Superfluous 7 Favorite Late Night Television Hosts

It feels appropriate to piggyback on recent themes and complete somewhat of a trilogy. First I rated my all-time favorite stand-up comedians. Then, upon the retirement of the venerable David Letterman I bid a melancholy happy trails to my childhood of the 1980’s. And now I shall close the circle by pontificating about late night talk show hosts.

I’ve always been a night owl, even as a child. My mother knew that one of the best ways to punish me when I’d been mischievous was to send me to bed super early. I had a set bedtime on weeknights anyway, but making me go to bed an hour or two early was akin to what a modern youngster might feel like if they had their iPod taken away or their game console privileges restricted. It was as if I was afraid I was going to miss something. I don’t know why some folks are nocturnal while others are early risers. I am sure there is some sort of scientific explanation, but long ago I just decided to go with the flow and embrace who I am. I feel energetic & creative when most of the world is fast asleep. The vast majority of the things citizens of The Manoverse read here are produced after midnight. When combined with my affection for laughter and predilection for comedy over drama the affinity for late night talk shows makes much sense. So I thought it might be fun to discuss the hosts of these shows. The guys whose names are on the marquee. The engine that makes each program go and largely determines its success. I have my preferences, and if you like late night TV as much as me I am sure you have yours. Maybe we agree…maybe we don’t. But with all the darkness & misery in the world it is atleast a casual & pleasurable topic to ponder. Therefore, may I present…..




from the home office in Ha Ha Bay, Newfoundland, Canada…..




The Superfluous 7 Favorite Late Night Television Hosts:


7 Craig Ferguson
I will always regret that I was late to the Ferguson party. I was somewhat familiar with him cffrom The Drew Carey Show in which he played Carey’s boss Mr. Wick from 1996-2004. When he took over CBS’ Late Late Show in 2005 my 12:30am allegiance had long been with Conan O’Brien’s Late Night program on NBC and my memories of Mr. Wick & The Drew Carey Show were hardly fond enough for me to switch things up. I’m either loyal or stubborn & inflexible…you decide. At any rate, it wasn’t until I quickly became bored with Seth Meyers’ incarnation of NBC’s Late Night franchise in the winter of 2014 that I decided to give Ferguson a whirl. Sadly, just a few weeks later, he announced that he’d be leaving the show by the end of that year. Though I only had about 9 months with Ferguson I thoroughly enjoyed that time. It is likely that had I began watching him a few years earlier or he’d not abdicated his throne as the clown prince of late night TV that he’d rate much higher on this list. To call Ferguson irreverent would be inaccurate, because I always felt that he had a deep respect for his job, his guests, & the audience. However, like a quarterback who uses his playbook only as a general outline but mostly improvises, Craig Ferguson kind of made up his own rules. His monologue was always an extemporaneous stream of consciousness. Usually fun, sometimes serious, always sincere. His sidekick was an animatronic robot skeleton named Geoff Peterson (voiced by gifted impressionist Josh Thompson). He ripped up whatever kind of notes he had about his guests and ad-libbed interviews, making them more like a genuine conversation between two real people. There was no house band. It is almost impossible for me to accurately describe Ferguson’s show. Like other gentlemen we’ll be discussing one watched Ferguson’s program for the talent & charm of the host…the guests were almost unnecessary. Supposedly Ferguson had decided to leave the show before news of Letterman’s retirement was announced. Maybe that is true. Maybe he is the restless type, a vagabond who doesn’t like to stay in one place too long and yearns for new challenges & adventures. However, I think it is very possible that he felt disrespected when the idea of him moving to 11:30pm was almost immediately dismissed. Whatever the truth may be, the fact is that the late night landscape is less interesting without Craig Ferguson, and I hope that maybe one day he might get the itch…and the opportunity…for a welcome comeback.


6 The Jimmys – Fallon & Kimmel
Guess what folks…you better either love these guys or learn to like them as much as possible because they are likely to be the foundation of late night television for possibly the next 20-30 years.

I first became familiar with Kimmel in the late 1990’s when he hosted both Win Ben Stein’s jkMoney and The Man Show on Comedy Central. He’s a natural for late night TV. One can tell that he grew up a fan of Letterman and emulates him in a kinder, gentler way. Unfortunately ABC painted his show into a corner from the very beginning, airing it at midnight for its first decade of existence due to misguided & outdated loyalty to Nightline. ABC corrected their error a few years ago, but it’s put Kimmel behind the proverbial eight ball, as if he’s ten years behind and perpetually trying to catch up. Jimmy Kimmel Live!, despite its name, doesn’t air live anymore but that’s no big deal since neither does anything else. In the early days Kimmel used to have a bar in the studio and various celebrities would be his “guest co-host”. I recall Snoop Dogg getting plastered on live television one night, which was hysterical. Mostly the show follows the standard late night outline, although certain elements are individually underwhelming. Cleto, the bandleader, and Guillermo, the sidekick, are both forgettable. Jimmy’s Uncle Frank was the show’s security guard & sidekick until his death a few years ago and he is missed. Kimmel is sardonically affable, and that what has kept the show afloat. There still seems to be something missing, but it’s a solid alternative that may yet gain momentum and become the go to show in late night.

Fallon, obviously, gained fame from his stint on SNL and starred in a few movies. He took jfover NBC’s Late Night franchise for about 5 years and it was awesome. The host himself is genial & engaging, and at 12:30am his comedic sensibilities were spot on. Sidekick Steve Higgins is sneaky talented…a more versatile Ed McMahon. I’ve never been a huge fan of house band The Roots, atleast partially because I don’t understand why they are introduced as “legendary” when I’d never heard of them previous to Late Night, but they are talented and good at what they do. I love Fallon’s Friday night staple “Thank You Notes”, and at 12:30 audience participation games like “Models & Buckets” & “Dance Your Hat & Gloves Off” were goofy fun. He has his finger on the pulse of pop culture and effectively utilizes social media, which is a double edge sword. Millenials and people like myself who atleast try to keep up with the times enjoy the humor, but older folks my father’s age don’t connect with it at all. I was excited when Fallon took over the Tonight Show more than a year ago, but my delight quickly soured. At 11:30 Jimmy comes across as annoyingly enthusiastic and somewhat narcissistic. While many games & comedy bits on Late Night were silly, harmless entertainment, on the Tonight Show they often seem juvenile, forced, & not all that funny. I can’t imagine that celebrities who are there to promote a movie, book, album, or TV show really want to participate in such childish activities. Having said all that, just like his counterpart this Jimmy has time to modulate and find a more stable formula, although I may be the only one pining for such an adjustment since the show’s ratings and Fallon’s popularity are thru the roof and probably will continue to grow with less competition for the next few months.



5 Bob Costas
Yes, that Bob Costas…the one who has been a foundation of sports broadcasting for three bcdecades. From 1988-94 he hosted a show that aired for 30 minutes at 1:30am on NBC and that I ranked 18th amongst my 50 Favorite TV Shows of all time. There was no monologue. No jokes. No sidekick. No comedy bits. No house band. It was just Costas doing a cozy one-on-one interview with a single guest…and it rocked. The host himself was always engaging, articulate, & attentive, and if the guest was interesting that was icing on the cake. The show was occasionally mesmerizing and almost always compelling. Studies have shown that night owls are intelligent & creative, so, while on the surface it may seem like any show is doomed to fail at 1:30 in the morning, the truth is that this kind of program, when packaged correctly, is a fantastic solution. It’s a unique departure from the typical late night menu and a format whose return is much needed. There are only so many jokes to go around and a plethora of options to be entertained in that manner. We have comedy shows. We have “infotainment” like Entertainment Tonight and Extra. We have cooking & lifestyle shows. ESPN has a full lineup sports talk shows. We have mind numbing stupidity like Maury Povich, The View, & whatever poor NFL Hall-of-Famer Michael Strahan is forced to endure with the tiresome Kelly Ripa every morning. I wouldn’t mind a bit if someone would revive this show so I could once again look forward to something cool every night.



4 Jay Leno
The whole Leno thing is sort of complex. Things got off to a bad start for him when Johnny jlCarson retired in 1992 and NBC couldn’t decide who should get the Tonight Show gig. Leno ultimately got the job, but lost supporters along the way. It didn’t help when a book called The Late Shift was published in 1994 and exposed just how insecure & desperate he had been about keeping the job. And then after nearly two decades of solidly entertaining the masses Jay was dumped after a 5 year transition plan that the knuckleheads at NBC had to have been drunk to even fathom might work. Why would you replace a guy that had been winning the ratings?? To keep Conan O’Brien?? Really?? Anyway, once again Leno came out looking bad after eventually “taking back” the Tonight Show instead of doing what he should’ve done…tell NBC to shove it and walk away, likely right into a new show on Fox or in syndication. On top of these controversies Jay Leno was often criticized as being lame & old-fashioned. That criticism isn’t necessarily invalid, but I think it’s a bit harsh. He certainly never pushed the envelope and rarely did anything wacky. I think in his mind the Tonight Show had been successful for many years and he wasn’t going to even try to re-invent the wheel. He believed that the formula that had worked in the 70’s & 80’s would still work. Did it?? The ratings seemed to indicate that it did, but you’d probably have no problem finding folks who will claim fervently that Leno sucked. His monologue was topical and often political, although I thought he was usually even-handed, especially in comparison to his competition. He had been a successful stand-up comic so obviously it was a strength. I thoroughly enjoyed “Headlines” on Monday nights, but there are those who will cite the bit as a prime example of Leno being old & out-of-touch since newspapers had become archaic, while the aforementioned Fallon was making copious use of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. Over the years he made hay with big news stories like the OJ Simpson trial & the Hugh Grant hookerpalooza. His interviews were solid. I understand why NBC chose Jay Leno in 1992. He was a fun, comfortable, approachable, safe presence at 11:30pm…just like his predecessor. Society may have developed a thirst for edgier, more rebellious entertainment, but there is still a place for laid-back, pleasant, old school amusement. Leno gave us that. People may not really miss him all that much, but we’re fortunate that he filled a void as well as he did for as long as he did.



3 Tom Snyder
God I miss Tom Snyder. He was The Man!! I was too young to have caught him on Tomorrow, a show that aired on NBC at 1am on weeknights TS2throughout the 1970’s. Apparently he also had a program on CNBC in the early 90’s, but I believe I was still a drunken frat boy at the time. At any rate, I became familiar with Snyder when he hosted the inaugural incarnation of the Late Late Show at 12:30am on CBS in the mid-90’s. It still ticks me off that some genius at CBS thought it was a good idea to replace Snyder with former ESPN snarkmaster Craig Kilborn in 1999. What drive-thru is Kilborn manning these days?? Is he still alive?? Does anyone care?? Snyder’s Late Late Show was a one-on-one conversation much like Costas’ Later, but the hosts couldn’t be more different. When I did my 50 Favorite TV Shows a few years back, I ranked Later 18th and Snyder’s Late Late Show 25th. In retrospect I believe I might reverse that simply because Tom Snyder was such a matchless presence on the TV screen. He had a deep, resonant voice and a smoky, infectious laugh. He had the gravitas that comes with decades spent as a radio & television reporter, but didn’t seem to take himself too seriously. He could conduct a thoughtful interview or relax & have fun…sometimes both within the same hour. Snyder was the kind of guy that one suspects drank & smoked a bit too much in his down time, but he came from an era when that was acceptable, even cool…not the politically correct, health conscious, information obsessed, afraid of everything 21st century. Snyder had no sidekick or house band. He’d just banter with unseen beings, presumably producers & directors of the program. He’d slyly encourage the audience to enjoy a beverage while watching/listening, calling the theoretical drink a colortini or simultini (because the show was simulcast on radio & TV). And he would tell stories. Tom Snyder had been around. He knew people. He’d done things & went places. I could have listened to him laugh & tell stories for hours. The dude could have done a boxed set of CDs filled with him simply talking, chuckling, & telling stories and 15 years after he left the air I’d still be listening to them. Thank goodness for YouTube.



2 David Letterman
I don’t know what else I can say about Letterman that I haven’t already said. His tenure in late dlnight television can be neatly divided into two periods…the decade he spent at the helm of NBC’s Late Night and the two decades+ that he hosted CBS’s Late Show. The NBC years were fresh, innovative, & funny. The CBS years can be further divided, with the first half being a slightly more mature yet just as amusing version of what Letterman had accomplished at NBC, and the latter half being somewhat stale comfort food tinged with cynicism and bereft of the originality that had made the host a star. Early Letterman was groundbreaking, must-see TV (if I may borrow a phrase), and old Letterman, even though he was resting on his laurels & coasting to the finish line on fumes, was still better than most of his peers. Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back I think that NBC probably made a mistake all those years ago. Dave probably should have gotten the Tonight Show, and Leno could have been rewarded with the 12:30 show. How would late night have looked if that’d happened?? The obvious casualty would have been Conan O’Brien, who’d probably still be a comedy writer for various TV shows. I would have been okay with that…no great loss. CBS & ABC would probably still have ended up getting into the late night game eventually, and guys like Fallon & Kimmel probably would have ended up with hosting gigs somewhere. But the 1-2 punch of Letterman & Leno on NBC could have been a juggernaut thru the 90’s and into the 21st century. Ahhh what might have been.



1 Johnny Carson
The undisputed King of Late Night. Unmatched. Unchallenged. Oh there were people that jctried…Chevy Chase, Joan Rivers, Arsenio Hall, Pat Sajak. They all failed. Television was different during Carson’s reign. There were fewer channels. Nothing aired 24/7. Obviously we didn’t have The Internet. It is fair to say that Johnny had little legitimate competition and ponder whether he’d be as successful now. However, that’s probably an unfair question. Almost everything…music, television, clothing, technology…is a product of its time. Very few things are timeless. Letterman wouldn’t have clicked had he came onto the scene a decade earlier. Leno, accused of being obsolete & unfunny by some, might have been considered edgy & daring if he’d been center stage in the 80’s. Half of Fallon’s shtick revolves around ideas that weren’t even around in the 90’s. It’s all relative. Johnny Carson was the right man with the best job at the exact time in history that happened to be a perfect fit. He was 2/3 of the way thru his run on the Tonight Show by the time I became a fan. I never sensed the weariness in him that seemed to hinder Letterman’s stretch run, but then again I don’t recollect the early years that would enable a comparison. All I know is that throughout my childhood, through high school, & into college Johnny Carson was as much a part of Americana as fast cars, mac & cheese, rock n’ roll, and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Other late night hosts have come & gone. Several are still plugging away, doing their best to make us laugh every night after the local news. But Carson is the measuring stick, the gold standard. He always has been and likely always will be.

The Night The 80’s Died

People can be divided along many different lines. Black & white. Male & female. Catholic & protestant. Left brain & right brain. Morning people & night owls.


I’ve always been a night owl, hence an affection for late night television, my admiration for which I have written about a few times here over the years.


letterman2Less than 24 hours ago David Letterman aired his final episode of The Late Show on CBS. Now I have been hard on ol’ Dave the past several years, but there comes a time when one needs to lay down the sword and express respect. That time is now.


I was never an outdoorsy kid. Due to my disability my hobbies were always more sedentary, which means I became a bookworm and watched too much TV until The Internet came along. Now I read books, spend far too many hours online, & still watch too much TV. I used to feel guilty about that, like maybe I should be spending my time more wisely. That’s probably true, but as my father is fond of saying, if I haven’t made my first million by now it is unlikely that it’s going to happen, so I offer no apologies for the choices I make, including my preferences in entertainment. I am a flawed human being just like everyone else. If you are willing to overlook my imperfection and still want to be my friend then you are more than welcome.


My parents always made me go to bed at a reasonable hour on school nights, which is good because otherwise I have a feeling my academic success would have been…well…nonexistent. But I got to stay up later on the weekends, and watching Johnny Carson on Friday night was always a treat. His monologue was funny, and oftentimes he carsonwould do a comedy sketch with The Mighty Carson Art Players. Then he would interview guests, usually celebrities promoting a book or movie. A lot of standup comics appeared on The Tonight Show, and an “okay” sign or an invitation over to the couch from Carson had the power to launch a comedian’s career into the stratosphere. It was an entertaining show that did its job…it put a smile on peoples’ face as they ended a long day and prepared to go to sleep. However, Carson’s show was somewhat methodic. Don’t misunderstand…it was great…but it was kind of like going to a restaurant whose menu rarely changes. Satisfying, comfortable, and safe.


And then in 1982 NBC decided to add another hour of late night television. David Letterman came along and not only challenged the status quo, he pretty much tossed the rulebook into the garbage.


daveSome of that “rebellion” was dictated by others, including Carson. He didn’t want Late Night with David Letterman to just be a copy of The Tonight Show. For example, Letterman was not permitted to have a sidekick like Ed McMahon. The band couldn’t have a horn section similar to that of Doc Severinsen’s Tonight Show Orchestra. The monologue had to be shorter & less “newsy” so as to not mirror Carson’s staple opening. There were restrictions on guests…basically Carson had dibs on old school Hollywood types. Both NBC & Carson Productions wanted Letterman to focus on tickling the notoriously sophomoric funny bones of younger guys since The Tonight Show had the older demographic locked in. It seems as if Dave was perfectly fine with all of this, and the result was a fresh, funny, irreverent twist on the established late night television blueprint. It delivered the 20something male demo but also appealed to a wider audience.


msjLetterman, in comparison to what had preceded him, came budacross as kind of nutty…in a good way. Sure he interviewed big stars about their movies, TV shows, books, & albums (that’s what we used to call CDs & digital downloads kids), but he also traveled way outside the box. He included his staff in his skits and involved people in the neighborhood. He made minor celebrities out of folks like Meg at Simon & Schuster, a young publicist that Dave would call on the phone for a chat occasionally, and who he would have do silly things like drop water balloons from her office window. After he moved to CBS he found Mujibur & Sirajul, two immigrants from Bangaladesh who worked at a small knick-knack store near the Ed Sullivan Theater. Dave once sent them trekking across the USA doing various goofy things with random citizens. And of course there is Dorothy Megering, aka Dave’s mother, who made annual appearances via satellite from her Indiana home so biffthat her son could guess what kind of pie she was dotbaking for Thanksgiving. He also sent Mom to the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, as a special correspondent, which is absolutely hilarious. There were so many other “real” people that Letterman utilized in great comedy bits. Rupert Jee of the nearby Hello Deli. Stage manager Biff Henderson. Announcer Alan Kalter. Calvert DeForest, aka Larry “Bud” Melman. Intern Stephanie Birkitt.


suitUnlike most talk shows where we watch for the guests, people watched Late Night and its successor The Late Show for the host. Personally I would have been fine with him never interviewing any celebrities. The stuff that Dave did himself was way better. He did crazy stunts like drop objects off the roof of the building or run over something in the street with a steamroller. He would have a bunch of people dress in costume as Santa Claus or Batman and one by one send them into a coffee shop to see how long it would take for folks to notice. He would work the drive-thru at a fast food joint and mess with customers. One of my all-time favorite moments came in the mid-90’s when Letterman spent pettricksa day in Los Angeles driving around in a convertible filled with tacos. There were absurd audience participation games like “Know Your Cuts of Meat” & “Will It Float??”. And of course there were trademarks of the show like Viewer Mail, Stupid Pet Tricks, & the nightly Top Ten List.


paulI would be remiss if I didn’t give a tip of the cap to Paul Shaffer as well. He had spent the late 70’s as part of Saturday Night Live’s band and was a member of the original Blues Brothers band that grew from an SNL skit to a feature film but also did actual concerts as well. He was with Letterman every step of the way the past three decades as bandleader of The World’s Most Dangerous Band and its successor The CBS Orchestra. Dave’s original blueprint may not have included a traditional sidekick, but as fate would have it Shaffer became just that. His role as a musical virtuoso certainly helped the energy of the show and undoubtedly helped attract many of the fantastic bands that made appearances. However his participation as “Ed McMahon 2.0” should not be overlooked.


After the tragic events of 9/11/2001 and Dave’s own health crisis a couple of years later things dave2changed. Letterman changed. He not only transformed into the status quo of which he’d always been the antithesis, his humor became more topical…more political. The young, hip, irreverent man became a rancorous, disdainful, disenchanted curmudgeon. Oh there were still some highlights, but most of the time it felt like when a pro athlete finally gets the BIG payday and then never quite performs as well as he used to. To be honest David Letterman probably should have walked away 8 or 10 years ago. However, even though I hadn’t watched him regularly for the past few years, now that he is gone I am kind of sad.


I remember when Johnny Carson retired. His penultimate show featured Bette Midler & Robin Williams, and the finale was just Johnny sitting on a stool, center stage, reminiscing. I hated to see him go, but I was 20 years old. I didn’t understand loss. I didn’t appreciate the passage of time. I liked Jay Leno, and we still had Letterman. I was in college. All was right with the world despite Carson’s retirement.


dave3Two decades have passed. I am in my 40’s. I am all too familiar with loss and the rapid passage of time. It’s only a TV show, and one that I haven’t even been all that fond of in recent years, but it was a small reminder of an era. It was a last remaining link to the 1980’s. My childhood. My boyhood home. My hometown. My family. I likely would have waxed nostalgic about Carson upon his departure had I access to this forum back then, but it still would have been different. Johnny Carson had been around for years before I was even born. He had grey hair by the time I started watching him. But I grew up with David Letterman. I was there at the birth of his late night television fiefdom. I witnessed him evolve into an entertainment icon. I laughed at his jokes & stupidity. And now it’s over. 33 years gone like a puff of smoke. Fallon, Kimmel, Conan, & others will continue to try to make us laugh late at night before we go to bed. And maybe someday, in 2 or 3 decades when those guys retire, I’ll feel just as wistful as I do now…but I doubt it. It is just as likely that, at long last, I will begin my own transformation into a cantankerous old geezer and be in bed way before 11:30pm. more & more often.

Random Thoughts 1

  • Have you ever noticed that when you are trying to be the most quiet is when you are apt to make the most noise??
  • I’m usually a BIG sucker for the underdog unless one of my favorite teams (Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Marshall Thundering Herd, WV Mountaineers) are playing. But for some reason I get immense pleasure out of seeing the greatest golfer in the world, Tiger Woods, kick ass and take names.
  • When someone uses terms like “that’s crazy” or “that’s wild” or the 70’s term “far out” during a conversation, it basically means they’ve tuned you out and no longer have any interest in what you’re saying.
  • It’s funny how George W. Bush was CRUCIFIED for not reacting fast enough to Hurricane Katrina but NO ONE is criticizing Hussein Obama for not sending in the cavalry to save Fargo. I guess there aren’t enough minorities in the Dakotas.
  • An early opinion of Jimmy Fallon’s late night talk show  –  Ehhhh…’s okay. He’s pleasant enough. It’s certainly not must see TV. But let us remember, Conan O’Brien really sucked when he first started but eventually found his comfort zone. Besides, what does one expect at 12:30 at night, Shakespeare??
  • I really like root beer.
  • The NCAA basketball tournament hasn’t really frosted my cupcake this year.
  • I don’t care what political party you support or what your opinion is on various issues…if the government taking over private businesses like General Motors or forcing private citizens to give back earned bonus moneys like in the case of AIG doesn’t scare the living daylights out of you then you’re crazy.