Monday, February 8, 2010

What the? (unedited)

Every once in a while you see something that just stops you in your tracks.

The Superbowl provided one of those moments.

When I saw David Letterman's Superbowl commercial, I knew Oprah Winfrey would be making an appearance. I remember their 2007 commercial well, when they appeared together rooting for their favorite cities in the Superbowl. It was short, and brilliant.

Oprah, I saw that coming a mile away, but nobody in the free world expected to see Jay Leno.

I have long enjoyed Letterman's style and sense of humor. I first discovered him in the summer of 1985. Holy crap am I old.

Although I don't watch Letterman religiously every night, I've never taken to Leno or Conan O'Brien. I don't hate them, but I've never found them to be as sharp or as witty. Each host has his strengths, and I can understand why Leno beat Letterman for most of the 16 years they competed against each other, but for me it's always been Dave, despite his many flaws, as a host and as a person.

I'm no authority on the hosts, but I've read enough to have a pretty good idea that Letterman isn't particularly fond of Leno. I've come to believe they had a professional friendship. Letterman got his own show following The Tonight Show, Leno came along and joined the ranks of Tonight Show guest hosts. NBC wanted Leno to become a network talent, a la Bob Hope, so they did everything they could to keep him under contract with NBC. When it came time to push Carson out the door, NBC had to make a choice. It chose Leno. Letterman walked. (Did NBC doubt Letterman was going to walk when he lost out on the job?)

Letterman has always come off as bitter about the snub. Leno allegedly tried to maintain a professional friendship with Letterman, even after they became competitors on opposite networks. Leno, who has been accused of being rather self-serving -- if not downright devious -- at least said the right things about the rivalry when questioned about it. I remember seeing an interview he did, noting how the two shouldn't be enemies, as they both were doing nightly talk shows and making millions of dollars. (Easy to say when you win The Tonight Show, but still, he had a point.)

I've never known Letterman to be very gracious when the topic of Leno or The Tonight Show comes up. Maybe he doesn't dislike or disrespect Leno as much as it seems.

But it floored me to see Leno in the commercial. I assumed it was filmed in two parts. Imagine my surprise when I read how both Leno and Oprah went to Letterman's studio to film the promo. Amazing, absolutely amazing.

Leno could use the positive publicity, he's taken a beating, unfairly, for accepting the reigns of The Tonight Show, again. Had he been unwilling to participate in the commercial, would you blame him? (Of course you'd most likely never know Letterman had hatched the idea if Leno declined.) Bottom line: Leno easily could have said no, and he didn't.

What I'm more struck by is the fact Letterman proposed the idea. He looks brilliant for coming up with it, but I doubt it's going to gain as much good will for him as it does for Leno. Yet it marks an amazing turn in his professional relationship with Leno, even if he got to mock Leno in the commercial.

Longtime rivals, about to go back to battle after a short hiatus, and now Letterman offers an olive branch? What the hell has this world come to?

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