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Late night TV’s return: The world is a better place 

For the past week and a half, I’ve reacquainted myself with an old friend — my TV set. We didn’t have much to catch up on — he told me about the latest Survivor winner; I told him about the wonderful outdoors (he was actually quite fascinated). Following the chit-chat, we got down to business ... I looked deeply into the tube’s sole, square eye and got my much needed dose of late-night TV shows. Although the WGA strike is still going strong, it hasn’t completely robbed the American public of their fair share of daily-recommended laughs.

Now that the late-night heavy hitters are back on TV, I wanted to see who would sink or float and — surprise, surprise — everyone seemed to have their head above water. I do admit I wanted to see Jay Leno go into panic mode and actually get a little loose (he and his other late-night counterparts Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel being sans-writers) — but he didn’t. Actually, his show seemed to flow as if no strike was occurring. He did, however, let down his guard a little last Thursday when he and wee-bitty eyes himself (Kimmel) went on as guests on each others’ shows and talked about the strike.

Meanwhile in New York, David Letterman was rockin’ his old-man beard, winning over A-list guests such as Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, and Tom Brokaw. The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (who I firmly believe is extremely underrated) ran better than ever; I’m not sure if it’s due to his Scottish-accent or his very ballsy approach to his first post-strike show, which featured him with no guests — just the usual monologue and sketches by Ferguson. (I think everyone should check out his show, even if it means slipping into work a little late the next morning.)

As for The Daily Show — scratch that — A Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report’s Stephen Colbert were forced to kick it into high-gear and writerlessly deliver the usual goods: hilarious one-liners and unforgettable segments (such as part one of Colbert’s National Treasure: Portrait of Stephen, which followed him to the Smithsonian Institution where he broke into dance to Prince’s “When Doves Cry”).

But moving on to the real talent, although Johnny Carson will forever be dubbed the King of Late Night, I’d like to nominate Conan O’Brien as the Irish Prince of Late Night; seriously give this man a mic and an empty room and he’ll make magic — he’s that good alone. Although critics panned him for devoting his time to random antics, he definitely knows how to please a crowd. “You can’t write a moment like this,” he said while climbing onto a catwalk, where he looked out over his studio audience. He broke into a guitar solo while his staffers played Rock Band — O’Brien actually busted out on his real guitar to Radiohead’s “Creep” — and my heart nearly exploded with delight.

Now I’m not quite sure when the strike will end, but I’m plenty pleased with the variety of late night talent on our screens each weeknight. I just hope that hosts are able to keep things fresh and interesting — but I’m mostly hoping that the WGA strikes a deal soon ... real soon. Or my TV set and I will be doing a lot more Survivor-related chatting. •

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October 21, 2020

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