THE MAN THEY CALL DAVE

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I’m struggling to find a succinct way to speak about David Letterman and The Late Show. How can you sum up 15 years of watching someone. I’ve started several drafts of this piece rambling on about the other late night shows, Dave’s career, the qualities I admire in him and those I do not. Words upon words before even remotely coming close to mentioning the new show on Netflix. I will try to keep this short and about the new show.

It’s a little late to the game for newcomers to discover Dave but I hope some do. Letterman is doing six episodes on the streaming service interviewing what appears to be all people he admires and most that he has already interviewed before. I will be interested to see how that plays out. His first guest is former President Barack Obama who Letterman is clearly in awe of. Their body language speaking volumes as Letterman appears relaxed and in charge while still deferring to Obama. The format has changed, Letterman takes to the stage in a university theatre and speaks to a crowd before introducing his guest. They sit and talk in two comfortable leather chairs miked up and with clips playing throughout including Letterman walking with Congressman John Lewis across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Montgomery. Almost identical to the kind of seminars or talks a retired talk show host would do and ones that Letterman has done in recent years. You miss Paul and the band (Schaeffer did contribute the snazzy new theme tune) but not really the sketches. Letterman in his later years did one thing better than any of his late night competition. Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, Stewart, Colbert, Ferguson, O’Brien and Handler. He did interviews better than all of them and to see him spread his wings away from network television with no ad breaks is very enjoyable.

The two retirees (Obama significantly younger and busier is still looking back) are reflective most likely by design. As a legacy project Letterman does not so much attempt to reinvent his glory days as lean into his age and focus. These are two old guys talking about the old days and worrying about the future. Not just worrying though but on some level asking what they can do in the time they have left. Obviously for Letterman it is to ask questions, inform others and yes push agendas. In this sense by going back to basics the rebel in him is alive and well.

A few themes are nicely conveyed in this episode, for example an Obama presidency is only made possible by events like the one at Selma with a young John Lewis. Another example is in one breath the former President speaks of being a child home schooled by his mother while living in Indonesia. In the next he is talking about that woman’s granddaughter going off to college. Two polished speakers nicely delivering anecdotes and even hints of regret. Obama wonders if social media so integral to his 2008 campaign has not now been misused, while he is proud of his stewardship through the global financial crisis he candidly expresses that far too many people are left behind in the current economy (a clear expression of failure and regret if you’re paying attention).

Trump is not directly criticised by President Obama but John Lewis makes mention of him. I might have liked Letterman to point out that in 2012 the President spent more money on his campaign than Mitt Romney and whether he thinks that led to a slippery slope. To press him more on what he regrets more. There is a moment where Letterman is needled and he fires back a salvo and you wonder if we could get a little bit more of that banter.

If you’re a fan of either man and their work you’ll find lots to enjoy here. I do hope the show continues for a long time past these six episodes but I do hope it involves more remotes and guests that will challenge him. Imagine Leno or Dubya being interviewed. Maybe that does not fit with the legacy though, Letterman is moving forward and asking questions about how we can better to each other. Not picking fights. A classic moment for me is a closing question from Letterman to Barack. “Why was I not on that bridge?”. Who got The Tonight Show hardly seems important anymore. Dave long since earned the legacy and he’s putting it to good use.

-Lloyd Marken

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IN THE KORENGAL VALLEY ON THE 25th OF OCTOBER 2007

You don’t understand…but what you did was pretty crazy. We were outnumbered. You stopped the fight. You stopped them from taking a soldier.“” Squad leader Erick Gallardo to Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta.

Salvatore Giunta was born in the state of Iowa in 1985. At age 17 while working at a Subway store he saw a commercial where Army recruiters were giving away free T-shirts at the local mall. He had always been a sucker for a free T-shirt. He was enlisted in November 2003 serving two tours in Afghanistan. Giunta was Airborne. His unit the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

The first deployment from March 2005 to March 2006 left a mark on him. “It’s one thing to see someone dead. But it’s another thing to see an American soldier, or someone you know. They’re at their strongest moments of their life and it is just… gone from them.” he said of an IED attack 21AUG2005 that killed four and seriously wounded another.

On September 1, 2005, Lieutenant [Derek Haines] died in the Baylough area, and that made me really feel my own mortality at 19 or 20. My team leader, Nicholas Post, talked to me. He said, “It is what it is and you just got to try to do everything you can when it’s your time to do it. It might be you tomorrow. It might be me tomorrow. It might be, you know, all of us tomorrow. But that’s tomorrow.” I’ve pretty much taken that with me the rest of my life from the time we had that talk.” Staff Sgt Giunta.

His second deployment from May 2007 to July 2008 was to the Korengal Valley which has seen some of the most fierce fighting of the war.

During Operation Rock Avalanche on 25OCT2007 Giunta’s 1st Platoon was assigned overwatch of 2nd and 3rd Platoon as they went through a valley below. Following sunset 1st Platoon moved to head back to base and within going 100m they were ambushed by an enemy force firing AK-47s, RPGs and PKM machine guns. Sgt Joshua Brennan was walking point followed by SPC Frank Eckrode, squad leader Erick Gallardo, rifle team leader Giunta and Privates First Class Kaleb Casey and PFC Garret Clary. Not far behind them was a HQ Unit.

When the Taliban opened fire Brennan was struck by eight rounds and Eckrode was hit by 4. The wall of fire coming from the enemy halted Gallardo’s attempts to move forward and then he was struck in the head and fell. Giunta ran over to him fearing the worst but fortunately it had struck the squad leader’s helmet. While they found cover Giunta was struck in the front of his vest and a round hit his SMAW slung over his back making them realise they were facing an L-shaped ambush. Giunta ordered Clary and Casey to pull back a few steps to prevent the enemy flanking them. It was now roughly 15 seconds into the engagement when Giunta, Casey, Clary and Gallardo alternated throwing fragmentation grenades to their west while moving north. They reached Eckrode who was wounded and attempting to unjam his weapon having continued to fire since being hit. Gallardo dressed Eckrode’s wounds and called for a MEDEVAC.

Giunta followed by Clary continued on to look for Brennan. It was then that Giunta saw two Taliban carrying away Sgt Brennan in the distance. Giunta gave chase engaging them with his own weapon. He shot dead one and the other fled. Giunta got to Brennan and pulled him towards the squad and cover and then went to treating him. Brennan was grievously hurt and 1st Platoon’s medic Specialist Hugo Mendoza had been shot in the leg in his femoral artery and had bled to death. While Clary stood guard, Gallardo had come running and he and Giunta found a slight dip where they could protect Brennan. The fighting continued around them as they went to work on Brennan. He was covered with gun shot and shrapnel wounds, with the worst being injuries to his face. He couldn’t breathe. They went through all of their first aid kits cutting apart their own clothing to stop the bleeding. 2nd and 3rd platoon arrived with their medics. Brennan was given a tracheotomy on the spot buying enough time for the medevac chopper and giving them all hope. Brennan was breathing and talking. “Dude, this time you’re really going to go home. You’re going to be drinking beers and telling your stories to the ladies.” Guinta told Brennan and he agreed ” Yeah. Yeah, I will.” Sergeant Joshua Brennan was one of Giunta’s best friends. Later that day he died while in surgery.

“They were better soldiers than me. That’s part of what gets me so much. I was with Brennan for the deployment before and he’s always been a better soldier than me. He was Alpha team leader. I was Bravo team leader. There’s a reason for that. Spc. Mendoza was a combat medic. He did everything we did, plus when we came back dehydrated, “Oh I’m this, oh I’m that, I have this blister Doc,’ he would fix it. He went above and beyond every single day.” Giunta has said of the two men who died that day.

He called his girlfriend Jennifer Lynn Mueller and his mother Rose as soon as he could for the distraction but he couldn’t tell them the details. Both knew from his voice that something terrible had happened and Jennifer had heard basics from another spouse. Even now most of what they have heard come from media reports.

16NOV2010 Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta was awarded at the White House the Congressional Medal of Honour. He was the first living recipient since the Vietnam War following 9 posthumous awards in that time. “It’s bittersweet for us,” said Salvatore’s father Steve Giunta. “We’re very proud of Sal. We can’t mention that enough, but in this event, two other soldiers were killed and that weighs heavy on us. You get very happy and very proud and then you start dealing with the loss as well. You can’t have one without the other.

“I have never gone to war alone,” Guinta has commented. ” I have never been in a fire fight alone and I’ve never felt alone in the Army. There were lots of other guys who did incredible stuff. The only reason I was able to do what I did is because they were doing everything they could do. They make it sound like so much of the bullets were focused on me. No. Bullets don’t discriminate. They were on every single man who was there. And now, you’re going to put a medal around my neck and shake my hand and congratulate me, and everyone’s going to be proud of me’ And I didn’t do anything other than what I was supposed to’ And I know two men who personally gave every single tomorrow they’ll every have.”. In June 2011 Giunta who had been stop lossed previously chose not to re-enlist and left the Army. Having married his girlfriend Jennifer in OCT2009 they had their first child, a daughter, born October 6, 2011. He and his wife moved to Colorado where he is a student at Colorado State University. Eckrode said of Guinta, “For all intents and purposes, with the amount of fire that was going on in the conflict at the time, he shouldn’t be alive.”

-Lloyd Marken

 

 

Specialist Hugo Mendoza, 173rd Airborne, died 25 October 2007 in the Korengal Valley. He was 29.

Sgt Joshua Brennan ,173rd Airborne, died 26th October 2007 in Asadabad, Afghanistan. He was 22.

They were two of 75 serving members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade who died serving in Afghanistan.

Lest We Forget.

 

Bibliography: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2010/11/medal-of-honor-winner-salvatore-giunta-on-bravery-brotherhood-and-the-korengal

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/39103540/ns/us_news-life/t/first-medal-honor-living-afghan-war-vet/

http://www.army.mil/article/48119/reluctant-hero-becomes-first-living-moh-recipient-since-vietnam/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvatore_Giunta

 

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