Late-night hosts are increasingly hosting each other these days, but the late-night crossover we really want to see is the one that continues to elude us – namely, David Letterman and Jay Leno together on one of their shows.
But until that happens (if ever), we’ll have to settle for Letterman on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and Leno on CBS’s “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” – two appearances scheduled for consecutive nights at the end of this month.
It’s almost certainly a first – one that is likely to intrigue anyone who follows the ongoing saga of late-night TV, with its rivalries that border on Shakespearean. And why not describe it that way? The late-night saga has enough warring kings and ambitious princes for a half-dozen Shakespearean dramas.
We tend to follow the late-night wars in much the same manner as Howard Stern, who told Letterman not long ago that he follows the late-night wars “like it’s the Torah” – or, to put it another way, like a story that stands up to year-round scrutiny and study.
That’s why we’re so fascinated with this upcoming convergence of Jay and Dave appearing on late-night shows not their own in the same week just 24 hours apart: Letterman on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (tentatively) on Wednesday, Oct. 31 (Halloween), during Kimmel’s special week of shows from Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Leno on “Ferguson” a night earlier, on Tuesday, Oct. 30, in Hollywood.
Not lost on us: The fact that Ferguson’s “Late Late Show” is produced by Letterman’s company, Worldwide Pants, and therefore produced by Letterman himself. He and Leno, once close friends, haven’t been seen on a late-night show together since Leno appeared on Letterman’s old “Late Night” show on NBC in 1992, just a few weeks before Leno would take over “The Tonight Show” from Johnny Carson – a show Letterman wanted.
The two weren’t seen again together until that infamous Super Bowl commercial with Oprah Winfrey in February 2010. An amazing thing about that spot: It was only 15 seconds long, Leno flew all the way from L.A. to New York just to tape it, and it was actually a promo for Letterman’s show, not Leno’s. However, no further joint appearances by these two resulted from it.
Ferguson has been on both of their shows (on Leno’s “Tonight Show” in July 2011 and Letterman’s show as recently as a few weeks ago, on Oct. 4), which is leading some observers to wonder if Ferguson will emerge as the guy who will somehow get Letterman and Leno together again on TV. That remains to be seen.
In the meantime, various other late-night hosts are turning up on each other’s shows as well. Understandably, Jimmy Fallon flies out to L.A. for an appearance on the “Leno” show at least once a year since they’re both on NBC. (Fallon was last seen on “Leno” last March.) But Fallon was also on the Letterman show just last month in New York. Though they’re on different networks, Letterman apparently feels a kinship with Fallon because the show Fallon hosts, “Late Night,” is the show Dave pioneered on NBC. Similarly, the other (now former) host of “Late Night,” Conan O’Brien – who now has his own late-night show on TBS – was a guest on Letterman’s “Late Show” last May.
Jimmy Kimmel’s been on the Letterman show a total of seven times, including appearances in 2008 and 2010. This upcoming Letterman appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” will be Letterman’s first on the ABC late-night show – and an extremely rare appearance for Letterman on any TV show other than his own. And it could be Letterman’s last appearance ever on the “Kimmel” show because starting Jan. 8, Kimmel will be slotted in direct competition with Dave and Jay at 11:35 p.m. eastern time. Certainly, we’re hoping the two will talk about that on Halloween. As for Leno, he’s appeared at least once on “Kimmel.” (Nowadays, there’s no love lost between Kimmel and Leno, as we reported exclusively in August here.)
So, with all of these late-night crossovers going on, will we ever see a Leno-Letterman appearance on either “Late Show” or “Tonight”? Our feeling is: The odds don’t favor it since there’s so much baggage between these two. For one thing, whose show would host this get-together – Letterman’s or Leno’s (especially since they’re 3,000 miles apart)? And then, what would they talk about? Viewers tuning in hoping to see them discuss or otherwise settle their differences would likely be disappointed because neither man sees his show as serving that kind of purpose.
Their shows are about laughs, and how to get laughs from their guests. Serious, introspective conversations about personal feelings are not their stock in trade. Comedians such as Jay and Dave prefer to leave that stuff to people like Oprah Winfrey, who happens to be the one who got them together for that Super Bowl ad.
Unfortunately, her afternoon talk show – which would have been a great place for a Dave and Jay sitdown – is no longer on the air. That would leave her OWN talk show – “Oprah’s Next Chapter” – as the only place where Oprah could possibly host these two.
It would be a coup for her, and a dream come true for those of us who, like Howard Stern, follow late-night TV religiously.