Weir Only Human
I’ve been watching the late night talk shows since Johnny Carson began in the early sixties, after Jack Paar left the Tonight Show and was replaced by the man that would rule the night for thirty years. Carson was an original and a first class stand-up comedian. He could crack me up with a simple smile that was tailored to reflect his take on a situation that developed on the program. His many comical skits and the variety of personalities that he developed over the years became a classic part of early television. It used to be 90 minutes of entertainment that began with Ed McMahon saying “Heeeere’s Johnny! What followed was some of the top names in show business and government taking a seat next to the king.
A major star in his own right, Carson could attract the creme de la creme of Hollywood. In those days, they would appear on the show just to have some fun and bask in the glow of their host. They didn’t have anything to plug; they just knew that the exposure was worth their time. In addition, when a guest used up the allotted time, he stayed to greet the other guests.
Today, everyone comes to plug a movie, book, or TV show, and then heads backstage, presumably to race toward some premier or other. The only time a big star stays around is when another big star is the next guest, and that’s not very often the case. It gives an elitist impression to the audience and certainly must be demeaning to a lesser-known performer who hasn’t achieved enough respect to have his or her predecessor wait a few minutes.
When Johnny was holding court, he had enough star power to make those self-centered show biz types stay until the final curtain. I recall the times when those 3 or 4 seats were filled with a host of giants in the business. Bob Hope, Dean Martin, George Gobel, and other notables would be shoulder-to-shoulder in the same evening. Even legends like James Stewart and Frank Sinatra would hang around after their spot and sit through the next segment, as Carson interviewed a newcomer who was positively overwhelmed at being sandwiched amongst such greatness.
Stars today seem to have forgotten what it was like when they were struggling to make it. And it’s not simply the amount of money the headliners earn, because very few could match the wealth of the aforementioned icons. Rather, it’s an attitude that seems to say that entertainment has become oddly impersonal. Special effects have replaced imaginative scripts and creative drama, as guns and explosives reign supreme on the modern silver screen. Where are the movies that could compare to character and plot-driven masterpieces like Double Indemnity, The Caine Mutiny, or The Postman Always Rings Twice? In the last few decades there’s been a plethora of remakes of old classics, a sure sign of a paucity of creative talent in Tinseltown.
Pyrotechnics and computer-generated stunts are a lot easier to produce than good writing; directors don’t have to deal with temperamental thespians, and the audience isn’t burdened by trying to figure out the plot because there isn’t any. In its stead is a miasmic display of flashing lights, loud noises, speeding vehicles, and splattered blood.
But to get back to late night chatting, Jay Leno became the ratings champ after Carson left, but shared the evening with David Letterman. Talent and class were replaced by bush league monologues that resorted to toilet humor and sexual innuendo. Leno would read a joke from the hand held posters in front of him then try to act it out as if he had little faith in his own delivery. Who can blame him given the quality of mirth encased in those pitiful one-liners?
Words that were once considered obscene, slowly, insidiously, made it past the screeners and brought us one step closer to moral and intellectual decadence. When the 3-letter word for derriere was sanctioned it found its way into every other sentence, either when referring to a shapely part of the anatomy or when used to describe a fool. What Carson used to do with a sly grin or a swift eye movement, was replaced with indiscriminate verbal and physical thrusts, always attempting to inject another vulgarity into the mainstream of acceptable conversation.
Evidently, if you can’t entertain your audience, you have to shock and titillate them. Moreover, guests, who in the past would use their appearance as an opportunity to present the best possible image, began to dress like they were on a coffee break from their job at the sewage plant. Furthermore, they spewed 4-letter words like longshoremen, knowing it would be bleeped out, but easily recognized by the lip-reading television audience, many of whom thought it was “cool.” As for the successors to Leno and Letterman; they seem to be competing for the title of “Who hates President Trump more?” Their viewers are mainly leftwing extremists who still can’t get over Hillary’s trouncing in 2016. Hence, clips of their partisan shows make their way onto CNN, MSNBC and other liberal propaganda vehicles.
I can just imagine people saying, “C’mon Bob, lighten up, it’s just the evolution of comedy” Not hardly! What we’ve experienced is the cultural decline that has affected every facet of our lives!
We have all lightened up so much that we accept anything they throw at us. People flood the movie theaters each week, the vacuity of the offerings notwithstanding. Imagine waiting on line and sitting in a crowded restaurant every week if they served lousy food. What motivation would they have to improve the menu? If only a hungry person would eat inferior food, then we movie-goers must be starving for entertainment. If the masses were to stay away from those mega-multiplexes for a few weeks, not only would the prices tumble, there’d be a mad scramble in Hollywood to change direction and resurrect the quality that was once the hallmark of moviemaking. Even Kimmel, Colbert and Fallon might be forced to clean up their act.
Bob Weir is a veteran of 20 years with the New York Police Dept. (NYPD), ten of which were performed in plainclothes undercover assignments. Bob began a writing career about 16 years ago and had his first book published in 1999. He also became a syndicated columnist under the title “Weir Only Human.”