Throughout January and the first part of February, I heard that there were some weird things happening on late-night television. While David Letterman and CBS negotiated a special deal with the Late Show writers, Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert were put back to work with a pat on the back and an encouraging grin. What happened during these six weeks of 2008? Without a television, I had no idea. After some research, I gathered a few videos together to see if there wasn’t some kind of narrative arc to follow.
Well, there wasn’t, really. There were some funny videos, though.
Conan O’Brien seemed especially to relish his scriptless monologues. On his first show after a two-month hiatus he was ready for what sounds like naked American Bandstand. Raise your hand if you would participate in a naked dance party with Conan. Right?
On Letterman’s Jan. 2 show, he took it a bit seriouslyto the extent that bitter Uncle Dave takes anything seriouslyexplaining about the strike, and how he was back with his writers because he and CBS had made a special contract with them. That didn’t stop him mocking his strike beard, thankfully.
On Jan. 28, Conan got to direct his own show. This amounted to his having a camera control set on his desk, so he could switch from camera one to camera two to camera whichever, whenever he wanted. For about five minutes, he was the happiest man-child on TV.
Just because Letterman’s writers were back on contract didn’t end his support for the other members of the WGA. In this clip, he gives them camera time and lines written by their Late Show writers-in-arms. Seems like the jokes didn’t change much after two months of striking.
One night in Berlin, my friends and I started our evening drinking Turkish yogurt at an Imbiss, and ended it practically crawling home from an underground nightclub. The air in the subterranean basement was full of smoke from smoke machines and cigarettes, and the strobe light relentlessly blinked. In this show, Conan does a fair representation of that club. Sensory overload is easy to reach with flashing lights and a thumping bass line, even as a viewer at home: if you think you’re going to have a seizure, stop the clip.
Meanwhile on cable, Stephen Colbert had begun a presidential campaign. Maybe Colbert deserves the worshipful following he has; maybe it’s all part of his elaborate charade. Colbert Girl, however, is the independent creation of Ms. Leeni McLeod of Seattle, Wash. Was another effect of the writers’ strike more viewer-driven content? It’s too early to know all that, but I will say, yes. All hail Colbertica.
Everyone loves mock debate! Certainly I do. The January presidential primary debates were just delicious; I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has to offer. On Jan. 24, writers for The Colbert Report and The Daily Show engaged in a mock debate between the WGA and writer-played representatives of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Too bad this wasn’t actually happening at this time during the strike.
Throughout January, there was some friction, some heat, between Conan and Colbert, involving who made presidential candidate Mike Huckabee; Colbert pulled in Stewart, who revealed the VHS tape proof that he had made Conan, and in turn Huckabee. This late-night baiting couldn’t last, and all three hosts knew it. On Feb. 8, Stewart and Colbert entered the Late Night studios, ready to throw down. Conan grabbed his bat, and they took it outside.
On the first day post-strike, that lovable scamp Conan enlists his band leader, Max Weinberg, to help explain the settlement reached by the WGA and the AMPTP.
If you didn’t understand it, or find yourself wishing for more German disco, remind yourself that this is scripted television again, and we are all very happy to have the writers back on the job. Think of how much Jon Stewart’s I-can’t-believe-I-had-to-say-that eye rolling will increase! Maybe we can start a letter-writing campaign for the return of the unscripted Conan monologue. Put my name at the top of that list.