With the upcoming launch of Conan O'Brien's new show, I started thinking about the hosts of late night TV that have come and gone over the years. Who were the best and who were the worst television hosts? I decided to examine the post Carson era. Johnny Carson the legend, was unbeatable and incomparable. And not having been around B.C. (Before Carson) I cannot examine those who came before.
The biggest names since then? Letterman versus Leno. David Letterman has been my favourite over the years. His wacky comedy style may have mellowed recently, especially in the last few years. Many of the comedians in the fifty plus generation, including Letterman referred to Carson as their idol. Letterman is just as important in his time as Carson was in his. Ratings aside, for his influence call him the king of late night TV.
Two years of controversy and embarrassing headlines has hurt Jay Leno's reputation. At his peak he was giving Letterman a run for his money, but as a performer he pales by comparison. I never liked his style, whether going back to his stand-up days or as a fill in for Carson. He still has a loyal following but the heritage that was the Tonight Show no longer garners automatic ratings success.
The first late night host to actually make a dent into Johnny Carson's numbers, Arsenio Hall, was not without his own controversies. Generally a very good show that appealed to a younger crowd. An appearance on the show may have been the boost that put Bill Clinton into the White House. In the end it was likely Hall's poor judgement that suddenly ended the shows run.
If the aforementioned were battling for title of king of late night, the hosts of the late late shows Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon battle it out for title of prince, or jester. Of them all I would rank Ferguson at the top. Having seen him on the Drew Carey Show, and only catching his stand-up act once, I was surprised by the choice to name him as Craig Kilborn's replacement. Ferguson brings a unique style and is funny as all hell. Turns out it was the perfect selection.
Jimmy Kimmel, made his mark on Win Ben Stein's Money and The Man Show. His success at ABC is likely due to his younger male fan base. Sometimes low-brow, and I have no problem with that, Kimmel has the ability to find humour in just about anything.
I haven't watched Jimmy Fallon as much as the I have the other shows. His show got off to a rocky start in 2009 but he seems to have smoothed out lately. Multi-talented, Fallon can do comedy, skits or music. His often too eager to jump on the latest and hottest items has him sometimes coming off as a douche rather than someone in the know.
In the political ring we have Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Some say Politically Incorrect was pulled off the air for being politically incorrect, others say budget cuts were the cause. His latest, Real Time, tends to have less of the celebrity class on its panel and is more provocative and less controversial then his previous incarnation.
Perhaps the most influential of the hosts is Jon Stewart. Many viewers of the 20-something generation view The Daily Show as their number one source for news. From the Daily Show's website "...unburdened by objectivity, journalistic integrity or even accuracy."
You may remember in the 90s, Stewart's attempt to follow in his hero's footsteps, The Jon Stewart Show was funny and managed to get some of the best up and coming actors and musicians around. The show had no chance of success up against his idol Letterman or even Leno. It ran about one year. It may have had more success as a late late show.
From the in between group, the late Tom Snyder. Originally a newscaster, who delivered a wonderful interview in a conversational style. Low key and perfect for a mellow late night viewing. I remember him most for his hearty laugh.
The soon to be retired Larry King created a zone of his own. King had just as many brilliant interviews as he did absurd. Many of his interviews were driven by his curiosity rather than any knowledge of the topic at hand. I was a fan of his earlier radio show which was simulcasted in part on CNN.
Joan Rivers was big in the 80s and then refused to go away. Rivers greatest success came as a stand up comedian and writer for Johnny Carson. Originally she was guest host for Carson, before jumping ship to Fox for her own ill fated late night show on Fox.
And then there are the bad ones. Those hosts that should have never been given a show in the first place. Allan Thicke, Pat Sajak, Spike Feresten, Chevy Chase, Magic Johnson and the worst of the lot Mike Bullard. How Bullard had a number one show in Canada is beyond me, yet somehow he managed to stay on CTV for six years. He was unfunny, and his interviews were often embarrassing. Global TV stole him away and launched the new late night show to much publicity. It was cancelled within several months due to poor ratings.
There are and were other talented hosts out there, Chris Rock, George Lopez, Bob Costas, Greg Kinnear, Carson Daly, even Craig Kilborn. Who else did I miss?