David Letterman is set to retire from late night TV this month, and his departure means we will see the last of the great pre-90’s icons step aside. The business had long since changed, but Dave’s departure is the end of an era. What does his departure mean?
I’m actually not sure if Letterman was the last of the dinosaurs or the first of the new breed. While he did the monologue, interview, schticks that Carson, Parr, and Allen made the norm, he also originated some of the zanier skit moments that the YouTube influenced comics of today go to for their bread and butter.
Today, while the numbers are still healthy for late night and the networks derive a healthy profit from late night, how we view the content has changed from the days where people had sex with Johnny on in the background.
If Mr. Letterman represented an era when a late-night show was a comprehensive end-of-day viewing experience, meant to be watched in a post-twilight setting for an hour (or until you fell asleep), the coming age is fragmented by technology, designed for online virality, unstructured and unmoored from time slots.
“People are just plucking your greatest hits, without having to sit through the rest of the show,” Mr. Kimmel, 47, the ABC host, said. “There’s more focus on singles than on albums.”
Many of the classic trappings of late-night shows are still visible: opening monologues, house bands and desk-side celebrity chitchats. What is going away is the expectation viewers will watch these programs in close to their entirety, or even sequentially.
I can’t tell you when I last watched a late night program on my television. But I do know that I have looked at Colbert Memes, watched clips on Facebook of Jon Stewart taking down a blowhard, enjoyed Jimmy Kimmel $#*%ing Ben Affleck, or looked over Ryan’s shoulder at work to see Jimmy Fallon impersonate some aging crooner on a YouTube clip; and this is some of the funniest content I’ve ever seen.
While the world may lose the last connection to the charm of the old Tonight Show days where Johnny would have Charo, Jimmy Stewart, and Kenny G on the stage all at once with Dave’s exit, I think the world of comedy, whether viewed late night or own our phones, is in pretty good shape.