Late night talk shows are in a lot of trouble in 2012: ratings keep dwindling, yet the market remains saturated. Jay Leno — the guy that has consistently hosted the highest rated program that airs after your late local news — just had to take a pay cut and fire two dozen employees.
But there's just something about hosting a late night talk show that is still seen by a fair amount of comedians as the ultimate gig. There will never be another Johnny Carson that can command the attention of the entire country, but the appeal of being in front of a camera for five hours a week, telling jokes and making shiny celebrities laugh for possibly the rest of your show business life can understandably be huge.
The Conan/Leno fight over The Tonight Show is somehow both ancient history and fresh in everyone's minds, and a little bit of a nice reminder of a simpler time in the comedy world when we weren't talking about people saying women aren't funny or debating the merits if any of rape jokes. It definitely must have been on the mind of Louis C.K., who was a member of Late Night with Conan O'Brien's first writing staff and has been booked on the Chin's Tonight Show more than any other late night show during his ascent to stardom, and has now wrote, directed and starred in a three part episode in which his character, who is basically him if he was less popular, getting offered a shot at replacing David Fucking Letterman.
The first installment of the The Late Show trilogy began with Louie grousing that he will most likely be bumped from his booked appearance on the next day's Tonight Show because the other scheduled guest Tom Cruise likes to talk Leno's ear off. Scientology this, scientology that, I never even *met* this Katie Holmes person, etc. Instead, as C.K. and his 15-year-old agent Doug were in the green room, a rattled producer entered, quickly followed by a slightly panicked Jay Leno (played by Leno himself, not the guy who played Dr. Artz on Lost!) informing Louie that Mr. Top Gun cancelled at the last second. As a result, C.K. was going to get the shot of a lifetime, being the sole guest for the remaining thirty minutes of the show. Before the shock could completely set in, and after Jay Leno tried to calm himself down by trying to calm Louie down once it was confirmed that he knew some funny airplane stories, Leno announced to his disappointed but good-natured audience about the scheduling change and brought out our hero.
Back in the green room Doug's face was still stuck at the "shocked" setting.
We don't see how C.K. did, but instead get treated to a funny scene in which we witnessed how terrible of a morning person Louie actually is. At one point he made the mistake of looking out the window, exposing himself to sunlight.
Returning one of many voicemail messages left by his agent, Doug informed a groggy C.K. that his appearance the night before went viral and already had a million hits online, which is almost literally unbelievable. In one hour he had a meeting at CBS, which Louie complained to himself didn't even give him enough time to rub one out, which frankly once again I have to say is hard to believe, but I am unfamiliar with California geography.
Garry Marshall portrayed the Les Moonves character, and while a part of me wished that the funny Garry Marshall impersonator Paul F. Tompkins played Garry Marshall playing the President of CBS, Marshall did a good job portraying a no-nonsense, "comedy gatekeeper" from the Bronx. After signing confidentiality agreements, Louis and Doug were informed that David Letterman is going to retire in one year. To give themselves some leverage and a cheap back-up plan if Jerry Seinfeld doesn't want to do it, CBS wanted to know if Louis would be interested in competing against Leno every weeknight, in the same timeslot that Johnny fucking Carson once owned. Marshall's approach was a direct one, admitting that even if Louie lost a lot of weight and worked harder than he ever worked before he might still fail on a massive scale, destroying his entire career in the process. But if he never went for it, C.K. have to carry around the burden of knowing that he was too cowardly to go for his dream job for the rest of his waking life. No big deal. Marshall said it better and C.K. wrote it better than I just did:
Look Louie, we’re talking about the big game here so forgive me if I use big terms. Here’s the reality — in ten years you’re gonna be teaching comedy at a community college to support your kids, and falling asleep to The Late Show With Jerry Seinfeld. You are circling failure in a rapidly decaying orbit. That’s the reality as we talk now. But you can change that. It’s in your power to change that. Yes you’ll have to work hard, and you’ll have to do things you haven’t done before and still… your chances are very slim. But you could change it. I'm gonna ask you one more time: David Letterman is retiring. Do you want his job?
It looked like this.
Louie didn't know what to do.
The episode concluded with Louie turning to his trusted agent Doug. He wasn't much help.
What is Louie going to do?!?!
…well obviously he is going to try. It is going to be a lot of fun to see the process through, and it is going to be awfully heartbreaking when he falls short.
Things to Say Once You've Run Out of Airplane Stories
- "How come Uncle Henry's head is gone now? Oh because of the war." – how kids in Afghanistan find out about war.
- "'It's got really small buttons on the remote,' he said before he murder-suicided his whole family."
- "Just don't ever clean in here ever again. Shit on a dick."
Things to Ponder While Secretly Buying a Motorcycle
- How is Craig Ferguson going to feel once he finds out he wasn't involved in the discussion to replace Letterman? More importantly, how will his puppet friends react?
- Would Louis C.K. actually be a good late night talk show host? I'm not so sure. His late night writing experience would at least give him some idea as to what he would be getting into though.
- The only four comedians that I heard of that flat out declined an offer to host a network late night show are Albert Brooks, Garry Shandling, Dana Carvey and Billy Crystal. Brooks amazingly told Lorne Michaels in 1976 that he did not want to be the permanent host of SNL and instead suggested to continue to have a different host each week. Shandling opened the door for Conan O'Brien when he opted not to take over for Letterman on NBC's Late Night when he decided that he wasn't the kind of person that would be comfortable being on television that often. (Or if you ask NBC, he didn't get the job because he was asking for too much money. Certainly more money than newbie O'Brien was asking for.) Carvey also turned down the job that eventually went to Conan, for some unknown reason. Crystal was in negotiations with Fox in 2007, but eventually realized that he didn't want to do all of the work necessary to do the job adequately, and he probably remembered The Chevy Chase Show. Would a SNL starring Albert Brooks, or Schandling, Carvey or Crystal's shows have worked out? And are they insane for not wanting to do them?
- On Conan's Late Night show if a guest ever cancelled they would always get Al Roker to come over from the Today studio. I don't know who Leno's emergency guest is, if he has one.
- A poster behind Louie in the CBS office was for a show called The Big House, which I assume to be his imagination's version of Big Brother. Is The Big House the name of the weird reality show Louie has watched a few times this season?
- Another possible Easter Egg — big photos of Todd Glass and Maria Bamford performing at the Improv are behind Louie when he talked to Leno's producer after his set. Intentional?
- Is it redundant at this point to write how great the music was?
- According to wikipedia the next episode is on in two weeks. Is FX really more afraid of competing against the VMAs and the Democratic Convention than Clint Eastwood talking to a chair?
Roger Cormier does not want any Velveeta Juice.