The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

It's hard to believe that late-night TV was, for decades during the Johnny Carson era, a stable terrain. Just when we've gotten used to the Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien vs. David Letterman-Craig Kilborn axises, Kilborn announces that he's leaving his show as of next month.

I'd like to think that Kilborn's recent stint on ESPN's SportsCenter Old School, which I enjoyed very much, is prompting him to return to the sports desk. But it doesn't look like it; it seems he wants to pursue other television/movie projects. I'd support him starring in an instant remake/do-over of Anchorman; I think he'd do a much better job than Will Ferrel, with the writing and the acting.

The speculation that O'Brien could be lured from NBC to CBS is nice to dream about. CBS would have to keep the seat at the "Late, Late Show" warm for over a year, though. That makes it extremely unlikely. What will happen is that CBS and Letterman (the producer) will find someone else, even on a short-term basis, and hope he becomes a hit.

I would love to see O'Brien and Letterman on the same channel, though. I realize that all four shows are distinct from each other (network promotion of "seamless blocks of talk/comedy" aside), but the pairings always seemed mismatched to me. Letterman and O'Brien have the same sort of irreverent, goofy sensibilities (although O'Brien's not nearly as deft with it, and his writing for the last year has grown increasingly stale). Leno and Kilborn seem paired by an identical devotion to style over substance.

I'm hoping that, in the meantime, CBS taps Chris Rock to take over the late late shift.