No sleep lost over late-night wars LTC

Kevin Cowherd

September 01, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

The term I keep hearing is . . . hold on a sec, just saw it in the paper . . . "late-night wars," which apparently refers to the battle for ratings between Dave, Jay, Arsenio, Chevy, Conan and any other poor fool they trot out for the cameras after 11 p.m.

The term is strangely riveting. Late-night wars! It conjures up images of David Letterman in full camouflage gear scrambling into a foxhole while lobbing hand-grenades at Jay Leno; a sneering Conan O'Brien strafing Chevy Chase in an F-10 Tomcat while screaming "Die, die, die!"; Arsenio clenching a dagger between his teeth and rappeling down the set of "Nightline" with a platoon of Navy Seals.

Then again, with $675 million in advertising revenue at stake, I can see where the late-night contenders could quickly move from the we-welcome-the-competition stage to the you-evil-pig-I'll-hack-your-head-off-with-a-machete stage.

In any event, I was intrigued enough to down five cups of strong coffee the other night in order to stay up for the debut of Letterman's new show on CBS.

This took tremendous willpower (not to mention enormous quantities of caffeine), as I am totally unaccustomed to staying up late.

Hey, why bother? With little or no social life, few friends, an occasionally moody wife and sullen children, there is little reason to stay up much past 9:30 or so.

There are so many nights where I sit alone in the darkness, weeping softly, a handkerchief balled up in one hand as . . . well, you have your own problems. You certainly don't need to hear mine.

As for Letterman's new show, it was pretty good -- at least the parts I was able to watch. Quite frankly, by 11:30 all the caffeine pumping through my system was making me very jittery.

I found it extremely difficult to concentrate, and so took to sprinting around the living room for 20 minutes or so.

Then I did 200 sit-ups, 50 push-ups, a little light vacuuming and changed the transmission fluid on my wife's Subaru (ran the car right up on the rear deck).

But the parts of Letterman that I did see seemed very clever. Dave was his usual self: cool, sardonic, so far ahead of the competition as to be laughable.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but comparing Letterman's show to the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" is like comparing Harvard to nursery school. Then again, as I mentioned, I was sort of twisted on coffee and might be reading this whole thing wrong.

One major change in Letterman's new show is that it now originates from the historic Ed Sullivan Theater in New York.

This is the venue where poker-faced variety show czar Ed Sullivan introduced such acts as Elvis and the Beatles while looking like he (Ed we're talking about) just hopped off an autopsy table.

Of course, Ed Sullivan brought a lot of pain into this world, too.

This, after all, was the man who introduced us to Topo Gigio, the most annoying mouse in the world, with a squeaky, gooey voice that would make Barney the dinosaur sound like Walter Cronkite.

Sullivan also felt compelled to bring us a host of other, ahem, entertainers whose talents seemed to center on the ability to work with small dogs while simultaneously keeping four plates spinning on sticks.

Getting back to this "late-night wars" business, next week marks the late-night debut of Chevy Chase, who was last thought to be funny sometime during the Truman administration.

Look, how many times can you watch Chevy do a pratfall or one of those tired Weekend Update routines before grabbing the remote and clicking to a "Who's the Boss?" re-run?

Besides, at 11 at night, speeding around the house with four or five cups of Folgers under your belt, Tony Danza starts to look like Sir Laurence Olivier. You don't even notice the Brooklyn accent.

I don't know . . . in a couple of months, we could be thinking of Chevy Chase as the new Rick Dees, whose late-night show lasted approximately five minutes before it was canceled.

Then in two weeks, 30-year-old whiz kid Conan O'Brien debuts on NBC. Here's a bad sign, though: O'Brien reportedly wants one of his guests to be -- you might want to sit down for this -- Don Adams of the old "Get Smart" series, which indicates his humor might run toward middle-aged men who make goofy faces and pretend to talk into their shoes.

Still, it's comforting to think that Chase and O'Brien will be joining the rich, late-night legacy that includes such memorable hosts as Dennis Miller, Ron Reagan and Pat Sajak, who, in terms of generating pure excitement on stage, made Rick Dees look like Mick Jagger.

Not that it matters to me. I don't stay up late anymore.

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