overthinking the idiot box

January 30, 2006

What do late-night hosts from Carson to Conan have in common, beyond suits and good looks? Well, at some point they all say...

Play me to the desk
An Open Letter to the Executives in Charge of NBC's Late Night Programming

by Mike Celestino

Dear Sirs,

However, it occurred to me recently that in the coming shake-up of the late night community, one of its funniest and most consistent contributors might end up getting the shaft.
I would first like to extend my heartfelt congratulations on over four decades of late-night superiority, ratings-wise if not always in quality. However, it occurred to me recently that in the coming shake-up of the late night community, one of its funniest and most consistent contributors might end up getting the shaft. As a semi-loyal viewer I'd like to do what I can to help avoid all that.

As you well know, we are less than four years away from Jay Leno's retirement as host of the Tonight Show and from Conan O'Brien's subsequent and well-deserved claiming of that particular throne. And as a friend pointed out to me recently, it appears as though Carson Daly, host of your current 1:30 AM weeknight offering Last Call, may be in the preening stages as a potential replacement for Conan on the long-running Late Night. I am writing this because this would be the greatest mistake of them all.

Seriously, dude. NOT FUNNY.
Here's the problem: Carson Daly is not funny. Period. You can hire him all the hip new writers you want, who will in turn give him funny things to say, but he's just not a funny person. I'm sure he knows a good deal about the music business and I bet he gets along okay with many of his celebrity guests, but beyond that the man is not fit to fill the shoes of Mr. O'Brien, or Mr. Letterman before him, for that matter. Late Night now has a long and untarnished history of irreverent, smart-alecky, absurdist humor, something that Carson Daly knows absolutely nothing about. His is not the self-effacing yet sharp-witted personality type to continue that dynasty and the shame of handing that job to him would forever echo through the halls of Studio 6A as nothing short of a travesty.

This guy? Funny.
So now that Late Night needs a host, I would like to recommend someone who has plenty of experience both on that particular show and elsewhere in the comedy world as one of the sharpest, most innovative writers around: Robert Smigel. Besides serving as Late Night with Conan O'Brien's head writer in its fledgling seasons and creating some of its most memorable characters (such as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog), Smigel has also been a member of Saturday Night Live's writing staff since 1985. He wrote for and was a cast member of the short-lived and vastly underrated Dana Carvey Show, not to mention his own similarly-fated Comedy Central series TV Funhouse. If you're worried about his on-screen persona, check out his acting chops in pretty much every Adam Sandler movie ever made, or his hilarious performances as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Don King and almost every other character in Conan's recurring "Clutch Cargo" segment on Late Night.

Now you may be asking yourselves, "Does Smigel even want the job?" The answer is: I don't know. I do know, however, that Lorne Michaels wants him to have it, and that should probably be enough for you, considering Lorne's track record for hand-picking SNL writers to become talk show hosts.

So there you have it, enough said. You hold in your decision-making hands the power to continue one of the greatest comedic traditions of the last century, or to flush that all down the toilet by inviting a glib, overconfident ex-VJ to inherit the most sought-after position in the late-night hierarchy. It's really up to you. Sincerely, Mike

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