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Best TV of the '00s: Late Night Moments

by Isabelle Carreau, posted Jan 2nd 2010 1:01PM

Joaquim Phoenix on David Letterman
More of our best of the decade coverage, which started on Tuesday. You can read the other posts at the link above. Here, we talk about the funniest or most surprising late night moments of the last ten years.

In the past decade, late night shows continued to bloom in popularity. However, some of our favorite late night shows were shuffled around while some got new hosts.

No matter what network executives decided to do to the line up of US late night shows, their hosts and guest stars gave us plenty fantastic, OMG!, and WTF? moments that generated tons of watercooler talks and forum discussion threads.

Below are some of the best late night moments of the past decade as chosen by some of the TV Squad bloggers. We realize there are tough choices in this category, so we hope you'll add your own favorites in the comments section below.

Joaquin Phoenix on The Late Show

Bob says: David Letterman has had his share of, um, interesting guests over the years. Crispin Glover in the '80s, Farrah Fawcett in the '90s, and then Joaquin Phoenix in the '00s. I still don't know if this was or wasn't a put-on by Phoenix, some goofy performance art that he wanted to do for a while, but it was funny as hell. Not just the way he acted (and looked) but the way Letterman handled the interview. It was an instant classic.

The writers' strike "battle royal" between Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert

Joel says: When all the late night shows not produced by Worldwide Pants were forced to come back without their writers in the middle of the WGA strike, it took a lot of creativity to keep audiences engaged without looking like any of the material was written. O'Brien was especially ingenious, doing things like spinning his ring and climbing all over his studio. But it was the "feud" between O'Brien, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert -- over the seemingly mundane topic of who "made" then-Presidential-candidate Mike Huckabee -- that made the strike a little easier to take. They challenged each other and appeared on each others shows, and the final throwdown on Late Night was a comedy "fight" for the ages.

Annie says: As soon as talk show hosts were forced to come back on-air during the WGA strike, it was strange to watch them half-improvise their way through full shows. This moment really warmed my heart, and not just because Late Night, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report were all my favorite late night programs. O'Brien, Stewart and Colbert formed this feud from almost nothing and stretched it further than I ever would have expected, showing up on each others' shows to shout at each other and pretty much fill as much time as they could. It was amazing to see these three hosts support each other in such a ridiculous way, and we got some pretty sweet footage in the process (even the behind-the-scenes video is precious).

Arnold Schwarzenegger on The Tonight Show

John says: With California governor Gray Davis facing a recall vote, The Terminator turned into The Governator by announcing his candidacy in a surprise announcement alongside Jay Leno on August 6, 2003. Schwarzenegger won the election going away, but as he prepares to be termed out in 2010, California is a financial disaster and Arnold's approval ratings are sagging faster than his biceps.

Craig Ferguson takes over The Late Late Show from Craig Kilborn

Jason says: Out of nowhere, in 2005, former The Drew Carey Show star Craig Ferguson found himself the sole host of CBS's The Late Late Show. Since then he has managed to make hosting a late-night show on a shoestring budget into a daily work of art. He's rejected virtually all of the normal conventions of a talk show, and in doing so has become the most entertaining and compelling presence in late night.

His monologues are cohesive discussions, more like a well-thought-out comedy routine than the usual joke-punchline formula we've become used to. His interview style is unorthodox as well, rejecting a set list of questions and talking about whatever random topics he or his guest can come up with. As such, you come out of those moments really understanding the guest as a person rather than a plug machine for their latest project. 1,000 episodes in and finally in HD, Ferguson may be just now starting to get the recognition and praise he deserves for making the talk show, and puppets, fresh and unpredictable again (and yes, I'll say that even though he recycles bits over and over again to comic effect).

"Lazy Sunday" on Saturday Night Live

Joel says:
The SNL Digital Shorts were generally the most talked-about sketches on the show after they started airing in 2005, mostly thanks to Adam Samberg and his Lonely Island mates. You'd think that the hilarious "Dick in a Box" would be my favorite of all of them, but I vote for "Lazy Sunday," which was the second one ever aired? Why? Because the clip, where Samberg and Chris Parnell do a gangsta rap about going to see The Chronicles of Narnia and eating Red Vines, spread like wildfire on the internet after it aired, via a then-little-known site that played user-created videos.

Yep, I'm talking about YouTube. The video catapulted the site to its status today as one of the most popular on the web, and it put the notion of "going viral" in the minds of millions of people. The internet has never been the same since.

Ironically, the video is now very hard to find on YouTube due to copyright issues. So here it is from Hulu:

Craig's "MMMBop" intro on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson

Mike says:
It was a small moment, especially considering all of the decade defining moments on this list, but it was a great one. Craig Ferguson opened a recent show with a bizarre boogie session set to Hanson's "MMMBop." It reminded me that, unlike Jay Leno or Conan, the Scottish comedian operates on a wonderfully weird little world of his own invention. It's a world where giddy audience members in blonde wigs and some shabby-looking puppets can join the host onstage for some spontaneous silliness. Ferguson has turned The Late Late Show into his own fiercely kooky, rambling and hilarious public access program. And it's worth staying up for almost every night.

Robert Smigel and TriumphTriumph the Insult Comic Dog takes down the Star Wars nerds

Danny says
: The news was inescapable. Another Star Wars prequel was on its way to a bleary eyed movie projectionist near me and nothing short of a meeting with God's attorneys could stop me from hearing about it. Thank God for the genius of Robert Smigel and his little puppet alter-ego for stripping all the pomp and circumstance out of something that deserved less newspaper space than a Journey reunion tour. Triumph ventured to a line of eager Star Wars nerds waiting with heavy breath (possibly because most of them didn't have the physical stamina to stand longer than ten minutes without getting winded) and ripped them apart with the kind of awesome wit that could leave Winston Churchill at a loss for words.

Some of the punchlines he ripped are legendary from asking a Darth Vader impersonator which of the buttons on his control panel "calls your parents to pick you up" to his showdown with Lords of the Rings nerd Blackwolf the Dragonmaster whom he asked "Have you ever talked to a woman without having to give your credit card number?" Triumph was already a star on Conan O'Brien's old Late Night show but that sketch cemented his place in the annals of pop culture.

It also launched a whole other crowd of catch-phrase spewing nerds who still use those punchlines as often as Star Wars fans say "I've got a really bad feeling about this" at the slightest sign of discomfort, but every great pop culture moment comes with some collateral comedy damage.

David Letterman's confession on The Late Show with David Letterman

Brad says: This was only a recent event but Letterman turned both late night television and his own reputation on its ear when he confessed to sleeping with a staffer years earlier. Granted, he wasn't married then but Dave had always tried hard to keep a somewhat asexual image of himself. Unlike other celebrities that are revealed to have been having illicit sexual relations (*cough*cough*Tiger Woods*cough*cough*), he even turned the situation into a sympathetic one for himself by telling the audience on his own show and his own terms that he was being targeted for extortion. There are very few talk-show hosts (and very few people in general) that could turn that situation around with the smoothness and style of Letterman.

Jon Stewart vs. Jim Cramer on The Daily Show

Nick says: The Daily Show made light of this battle, and rightly so. When it comes down to it, it was just two cable TV show host arguing. But there was substance to the argument. Cramer and Stewart were both fairly gracious about the actual on-air appearance, but Stewart didn't back away from calling Cramer a snake oil salesman, showing clips to back it up. It didn't fix the market, it didn't stop the recession, but it was good television, and better than that, it was enlightening in some small way. The best case scenario is that it made people curious about something that matters.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Zack Morris on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Kona says: While Conan O'Brien has always been "the young guy" of Late Night, as someone who's under 30, I still see him as a different generation. Jimmy Fallon, on the other hand, has more of the same frame of reference that I do, which is why he's the only late night host who would ever try to stage a Saved By the Bell reunion. So when Mark-Paul Gosselaar came out on the stage in full Zack Morris regalia, it was like Christmas morning. You don't really notice it with his "serious actor" hair and big boy clothes, but Gosselaar has not aged a single second since that show went off the air-- and he can still wear acid wash and neon with a shocking amount of confidence.

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the concept was really very interesting, such blogs contain a lot to read.

November 05 2011 at 5:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That was really a weird episode. Looking back I wonder if Letterman was in on it. http://usedmotorhomestraveltrailersforsale.com

June 04 2011 at 9:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jessica Simpson Boot

I think Joquin was totally stoned on that show. http://clinirect.com Just my opinion.

February 26 2010 at 8:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tony DIMeo

Once again the jackasses at TV squad resist to mention the genius of Irreverent host and stand -up comic Bill Maher who made seemingly treasonous comments first on Politically Incorrect in the first 2 years of the decade then on the more sophisticated "Real Time" where he lashed out at both our decades' presidents. But he still gets no respect from the TV critics who would rather see a guy make fun of the people asking questions to people in power than a guy who actually asks tough questions about people in power. How is the fake dumb crap that Jon Stewart does any smarter or better than what Bill has been doing for almost 2 decades in his important tv shows and Stand up specials??????????

February 25 2010 at 5:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks for recognizing Craig. He's brought late night talk tv to life for me. I don't just kill time watching his show, I try to pry my eyes open to stay awake for it.

January 04 2010 at 11:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jessica Simpson Boot

Phoenix is definitely out there. He walks to a beat of a different drummer. http://clinirect.com

January 04 2010 at 9:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

An awful lot of these moments seem to have happened in the last year - Joaquin Pheonix, Dave's sex "scandal," Craig's musical adventures, Stewart vs. Cramer...

I definitely would have put Dave's return after 9/11 up there, as mentioned - even if it was his monologue alone.

January 04 2010 at 6:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Eric's comment

I agree that too many of these came from the last year. Did nothing happen in late night from 2000-2007? Seems like lazy researching to me.

January 04 2010 at 11:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

giddy audience members in blonde wigs? lulz. those people work on the show and do every musical opening with craig! audience members is nice idea though. that would be freaking hilarious to watch people dance.

January 03 2010 at 9:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I believe that this is from 2000. If so, then it's my vote for the funniest Triumph moment- when he attended a Bon Jovi concert in New Jersey. (The Star Wars bit being my second favorite...) If it was earlier, then please forgive the mistake, and disregard my choice. Here's the link.


January 02 2010 at 10:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to brooke's comment

I'd never seen that... thank you much for posting it! I'm glad to see that more people than just me hate Bon Jovi. I'm also surprised to see that supposedly straight men go to their horrid concerts.

January 03 2010 at 8:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jay Adler

You have to imagine my frustration in evaluating the late night talk show hosts of today when I had nothing to worry about as a viewer of Steve Allen, Jack Parr, Johnny Carson who was the main man, Jay Leno in his prime. For me, the only classic, ultra quick witted and brilliant Late Night Host is Dave Letterman. I am not very fond of Dave but I watch him because I think he is authentic. He is on an arrogance of power trip and showed no remorse as he still ridicules Sarah Palin every night. The unpleasant matter he was recently involved in has run it's course. NBC looks like a change and Fergueson is also brilliant as you must be in that job however I do not see longevity in that slot for him.

January 02 2010 at 8:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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