HOW WOULD YOU DO THE OSCARS?

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It was February 2005 when I watched the 77th Academy Awards hosted by Chris Rock. That’s the last great Oscars telecast I remember. It was a gradual thing Jon Stewart took over the following year and it wasn’t as good but that was alright because Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg hadn’t been as good as Billy Crystal right? As time dragged on though, and more ceremonies occurred I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Oscars just didn’t measure up the same away anymore. If I look back over the past few years there’s always bits and pieces I love from all of them but always something lacking. The host sucks, the host was the only good thing, not enough skits, the skits sucked, the speeches were boring, the people accepting were played off by the orchestra before they could start. I would not be surprised either if I popped in a tape of a show that I remember as praiseworthy from the 1990s to find its no worse or better than the ones we see today. The thing I can’t shake though is that at some point the Oscars got scared, it rushed itself not allowing time for individual moments to breathe and organically occur and it worried about getting viewers in rather than celebrating its own community. It would be too easy to pick apart the high pressure work performed by dozens of professionals on a grand stage in front of a worldwide audience. Therefore I thought it would be interesting to put forward some ideas of my own and inevitably celebrate that which has worked in the past.

The Host

Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal are the Kings of Oscar hosting. This year the television networks have allocated their respective late night hosts to the Awards Show they’re broadcasting, CBS gave James Corden the Grammys, NBC slotted in Jimmy Fallon for the Golden Globes and so ABC have given Jimmy Kimmel the Oscars. Kimmel is edgy, very LA and approaching gravitas that comes with long term tenure. There’s a hope he will shake up things but there was a similar hope when Seth McFarlane was named to host and we know how that turned out. Choosing a late night talk show host makes sense given Carson’s reign at the gig but Carson was lightning in a bottle, Image result for the academy awards johnny carsona superb comic performer, movie star good looking with average folks appeal in his Nebraskan sensibility. Jon Stewart did this twice with only middling success, my favourite David Letterman bombed big time with his snark going over like a lead balloon with the celebrities on their night of nights, Fallon the current king of late night looked intimidated at the Globes earlier this year leaving basically day time host Ellen DeGeneres as the best since Carson – and her Emmy Hosting gigs were far superior to her Oscar ones. I’d love to see Samantha Bee and Jon Oliver tear the place down and I think James Corden actually could do a real good job but I would be looking at a stand-up comic more than a talk show personality to be named host.

A few big hitters include Jerry Seinfeld (he’s so big and established he wouldn’t be afraid to push people around but maybe is too much of an outsider), Louis C.K. (same thing but again outsider) Aziz Ansari (too TV maybe go with Emmys or Golden Globes for him first) and Amy Schumer.Image result for AMY schumer award shows Schumer is hip and cool, not an old white guy, has a hit movie and would take aim and fire at some of the absurdities of Hollywood. Would be more than happy to see her have a go but I can’t help but think that a funny Hollywood comic superstar would be a good choice. Crystal, Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg have all had their go. You know who never did? Who has the gravitas, the comic chops and was king of the box office for a bit. Eddie Murphy. Now I know Eddie hasn’t been a big deal in a while but a few years ago he was announced to host with Brett Ratner producing, then Brett said dumb shit and had to pull out and Eddie stood by his friend and withdrew too. Related imageBut Eddie can deliver if he has a good writing team behind him because I believe this sincerely, people would like to see a comeback from that kid who did Delirious. The monologue should be solid, few have been bad in the past few years (Franco and Hathaway I’m looking at you) and as a former stand- up he should be able to spot opportunities when they come up. My favourite hosts of the past decade are easily Tina Fey and Amy Poehler doing the Golden Globes three years in a row but they don’t seem interested and others like Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell and Kristen Wiig only seem interested in doing presentation skits in awards shows rather than the whole thing. By the way look for Key and Peele to host Oscars soon, they’re good comedians and solid actors in their own right and I find it hard to believe the Academy hasn’t already asked them at least once.

The Opening

In 1996 a landmark occurred when Billy Crystal returned after Letterman bombed. It had been a couple of years since he hosted and he was missed. He was inserted into old movies as himself and that year’s nominees. Letterman even showed he was a good sport and showed up in it to mock his failure from the previous year. It feels more played out these days but when done well it never really gets old. Hell even Anne Hathaway and James Franco had some good bits in one such skit. Last year there was an amazing opening montage, easily the best from the past decade that Oscar has done. It displayed moments from the nominees, blockbusters and everything in between; themed around personal perseverance in a day it brought tears to my eyes with its empathy and hopefulness. It does mean however that if the AMPAS want to they can go big this year, one year they had Cirque du Soleil perform up in the rafters. Maybe it’s time to go big again Academy. Imagine Eddie or Amy inserted in Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Fences or Arrival.

The Presentations

If you look back over the years there are always at least a couple of good presentations. Some from really good actors being given funny lines and some from some of the funniest people we have working in Hollywood.

Ben Stiller, the aforementioned Wigg, Ferrel, Fey, Poehler, Steve Martin, and it would be great to see them all back doing their thing. It probably doesn’t get more moving than Christopher Reeve in his wheelchair after the riding accident. Sometimes there can be real quirkiness in the choices, one year a sound effects choir introduced those categories. R2D2, C3PO and BB-8 came out last year. However not everybody has to have a bit, some can wax lyrical about cinematography “The camera allows us to see ourselves like we’ve seen ourselves before – looking like Ryan Gosling.” or something like that and then get off the stage. It would be nice if before presenting the nominees for technical awards like sound editing, sound effects editing to remind the nominees that there’s five of you and nobody gives a shit about your arse cause you ain’t famous so you know you got five seconds each. Thank your wife and then let your buddies thank their wives. Because if you want to get laid tonight you better thank your wife if you win. If there are any female nominees in the technical categories don’t worry, your husband will not hold out having sex with you if you don’t thank him. You get back to the hotel room and he’d be like I can’t believe it, I gave you twenty two years of my life, supported you in your career, helped raise the kids and you couldn’t remember my name in front of a billion people. I am so upset, I’m not having sex with you tonight…..oh you’re wearing those stockings. Never mind. And this is why you really are running the world. But seriously male or female nominees either nominate one person or let everybody thank everybody real quick. If one person in your group is shy or boring, they’re out. There can be no room for weak links. You have got 30 seconds. Actually that’s not true, Harvey Weinstein has 30 seconds, and a special effects supervisor has 12 seconds. If you’re ugly you got 10! So that’s two seconds for each of you!

Sketch Bits

In the old days this might have been a montage of animal performers before Mike Myers hurriedly grabbed the envelope off a grumpy Bart the Bear. These days it will have Neil Patrick Harris re-enact Birdman’s famous scene in his tighty whities or have Ellen DeGeneres get pizza for the stars in their million dollar frocks.

Nothing wrong with that, it’s the growing trendy of daggy celebrities done so well by Fallon. I believe the host should remain present throughout the rest of the evening but more of less reacting to what’s going on. I got a long night planned anyway.

Montages

Hollywood used to do the best montages and then a few years ago the kids on YouTube started doing it better. The day after a tribute to James Bond was done at the Oscars, better online contributions went viral. Jon Stewart even joked one year that the whole show was montages. Yet done well they elevate the whole thing, one year they brought performers on stage to perform a raft of best songs from previous decades and it linked you to previous generations. This year I would suggest two major montages. One saluting women of cinema, given the range of strong female performances this year it would be neat and also relevant given current cultural dialogue about gender politics. Hidden Figures for example taps into this in a big way. Imagine iconic moments from Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Bette Davis, Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Liv Ullman, Mary Tyler Moore, Lilly Tomlin, Noomi Rapace, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Sally Field, Whoopi Goldberg, Hattie McDaniel, Ginger Rogers, Lauren Bacall, Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster, Jane Fonda, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Sigourney Weaver, Emma Thompson, Cher, Charlize Theron, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Amy Adams, Felicity Jones, Cate Blanchett, etc.

The second would be long overdue, the work of stunt performers. There’s been a push for at least the past decade for them to get their own Oscar category and maybe this would be a step in the right direction of proper recognition. Sure practical stunts are being replaced by CGI since the heyday of the 70s and 80s but there is still plenty of stunt work being performed and a montage could show the classic stunts we all know and love with behind the scenes footage giving these men and women their day in the sun. There are plenty of stories too. Rick Sylvester’s Union Jack Parachute Ski Jump from The Spy Who Loved Me, Image result for movie stunts Jophery Brown’s bus jump from Speed “ If I’d been directly in the driver’s suit it probably would have broken my back”, Image result for movie stuntsBud Elkins driving that motorcycle over the border fence in The Great Escape, Zoe Bell on the hood of that Dodge Challenger in Death Proof, Related imageVic Armstrong’s work as Indiana Jones, Heidi Moneymaker’s work as Black Widow, Bill Hickman stunt driving in The French Connection, stuntwoman Lila Finn who doubled for Vivien Leigh and Donna Reed right through to doing work on Robocop 2, Yakima Canutt who pulled off that famous stunt in Stagecoach. Image result for yakima canuttAnyway the list goes on. The montage could include personal anecdotes about their injuries, close calls, relationship with stars they double for or love of the job. Perhaps mention of some stuntmen and stuntwomen who died doing what they loved. To introduce this montage get an actor who is noted for doing some of their own stunts, Burt Reynolds, Keanu Reeves, Tom Cruise if you believe the hype, and Johansson who trains phenomenally hard in her role as Black Widow often doing more interesting stunt work than her male co-stars in The Avengers movies. Maybe the most perfect choice would be Jackie Chan.

Song Performances

Most song performances have been strong over the years, something as intimate as Dolly Parton singing Travelin’ Thru, to Beyoncé and Idina Menzel giving sterling performances right through to moving pieces as Lady Gaga was joined on stage by real sexual assault survivors performing Til It Happens To You. The energy of Everything is Awesome to the power of Glory. As a template, you could see the potential from this year’s best song nominees. Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling is idiotic but kind of catchy. Hopefully they’ll avoid trying to get the crowd involved with a bunch of middle aged actors looking uncomfortable although it would be worth it if Harrison Ford ended up punching Timberlake in the face – hey we can dream. Still it is an up-tempo number and if you put a bunch of kids there on stage enjoying it my cold heart will melt.

Superstar Sting showing up to sing Empty Chair with the lights dimmed and a montage of reporters lost in the field would be particularly moving. Don’t even say the clip was of all reporters lost doing their job until after the clip too. Not everybody is going to know it’s from the critically lauded documentary Jim about the sadly deceased correspondent James Foley. Audition (The Fools Who Dream) needs a big performance from a big star, Beyoncé, Gaga, somebody of that calibre. Maybe a Broadway star the film community doesn’t know. Think Idina or Kristen Chenoweth before everybody knew who they were. The big production number should go to How I’ll Go from Moana and come early in the piece in case any kids are still up. Lots of lights, moving props and dancers with Auli’i Cravalho singing her heart out.

Which leaves us with City of Stars; this should be sung by Emma Stone and Gosling at piano with their innate chemistry while dancers recreate scenes from the film in the background. The power of the ending should be recreated in this on stage performance. Think Eugene Levy’s wonderful touching of Catherine O’Hara’s cheek at the end of performing A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow in character or the heartfelt singing of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova doing Falling Slowly.

Speeches

Look there’s no denying we want to hear Emma Stone more than who won Best Film Editing speak and so she’ll be given more time. That is fair enough, but give the editor 30 seconds and if it looks like they’re wrapping up soon let it go. They might be about to tell you that their parent recently fought cancer. This can’t be stated enough, some of the most heartfelt and best moments of Oscars past are the speeches that were allowed to just happen in the moment. Don’t terrify people; let them tell their story at a moment of personal triumph. If after 30 seconds they’re bombing jokes or boring us nobody is going to have a problem if the music starts to kick in a little. Hell the recipient will probably thank you even. But stop apologising for the length of the telecast, this is your community you’re celebrating and the people tuning in aren’t just interested in the next blockbuster to pack their kids away in air conditioning for two hours, they’re cinephiles and they’re digging this as much as footy fans dig the halftime commentary.

Honorary Oscars

I know this is never going to happen, The Governors ball allows AMPAS to honour at least 3 recipients a year, focuses an evening more on just a few awardees and takes away the pressure of a live television audience but we’ve lost something with not handing out these Oscars on Oscar night.

Peter O’Toole, Sidney Lumet, Blake Edwards, Robert Altman, Clint Eastwood, Kirk Douglas, Deborah Kerr, Ennio Morricone, Michelangelo Antonioni. These were some of the lifetime achievement awards handed out in the years I started watching. Films like Bronco Billy and Honkytonk Man got on my radar because of Eastwood’s montage for the Irving G. Thalberg award. Who amongst us didn’t have tears in our eyes when Kirk Douglas made a speech having prepared endlessly for it following a stroke.

Michael standing with his brothers in the stands just a proud son. Deborah Kerr years after retiring flown over from the other side of the Atlantic who simply said “I’m amongst friends.” Anybody know who Michelangelo Antonioni is? He’s an Italian film director who I doubt I have seen the films of but I also doubt I have not seen the films influenced by his work. Oscars always echoed the ghosts of the past, gave a sense of community amongst this sea of celebrity that these rich pricks really just wanted to tell good stories and that the past was never forgotten. As a film buff my first awareness of so many classics came from Oscar ceremonies that remembered and championed work from the past as well as the present. A good choice for a foreign director of lauded classics now would be Wim Wenders who has influenced a whole generation of filmmakers. After ruining the perfect symmetry of Sly Stallone winning the Oscar for Creed last year it’s probably time to give him an Honourary Oscar but maybe some kids out there know who he is. They won’t know who Gene Hackman is; imagine a montage of his work on Oscar night followed by him making his first public appearance in close to a decade. The crowd would go ballistic!Image result for gene hackman oscarAl Pacino, Warren Beatty, Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman, Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, Frances McDormand are all potential presenters. Traditionally Honourary Oscars go to those who haven’t won in competition but to see Gene I’d just about do anything and if some young film buff out there notices his work and is inspired to watch The Conversation or Missippi Burning the way I was to watch Bronco Billy or Serpico then that’s a goal scored.

Well they’re just some thoughts, any pet peeves or treasured moments you have from previous Oscars or any things you would suggest for the broadcast. Whatever happens next Monday, I’ll be tuning in, judging the fashion with my wife and mother, texting my best friend during the ad breaks in another part of the country long into the evening about who won and who missed out. Maybe the ceremonies since 2004 haven’t been that bad, maybe the ones before weren’t that great. It doesn’t matter; it’s Hollywood’s night of nights and mine too.

-Lloyd Marken

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JAMES CORDEN WINS THE LATE NIGHT SUPERBOWL SPECIAL

Post Super Bowl programming deserves sports parlance as much as anything and in the case of CBS this year you could describe it as Stephen Colbert fumbled a great opportunity and James Corden showed up to play.

Late Night Talk Show Hosts are cults of personalities. Always have been. Johnny Carson the story goes turned to a young producer once about a show he was about to start. The producer had been explaining the skits, the formula, the guests, the production values. When the producer was done Carson leaned in and told him “These shows are all about the guy behind the desk.” They are and I can tell you this because without my guys Craig Ferguson and David Letterman the genre has held less appeal this past year. All that remain are talented entertainers but they’re not Craig Ferguson and David Letterman and so I have not felt compelled to write about them. Where I live and with the technology I have I semi-regularly catch whole shows of Stephen Colbert, James Corden and Jimmy Fallon. I chase down viral bits from Conan, Kimmel and Meyers on YouTube. Alas I’m not catching anything from Comedy Central because “I’m an overseas viewer.” Their loss or mine? Who knows in this social media driven culture. What I see I like and champion.

Jimmy Kimmel

I love Mean Tweets, Halloween pranks not so much. Kimmel general does well with his celebrity interviews and can engage politicians well enough. For example his opening up of Harrison Ford with a Chewbacca recurring bit is gold, Jimmy’s search for Austin’s Best BBQ which parodied The Bachelor was neat too. The stuff with Matt Damon is brilliant too even if the peak was that clip with Sarah Silverman all those years ago now.

Conan O’Brien

Coco’s ratings scores have been as low as 300,000 viewers during the low season and he has never crested a million on a regular night in years. Yet a little Cuban special snagged two million viewers taking in DVR recordings after the telecast last year. Relegated to TBS O’Brien has a social media presence and a youthful demographic that belies his years. He is the epitome of punching above his weight. Kids watching him now may not even know about the Leno fiasco of ’09 but they know about Uber, Tinder and Grinder, Ride Along with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, Call of Duty, Archer, Magic Mike XXL and crucially they know funny and Conan O’Brien remains as funny as he has ever been. At 53 he is out doing remotes when Letterman was sending Biff Henderson and Rupert Jee into the fray. His cultural reach far exceeds his real numbers. Sure some of the interviews are boring, sure sometimes the monologue is lame. Who cares? This man shows up to work again and again and rather than coasting on old NBC bits he’s been reinventing himself for a new generation. GO COCO!

Jimmy Fallon

Fallon is King and moment to moment I doubt there’s anybody funnier that’s why he regularly rates higher than his competitors. You tune in for Trump on Colbert. You watch Fallon no matter who’s appearing because Fallon is appearing. His monologues actually make me laugh; he has an easy rapport with his house band The Roots which amongst being bonafide musicians all have unique personalities which are comfortable to get involved in sketches and on the spot riffing. It’s true they’ve had six years to get this down pat but they’re running like a well-oiled machine at this point. The question remains when will we get tired of this routine. Will Fallon ever mature into the statesman Carson and Letterman became? Does it really matter? Jimmy Fallon has no edge, so what? Late last year he asked a question of Trump who replied “These were not the question we agreed to.” In this simple gesture he made Jimmy Fallon more badass than any question he was going to ask would have made him. He once turned to Hilary Clinton and asked “Why don’t you release the e-mails? I’m sick of hearing about it, aren’t you?” and she agreed. He asked the question and he put it in terms that were on most American’s minds. Frustratingly they just moved on but that is not to say Fallon is a push over. He has actually been very steadfast that he wants to make a fun show and he wants his guests to have fun on his show like everybody else. You can tell Fallon’s politics as clearly as Colbert but like Conan O’Brien his show is not about politics but about having fun. As long as that is happening I don’t think he’s going anywhere. Can he be the fun guy for multiple generations? Can he do dance offs with the next pop sensation when he’s 55 or will it lose something when it isn’t a peer like Justin Timberlake? Time will tell but the man is incredibly talented, hardworking and he has the most entertaining show on late night television consistently. However short the reign he has not been a flash in the pan. He is the current King of Late Night Television. Fact.

 

Stephen Colbert

Colbert is booking CEOs, civil rights leaders and journalists in a way nobody else on network late night television is. This is classic counter programming which won’t place him in No.1 but will hopefully snag enough of a high income audience to justify his existence. The thinking person’s alternative though lost to Kimmel and Meyers throughout the month of December and those guys provide some of what he is selling to audiences as well. That makes it tricky. Plus nobody really bitches about Meyers lack of viralness because his lead in from Fallon makes him the highest rated in his timeslot by a country mile. The Colbert Report was so good for so long that we took for granted what an upheaval a new show would be. Colbert a former improve actor could sing and dance, his quick wit and intelligence was undeniable, his interviews in his old persona were actually really insightful and on top of it all he had a youthful openness, a yearning to ask questions and find answers rather than accuse and demean. Yet The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has been rife with teething problems of any first year out program. Jon Batiste is a talented musician and Colbert and he appear to genuinely like the other but chemistry comes from a variety of factors and right now… they don’t have it. Joe Biden’s interview on Colbert was a gift that reminds us what a great television moment of authenticity can be. A man clearly laying bare his emotions in a public forum without anything to gain from it as it turned out since he didn’t end up running.

I like a lot of the sketches Colbert has established written by his clever writers like “A Big Furry Hat” and even more so “Big Thoughts with even Bigger Stars.” Yet Colbert’s celebrity interviews are often as awkward as Fallon’s ass-kissing routine where everyone is so great and so funny. An easy rapport with Chris Pine and Josh Brolin recently had me questioning why can’t all Colbert interviews be like that?  This may not be entirely fair for someone who just renovated a theatre on Broadway and has big numbers in it but Colbert doesn’t seem to do remotes. Neither does Fallon to an extent but you feel it with Colbert. The guy is busting his ass, dabbling in live shows and doing five nights a week but when you take a break six weeks after your debut it feels lazy.

Which brings us to the Superbowl.

CBS took the unprecedented step of following their Super Bowl 50 coverage with a live telecast of their late night programs The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Late Late Show with James Corden. The Late Show started strong with a monologue that involved him throwing the football to first soldiers overseas, an astronaut and then the President. It’s the kind of extra expense stuff you save for such shows which also tugs at the heart strings of Americana. Support the troops, we can reach outer space and our Commander in Chief enjoys a throw of the ole pigskin as much as we all do. It got even better when Colbert involved in some meta humour. The President pointed out he was in a pre-taped bit to which the host insisted he was doing the show live. President Obama proved his point by bringing Colbert onscreen in the bit to talk to his live studio self. It was a neat sketch and was true to Stephen’s comic sensibilities.

Unfortunately the rest of the show was not as strong at all. Colbert followed with an interview with Tina Fey and Margot Robbie that was average despite Fey usually being funny. It was awkwardly interrupted by a cross to the Super Bowl stadium to have a satellite interview with MVP winner Von Miller. When it concluded Fey joked “Now about this movie.” Will Ferrell followed with a neat joke about being a new animal expert for the show and refusing to talk about Zoolander 2 which he was there to spruik. Yet I couldn’t help but flashback to his lip sync battle with Kevin Hart last year on Fallon and just feel these were half measures. A popular sketch from Key and Poole related to football also made an appearance before finally Megyn Kelly showed up to engage Colbert in the type of interview that he’s good at but at that point the hour had drawn near. 22,000,000 viewers watched this fucking show. Two decades ago at the height of his powers with a four network landscape and a Winter Olympics lead in David Letterman mustered 14 million on a weeknight. Last year when he retired he pulled 13.7 million. You’ll never get 22 million again, this was a golden opportunity to draw a wide net and grab some extra casual viewers over the long haul to hopefully remain a viable competitor. To be fair it wasn’t for lack of tyring, Key and Poole, Fey and Ferrell are all comedy superstars and were well chosen. They referenced football, they got the President and the First Lady to show up and Megyn Kelly is a high profile reporter and brings an audience that doesn’t tune into Colbert. It was the kind of aisle crossing inclusivity the late show host has practiced since he booked Jeb Bush on his first night on CBS. Yet it didn’t flow seamlessly, it was a mess of ideas and priorities. Look here’s celebrities but we’ve got to cross to an actual footballer. Here’s a sketch from another show because it involves football which means it will be fifty minutes before I talk to Megyn Kelly which arguably is going to be the best bit but will not be funny and we need to be funny right?

James Corden On The Other Hand

The Late Late Show followed and scored a franchise high of 5 million which is impressive when you consider some affiliates were going with local news at that point after cutting Colbert’s last few minutes. So let’s talk about James Corden. James Corden a portly British television and theatre star has spent twelve months on his show embracing American culture including kicking a half time field goal at a local game and hanging out at a tailgate party.

As a result when he got engaged with elements of the Super Bowl for his show it seemed more authentic and he more comfortable. Unlike Fallon and like Colbert he stayed in his home town and his home theatre but he did send his parents down to the Super Bowl to report from the field which was surprisingly funny and a little moving. Their son has been successful in the arts for a while now but in their bits there is a touch of grounded people marvelling at the opportunities afforded them and a wicked unfiltered sense of humour about life in general. James Corden had a great gag putting all Denver Bronco supporters in his studio and leaving Carolina Panther supporters in the car park where they set up rain machines to pour water on them before making it snow in L.A. Crossing back later in the show to show them huddled in ponchos he offered snacks for them punching through corn chips and dip through the rain machines. It is humour with a bit of bite but then the Bud Light crew showed up for the Panther fans and all was well. Corden was due to interview Peyton Manning but instead his bandleader Reggie Watts played a big musical number throughout before they lost the satellite feed. It’s a re-occurring gag they’ve done before and shows that Corden is prepared to be the butt of jokes as much as Panther fans. Referencing nostalgia like a boss James also starred in a parody of a classic Super Bowl advertisement with original star Cindy Crawford. Finally two strong bits that Corden does were brought into the show. He roped in young and hip performers Anna Kendrick, Adam Devine and Zac Effron to go through every sports movie in 7 minutes. It was a bigger scale version of the silly, low tech and funny sketch that has met with some success for him before. You know?! Kind of what you’re supposed to do with a post Super Bowl audience.

Following this formula he did a similar thing with his signature sketch- he did Carpool Karaoke with Elton John. This part of the show referenced nothing about the Super Bowl but it was Corden’s superstar sketch with a major superstar in it for his biggest audience ever. That’s how you do it. By organically filling the rest of the show with football the Elton John bit did not need it and since Carpool Karaoke is such a signature Corden bit its inclusion did not feel awkward or out of place either in the Super Bowl special. Speaking of Carpool Karaoke, a recent one with Adele has hit 67,000,000 views on YouTube. That’s more than anything on YouTube from any late night TV show. The Late Late Show with James Corden is not perfect but I marvel sometimes at it. It has a spirit of fun, has established its own identity within weeks of airing for the first time, Corden’s chemistry with Reggie Watts is easy and Watts is not a sidekick but his own thing. One night I tuned in and James Corden and Tori Kelly went out to restaurants in a remote and sang for their supper. Working outside the studio with a shaky premise and uncertain of how crowds are going to react makes for exciting if awkward television. As it advanced Reggie’s house band came out and Tori Kelly got people up and dancing to her song Nobody Love. The punch line made me smile.

Zoologist Jack Hanna of Letterman fame showed up with Betty White a great animal lover along with Amar’e Soudemire. Rachel Platten closed with a powerful rendition of her pop hit Stand By You. My God it was fun!

 

-Lloyd Marken

When Legends Retire: David Letterman

David Letterman announces that he will be retiring from the LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN on the broadcast tonight, Thursday, April 3 (11:35pm-12:37am, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS ©2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved
David Letterman announces that he will be retiring from the LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN on the broadcast tonight, Thursday, April 3 (11:35pm-12:37am, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS ©2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

When legends retire, you stand up and you applaud. For the past month of shows the audience in the Ed Sullivan Theatre have been rising to their feet as David Letterman walks out to do his monologue at the beginning of what are to be the last episodes of The Late Show with him at the helm. The monologues are not the strong suit of the show and five minutes later only one good guffaw may have been unleashed. Still they are on their feet clapping. Most likely not for the monologue or even the show to come. Most likely not for the guests on that night. Possibly not even when things are going particularly well. No they’re rising to their feet and giving a standing ovation for over 6,000 shows over 33 years. A lifetime of memories that Letterman gave us from a lifetime of work. They’ve come from around the country, most are long-time fans, and they’ve paid money, booked tickets and waited outside. They haven’t done this for nothing. They’ve done this because they want to see the man in the arena either one last time or for the first time because one more times are fast running out. A pilgrimage to let the man know it mattered, what you did mattered and we are grateful. Part of this is nostalgia and sentiment for time passing. Would we have appreciated him signing on for another year of not being Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel? But the outpouring of love and reminiscing runs deeper.

Letterman’s origins come from so long ago we kind of take for granted how much he changed the comedy landscape. Tenure gives you respectability as Letterman has pointed out adamant that he is no Johnny Carson but Judd Apatow, the two Jimmies, Conan, Jon Stewart, Ray Romano, Stephen Colbert to name a few have cited the importance of how 80s Late Night show changed everything. The hyperbole of the moment includes Late Night television will never be the same. You hear laments about how talk has left the genre of talk shows. So it’s important to remember in September there is going to be a lot of buzz devoted to Colbert’s arrival as the second ever host of The Late Show and the ensuing interest to see if Fallon can stay No.1 and if Fallon remains king what will this mean for all the new players.

Time marches on and the world continues to turn. In a moment as we all get misty eyed about Dave and his achievements it’s easy to forget sometimes that he’s been a little lazy in recent years, a little a bit of a prick to people who didn’t deserve it, a little too awkward around young starlets. So why the love? Seriously is it all for the revolution that was Late Night in the 1980s? I mean why didn’t Jay Leno get this much press last year? Seriously he didn’t. 22 years at the top in the ratings, far nicer to people and probably on average funnier moment to moment than his rival. Partly this was due to the fact that Leno had gone away before and come back but also because critics have never loved Leno as much as Letterman.

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Maybe it’s because Letterman is 33 years of Late Night, the last link to an age when Johnny Carson was still on the air. Conan O’Brien has become the elder statesmen and he is only has 11 years to go to match Dave’s record, Kimmel has 20 years, Colbert has 20 and Fallon has 27 years to go. Although television as we know it going to be around in 2022 let alone 2042. They might make it and hell if any goes with 20 or 25 in the bank it will deserve our recognition. However this is about more than longevity. It’s about more than all that the gap toothed youngster did in the 1980s. All this love is about Dave.

I’ve been watching David Letterman since 2001; I was a university student living in public housing in Australia with a TV and five channels. In the middle of the night if you didn’t want to watch Tony Robbins infomercials The Late Show was it. This was before torrents. Before YouTube. Before cheap DVDs. I had seen Jay Leno on my parent’s cable and thought he was funnier and nicer. Kevin Eubanks seemed more hip than Paul Schaeffer and the bigger stars seemed to be on Leno but this was nothing else on so I watched. Then something funny happened. One night I was over at my parents place and I asked my siblings to turn the channel over to him at the allotted time. They didn’t get it. They mocked it but that’s when I knew, I was a fan.

Was dropping random objects in a giant water tank mesmerising television? No it was not. As sexy and talented as a grinder girl was I don’t think I needed to see her that many times or hula-hoops lady either but stagehands Pat and Kenny reading Oprah transcripts –that never got old.

Alan talking sexy to the camera. Love it.

When Biff yelled out at a jogger with a bullhorn “You’re going to die anyway.” While passing by in a car I laughed so hard.

Letterman himself played over and over a clip from a Gap Jeans commercial just because he liked the girl in it. Given at the time he was 30 years her senior that is perhaps a little leery for today but it spoke to my youthful hormones and on some level you knew Jay wasn’t doing stuff like this. Dave was the rebel and as the years ticked away that became why I loved him. When you think about some of his best interviews some of the ones that immediately come to mind were distinctly unpleasant. Letterman would milk the awkward tension and unpleasant vibe for all it was worth.

A personal favourite was Paris Hilton coming on the show after her time in jail.

I’ve seen the clips of Cher, Madonna, Andy Kaufmann and Harmony Korinne from before my viewing time as well. They’re all solid gold as well as any number I watched live with Bill O’Reilly though they have mellowed around each other somewhat.

Regis Philbin who was an unknown to me here in Australia has been on the show more than anybody else for a reason. Some of the best shows Dave had were with Regis. Just two old guys on a couch arguing like an old married couple. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFx3n6DSD9E

But other interviews I’ve loved with Letterman had nothing to do with awkward pauses and glib putdowns. If Dave has become known for openly showing disinterest in the parade of young stars with repetitive products to shill he has become the go to guy for former Presidents, current politicians, war heroes and journalists to be interviewed by.

Some of the celebrity ones have been stellar.

I’m not interested in pointing the finger at younger rivals and complaining that they can’t do this. The Dave of Late Night couldn’t have brought gravitas like the Dave of now. They can grow into it just like he did.
Yet Dave does bring something only he can. I don’t know if it’s the Midwest in him or his interest in wordplay but there’s something deeply unique and profoundly simple in the some of the way he talks about things. On Robin Williams he described his comedy force arriving at the Comedy store in comparison to the other comedians. “We’re like morning dew and he comes in like a hurricane.” When jousting with Bill O’Reilly “You’re putting words in my mouth just like you put artificial facts in your head.” Or when returning to the air after September 11, 2001 “We are told these attacks were carried out by zealots fuelled by religious fervour and if you live to be 1000 years old will that make any sense. Will that make any Goddamn sense.”

Johnny Carson tucked America into bed for 30 years. If nothing else David Letterman did it that night. He still has that power. Letterman was the last to return to the air after Robin Williams’s sudden suicide and we waited to see what he would say about the man he had known for 30 years having passed away. By recounting the early days of the Comedy Store he acknowledged the extraordinary talent and generosity of the man. There was no homespun homily either. After a clip throughout the years he closed with “I had no idea the man was in so much pain, that the man was suffering. Robin Williams what a guy.”

David Letterman doesn’t lie. This is troublesome when he’s bored by someone you or the populace likes. Yet that brings its own reward. When at 67 years of age he bounds onto the stage and says the indie rock band playing was good you know he means it. When he introduces a guest as the very funny or the very talented it’s high praise.

Not lying allowed him to interview Warren Zevon and not gloss over then fact that he was dying. Zevon is a musicians’ musician who amongst other hits wrote and performed Werewolves of London. But in 2002 when Dave has Zevon it’s fair to say he wasn’t the biggest star in the world. Long-time Letterman fans knew him thought from multiple appearances including sitting in for bandleader Paul Schaeffer. He devoted the whole show to him and me who didn’t know Zevon or their mutual history was mesmerised. “It’s lung cancer.” Zevon told him and David responded “That’s tough.” with a heartfelt grimace having gone through a quintuple bypass a couple of years earlier. Mortality was circling the now middle aged rock’n‘roll baby boomers.

You can hear a pin drop in the clip as the audience goes deathly quiet. Zevon cracks wise throughout the interview and looks great if a little thin but does not shy away from what is happening. Death is a part of a life but seldom is it dealt with on television with such authenticity. It is here. Hear Dave’s voice crack when he tells “Stop it Paul” who is offering Warren to play the songs in any order. Warren Zevon performs three songs on the night and while his voice can’t quite ascend to its full range during the ballad Mutineer he is right on point throughout his last public performance. Looking over at his fellow musicians in recognition and thanks at the end of every song I am always moved by the concentration on every band member’s face as they nail the horn finale of Mutineer.

During the interview Letterman asked Zevon if he knew anything about life that he did not know yet. Zevon answered “To enjoy every sandwich.” The sentiment is so simple and so profound it shows the similarity of their two sensibilities. At the end of the final performance Letterman strolls over and advises Zevon and us all to enjoy every sandwich.

It immediately spoke to him and he repeated the exchange in a tribute show to Zevon the following year when the news came that he had passed away. It was a lovely touch earlier this month when a cover of Mutineer was played and Letterman mentioned Zevon by name after. That whole show was just so real and I pray to God that tradition is maintained in the late night shows to come.

Not lying has brought him forgiveness too. Coming clean about having an affair with staff was an incredible low point. I used to watch Stephanie Birkitt on the show that is a few years older than me and I had a big crush on her. We’ve all got our own sins to make up for but I am pleased to see Dave trying as much as the rest of us, maybe even more and while it’s none of my business I hope Regina is now happy and at the time gave’em hell. I hope Birkitt and also those affected will be allowed to get on with their lives from this moment. But when Dave says he did a terrible thing and he has a lot of work cut out for him it kind of makes me happy to still count myself as a fan.

I just like Dave. But I also like the entire crew that he has brought in front of the camera. Rupert Jee from the Hello Deli, the aforementioned Alan Kalter, Pat and Kenny, Biff Henderson. Then there is Paul Schaeffer. Paul Schaeffer it turns out was just as hip if not more hip as Kevin Eubanks. He’s backed some of the biggest names in the business on the show and made some of the most magical musical moments on the show possible. Every night as the commercials have come and gone I have gotten used to the bands rendition of this song and that. I can’t believe they’re not going to be there anymore. This would have been more than an achievement but Paul has become one of the funniest sidekicks on TV even sometimes nailing a punch line as Dave searches for one. This supporting cast of characters has been as much fun as Dave has.

Yet it all does come back to Dave. When I think about my favourite bits from the last decade I usually recall stories he told at his desk in between the monologues and the guest interviews. One day he told a story of stealing the car keys of paparazzi following him while he jogged. When he threw the car keys away he closed with the line “I felt like Clint Eastwood.” Another story about a bear breaking into his house is a well-known classic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWRTglU3GXU

as well as the countless riffs on the Conan vs. Jay war of ’09

Last year when announcing his retirement he again was in story mode and it softened the blow beautifully while also making you realise the one thing you were going to miss most about him – that of the storyteller. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5sVI_-LRCI

For two years I had Craig Ferguson and he became my favourite but he’s already gone. Maybe that’s a good thing because while I was still watching Dave these past few months have reminded me why Letterman was my Late Night host for all these years. I’ve seen a lot of clips of Johnny Carson and I get why 1992 was such a pivotal moment in American culture. Carson was everything. When Letterman says he is no Carson I understand what he means but Letterman is Letterman and that in itself is something special so let me put it out there in this little obscure part of the internet. Dave always feel free to come back and do anything you want big or small. It won’t taint your legacy and we’ll be happy to see you. Adam Sandler struck a nerve with me when he sang “Because you’re the king of comedy, my best friend on TV.”

When Craig Ferguson’s last show aired in the middle of the night I stood up alone in my living room in my boxers as Craig finished singing and the audience applauded. I smiled sheepishly knowing how stupid I was behaving but wanting to feel connected in some way.
No doubt I’ll be on my feet again this Thursday. Because that’s what you do when legends retire. You stand up and you applaud.

-Lloyd Marken