The late night shows: first night back
If there's one thing that the return of the late night shows taught us it was this: late night hosts shouldn't grow beards.
Seriously, they just don't look good with hair on their faces. David Letterman looks like an old professor and Conan O'Brien looks like Gay Wolverine. I have a feeling that they'll both shed their beards by the end of the week (Letterman even hinted he might do it on the air). Let's hope so. As for the shows themselves, it was a mixed bag to say the least.
The Late Show with David Letterman: Did anyone else think that Letterman seemed ... drunk? Of course he wasn't. Maybe the beard just makes him seem old and tired. The show opened with dancers holding WGA strike signs and Letterman doing his monologue. Thankfully Robin Williams didn't open the show as was first reported (that duty went to Hillary Clinton, who blew her joke). Williams was the guest, and he was typical Williams. He couldn't just tell a story, he had to over-tell it, but he wasn't as bad as I've seen him in the past. The Top 10 List was a nice touch. They got writers from other shows (including The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien) to give a list of their strike demands. The worst part of the show was the "Know Your Staff" segment, which had a staff member of the show sit in the chair and get interviewed by Dave. The whole segment had the whiff of filler, even though Letterman's show is one of only two shows that came back with writers, so I'm not sure what this whole segment was about.
Jay Leno: Leno did a full monologue that he said he wrote with his wife Mavis. I'm still not sure how he can (or would want to) do this, since he's a WGA member and you'd think he wouldn't want to do an entire monologue of his own material. His attitude about the strike was odd, seemingly centered on himself, and too smirky, but it was rather funny and he got in a dig at Jeff Zucker. He actually mentioned Letterman and how he gets to come back with writers, but The Tonight Show is stuck as the underdog. They had filler too: a segment where he let audience members ask him anything. They also premiered the new Jib Jab video, which was a pretty clever look back at 2007 (though oddly didn't mention the strike). After that, it was back to business as usual, with an interview with Governor Mike Huckabee and other guests. The most annoying part of the show was the bug in the corner for the premiere of American Gladiators. Yeah NBC, we get it, it's coming back.
Jimmy Kimmel Live: Kimmel started the show from his desk with stories about his private life and what he did over the holidays. Out of all the late night hosts tonight, he was the most forceful in his support for the writers and his disagreement with the Screen Actor's Guild head, who recently said that stars shouldn't go on talk shows during the strike. He also spoke out against the writers at one point, saying they shouldn't be picketing people like Leno and O'Brien who paid their staffs during the strike and are caught in an odd position. He also said the studio wasn't as fun without the writers there, though it does smell better. After repeating a clip of Kermit The Frog talking with Uncle Frank (a segment run so writers can get residuals), the show settled back into the usual interviews, with guests Andy Dick, Helio Castroneves, and Kid Rock.
Late Night with Conan O'Brien: O'Brien is good at ad libbing, yet his opening was so-so at best, and he had the most nervous, most lame explanation of the writers strike. One of O'Brien's guests was standup comic Dwayne Perkins, and that got me thinking: the late night shows, the ones without writers anyway, would be smart to book some standups. They can bring their own material to the show and can act as a kind of substitute for the writing that would ordinarily be on the shows.
The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson: Ferguson took the most daring route of the night, deciding to go with zero guests and just do go it alone. The whole show was sort of like his monologue, only four times as long. He told stories about his past, talked about the strike a bit, read letters from viewers, had some quick visual gags as other characters, that sort of thing. I think that tomorrow he'll be back to the usual show (he has guests tomorrow night), and this was an interesting choice for the first night. Though I think you really have to like Ferguson and be a hardcore fan of the show to have appreciated it.