The twentieth century format of the late-night television show and the seventeenth century violin are instruments of perfection. They cannot be improved. We owe them to Jack Paar (pictured left) and Antonio Stradivari.
The sofa, the desk, the live band, the dominance and mobility of the host, the interviews, the comedy, the enthusiastic live audience, the ritual openings and the sequential entrance of the guests, even the dramatic interruptions by the commercial breaks, all this, it can now be proclaimed unequivocally, has been firmly established and will continue in perpetuity. It is difficult to imagine that in Heaven and Hell it is being done differently.
True, it would be nice, for sanity’s sake, if the enthusiasm of the audience was curbed occasionally. Maybe it will be in a century or two. It is too much to ask that it has already happened as a result of Larry David’s HBO comedy series, Curb Your Enthusiasm.
You may have seen Jerry Seinfeld on the opening show of NBC’s attempt to transplant the Jay Leno show from the late night to prime time – an attempt to interfere with the natural order of things. This is unlikely to make history. If the evolution of the format has an end-point, the equivalent of homo sapiens, it would undoubtedly be The Late Show with David Letterman.
And no doubt Exhibit A would be the first appearance of an incumbent president of the United States on that show on September 21. Not the mere appearance but its gravitas – the magnificent use the President made of his time. If evidence was needed to demonstrate the triumph of the format, that was it. The gravity of the occasion throws a glowing light on all future offerings on the show.
And perhaps on other shows.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart occupies an extraordinary place in American television. It is a variant of the natural model since its purpose is parody rather than the traditional urbane but politically more neutral mix. Its political significance resembles that of the leftist Central European cabaret of the twenties and thirties.
On August 27, the Huffington Post speculated that the government’s documents on torture were released deliberately during a hiatus of the show. It preferred not to give ammunition to the program.
Heaven help President Obama if he ever loses the support of Jon Stewart.