Only one star has ever sparkled on late-night TV

MIKE LITTWIN

August 30, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

For me, the late-night war is over before it begins. Dave wins, Bud Melman or no Bud Melman. I don't care what the ratings say or who has the most clearance, whatever that is. As they say on MTV, Dave rules.

You want the top 10 reasons?

I'd love to give them to you, but I can't. NBC owns the Top-10 List and Pea Boy and Monkeycam and the other Davisms. The network calls them -- I swear this is true -- its "intellectual property" and will shoot anyone who trespasses.

This stance has come to be known in the trade as stupid NBC tricks. In fact, the word "stupid" has now been copyrighted by NBC and will be used exclusively to describe all the network's shows except "Seinfeld."

Besides, you know why Dave will win. He's funny. The other guys aren't. (Well, Chevy Chase was funny. It was sometime during 1976, and he may be funny again, if you want to wait for that tricentennial.)

tTC Dave is the funniest, hippest, coolest, Davest of all the guys in late-night history, dating back to Steve Allen, who, I'm told, basically started the whole business in the days when dinosaurs roamed the land and TV sets had knobs on them.

In preparation for tonight's return of Dave, which, if it were on NBC, would be called "The Stupid Return of Dave," I have ranked all the late-night hosts. If I left off one of your favorites -- say, Jerry Springer -- all I can say is you've been watching way too much tube.

1. Dave. He's back. New network, same bad hair. And since he can't use the "The World's Most Dangerous Band" anymore, it will be "Paul Schaffer and the CBS Orchestra." Not intellectual, but funny.

2. Johnny. Believe me, for the first 15 years, he was great. And no, I can't explain Ed either.

3. Gary Shandling as host of the mythical "Larry Sanders Show." It's on HBO, and I've seen it only twice, but two episodes of late-night spoofing had more laughs than three months of Arsenio.

4. Martin Mull on "Fernwood 2-Night." You had to be there. It was a '70s thing. In the reruns, he looks -- and sounds -- too much like Dan Quayle.

5. Steve Allen. Actually, I don't know if he was any good or not, but I read in my high school history book that he was.

6. Dick Cavett. He wasn't that funny, but this Nebraska intellect (that's a rare but wonderful thing) was there for smart people in the days before Ted Koppel.

7. Dennis Miller. He was too funny. His jokes were so hip even he didn't always get them. As an interviewer, he reminded me of Alan Thicke (see No. 18).

8. Tom Snyder. I can't help it. I liked him.

9. Jack Paar. Now, I was just a kid, but the great thing about watching Jack was that at any time you might get to see a nervous breakdown on the air.

10. Jay Leno. What happened here? You had this great comic -- really funny -- who is now not quite as exciting as the seniors golf tour. I've seen Al Gore give funnier monologues, and the guests -- tonight he has Garth Brooks -- are so middle-American most of them come out carrying pitchforks.

11. Jerry Lewis. Or was that a movie?

12. Whoopi! I don't understand her. You've got this energetic comedic talent, put her on a couch and it's the next best thing to Prozac.

13. Conan O'Brien. OK, we should give him a chance to actually start his show. But in the times he has been on air, I've seen funnier Harvard grads. In fact, right now I'd rate him ahead of Henry Kissinger but behind Zbigniew Brzezinski.

14. Joan Rivers. I like her better in the daytime. I don't watch TV in the daytime.

15. Arsenio. Woof? He could be hip. He's not. He could be funny. He's not. But he can smooch with a guest. Sample Arsenio question: I love you. I love you. I love you.

16. Joey Bishop. Made an entire career out of saying "son of a gun." Worse, introduced Regis Philbin to a national audience. I can never forgive him.

17. Pat Sajak. I'd rather listen to Vanna.

18. Alan Thicke. Alan Thicke?

19. Rick Dees. One critic said he was for people who thought Arsenio was too deep.

20. Merv Griffin. Yes, Merv had a late-night talk show. He sang. He told jokes. He went off the air.

21. Chevy Chase. Who thinks these things up? Does anyone think Chevy Chase is funny anymore? Why does he have this new show on Fox? He can't do stand-up. He's too old to do fall-down. Prediction: This cancellation waiting to

happen will be Jerry Ford's revenge.

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