obviously, I came to the party a bit later than that. I remember stumbling across the show late one night, during school holidays when I was allowed to stay up late. Flicking around the cable channels, I alighted on Sky One which was showing The Late Show on a one-day delay from its US broadcast. I was hooked by the absurd humour, the Stupid Pet Tricks and the Top Ten Lists, and ended up watching it every night.

It’s a shame that no channel here in the UK carries the show any more. It bounced around for a few years – it went to Paramount Comedy, then ITV2, then ITV4, then DivaTV (no, me neither) – but it’s been absent for a while. You’d think out of all of the 6 million channels clogging up the Sky EPG, one of them could find room for the Late Show. It still generates newsworthy moments, such as during Hurricane Sandy, when Letterman did the show with no audience and handwritten captions held up by the show’s intern.

Fortunately there is a YouTube channel where recent clips are uploaded. Or you can relive the classics like How Many Guys In Bunny Suits Can Get Into H&R Block?

I’m genuinely sad to see David Letterman retire. Even though I can’t watch him every night, it was still nice to think that he was there. Stephen Colbert will take over in October, but it just won’t be the same.

Further reading:-

24th January 2010

I’m with CoCo
Posted by at 11.53am | Television | No responses

The late night talk show is a format which hasn’t really caught on in the UK the way it has in America. Sure, we get Graham Norton, Jonathan Ross and (shudder) Alan Carr once a week, but how many of these hosts could successfully do a show five nights a week, for 40 or so weeks a year? Not many, I’d suspect.

In America, the late night talk show has become something of a staple of many network schedules (Wikipedia helpfully summarises). It seems odd to us in the UK, where most TV channels give up after about 11.30pm and fling on old films or Pages from Ceefax to take insomniac viewers through the night. Across the pond however, some of these shows have become icons of popular culture, and that is especially true of NBC’s long-running Tonight Show. So when questions started being asked about Tonight’s future, it was headline news in the US.

I’m not going to go into detail about the controversy (the links in this post should satisfy any curiosity you have) but I want to highlight Conan O’Brien, the current host of the Tonight Show who is being forced out after just seven months on the job.

I first discovered Conan a few years ago when I stumbled across his previous show, Late Night, which was shown in the UK for many years as a weekend filler on the business news channel CNBC Europe. I quickly became enamoured with his absurdist style of humour, honed while writing some of the very best Simpsons episodes during that show’s glory years. The surrealism was elevated further by CNBC’s practice of showing stock market prices during the commercial breaks.

Unfortunately, Conan lost some of his edginess with a move to the more mainstream Tonight Show in 2009. Fortunately, there are some choice clips from his old show available on YouTube and I’ve posted a selection of them below.

Read the rest of this post »

22nd October 2007

That’s not a bit
Posted by at 1.15pm | Television | No responses

Some TV presenters are tied to the autocue and get completely lost when something unexpected happens. Here’s the exact opposite: Conan O’Brien, someone who’s at his best when things go awry.