Red Flag Burn Ban Lifted
Mason County News
Weather Partly Cloudy 67.0°F (60%)
THE IDLE AMERICAN
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 • Posted March 10, 2010

Signing Off on Late-Night TV…

If memory serves, and often it doesn’t, the question was first posed to open TV newscasts. With piercing eyes and a facial expression as serious as a tax audit, the announcer slowly repeated these words: "It’s ten o’clock….Do you know where your children are?"

In those days, most parents smiled knowingly, confident that their answer was a no-brainer. "Of course we know, doofus. They’re tucked in bed, homework done and prayers said."

This TV question perhaps underscored a generational "hand-me-down" truism: "Nothing much good happens after 10 o’clock."…

* * * * *

I’m willing to loosen my conservative belt a half-notch on the 10 o’clock TV shut down. How about 10:30? That way, viewers with insatiable appetites for news can get a final dire dose.

After that, though, they’re on their own.

Late-night TV viewers are at amiable odds in what looms as a renewed clash between NBC’s Jay Leno and David Letterman of CBS. Whatever edge either may have claimed previously has been seriously blunted. Stated simply, they’ve both dealt loosely with free speech, inflicted much hurt, ignored propriety, and simply gotten off track as to what humor should be…..

* * * * *

The late Jack Paar would shake with shock to know of the air turned blue by the two late-night talk show behemoths.

Fifty years ago, he told the musty "w.c." joke. Maybe you remember it. A woman wrote a letter, inquiring about bathroom facilities at a resort. Embarrassed to write the words, she substituted the letters "w.c." to stand for "water closet." You know the rest—the resort owner thought she referenced "Wayside Chapel," and the double entendres began. NBC censors, feeling that viewers wouldn’t sit still for such an indiscretion, struck the segment from the monologue.

Paar, angered and disappointed, protested by resigning as the Tonight Show host the very next night, effectively ending his TV stardom. That was 1960; this is now….

* * * * *

By any measure, American values are on a much lower plane today, and it is "Katy bar the door" on about anything Letterman and Leno choose to say, including slams against each other. And their painting of network executives as buffoons is exceeded only by deposed Conan O’Brien, whose diatribes continued against his bosses even after he and his crew were granted $40 million to ease the pain of their dismissal.

Humor doesn’t have to be mean-spirited, sacrilegious or dirty. Remember the old-time stars of yesteryear? Names like Will Rogers, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Bob Hope and Johnny Carson come to mind. They richly entertained, long on humor and short on hurt….

* * * * *

A couple of years ago, my wife and I attended a taping of the Letterman Show in New York City. Seated a full hour before the show, we studied a "warm-up cheerleader" who urged us to applaud regularly throughout the show. "Mr. Letterman ‘feeds’ on audience response," he explained.

So, we did, despite Letterman’s seeming intent to "aw, shucks" our responses away with frequent retorts as "no, no, no" or "wait a minute."

Pad in hand, I was ready to jot down a joke or story that I considered worthy. Alas, an usher tapped me on the shoulder, instructing me to put the pad and pencil away. So I did, expecting that there’d be precious little noteworthy anyway….

* * * * *

This is not to say that there weren’t enjoyable moments. I think Letterman is a good interviewer.

I cringed regularly throughout the show, just as I do when watching it on the tube. I wonder when—or if—our culture might ever again embrace a gentler era.

Actually, the most fun at the taping session was buying a "Hello, Deli" sandwich from blank-faced Rupert, whose tiny eatery is around the corner from the Ed Sullivan Theater….

* * * * *

In a word, I’m pretty tired of prima donnas, and would settle for Olympic re-runs for several months in favor of ongoing verbal wars between Letterman and Leno. They diminish themselves and each other.

There’s a story going around that they’ll eventually make up, and maybe even co-author a book. The title: Humility and How We Alone Attained It.

During college days, I worked part-time at our local radio station. A control room sign, splashed with coffee, frayed and always askance, reminded: "God Save Us from Dead Air." In the case of both Tonight and The Late Show, dead air might often be preferable….

* * * * *

Dr. Newbury is a speaker and author in the Metroplex. Send inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

This article has been read 66 times.
Comments
Readers are solely responsible for the content of the comments they post here. Comments do not necessarily reflect the opinion or approval of Mason County News. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.
Comments powered by Disqus