Funny Business

The late night talk shows return to network TV tonight, with Andover’s own Jay Leno truly going solo on The Tonight Show. The writers strike is nowhere near settled, and Jay has decided to go back behind the desk relying on his wit — not skits. The thing is, Leno has proved convincingly over the years that he can go at it alone. He cut his comedy teeth in bars and restaurants throughout the Boston area — and believe me he was working without a net. This guy can match wits with anyone from the heckler in the back of the club, to the candidates for president.

Jay will actually have one of the White House hopefuls on his show tonight, Republican Mike Huckabee. Remember that battle of wits I just spoke of? — talk about a mismatch! Hopefully Huckabee will bring his bass guitar with him — the less this guy talks, and the more he plays the better.

Just who follows Huckabee on the guest list will be interesting. The writers have set up a picket line outside the studio doors, and crossing that line is no small deal in Hollywood. A-list stars, no matter how much they have riding on a project, are unlikely to cross the line. That will leave Leno with only borderline options. Does he become a topic-based, rather than a guest-based show? He may have to. I mean if comes down to a show about what’s hot in the world of motorcycles or a sit down with D-list comedian Any Dick — bring on the bikes!

It’s a very different picture in New York City with David Letterman. You see he owns The Late Show. His production company, Worldwide Pants, hammered out its own deal with the writers, and that agreement could have a pivotal affect on the battle for ratings. NBC owns The Tonight show so any agreement would have to cover the whole company, not just one program.

So let’s cut to the chase. Letterman returns with Robin Williams as his first guest — an A-lister all the way. Say what you want about some of Williams’ film choices, in a free-form, late night setting he is nothing short of brilliant. And it just gets better for Dave in the days and weeks to come. With no picket lines to cross, or possible future ramifications, guests will beat down the door to the Ed Sullivan Theatre. There’s only an upside to visiting The Late Show, and Letterman will not waste the opportunity.

If the strike lasts much longer, Jay could really take a big hit.

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