You kids today and your mean-spirited late night tv wars. It's all so uncivilized. Late night is just going to hell in a handbasket. You think telling pointed, funny jokes about the network you work for or hilariously attacking Jay Leno is what late night is all about? That's not late night. Why, when the New York Times' Alessandra Stanley was a kid, Johnny Carson wore white gloves and a proper topcoat when delivering his monologue, and he kept all the jokes nice and polite. There was a lovely fainting divan for the lady guests, should they require one, and the calligraphy on placecards was written using a crimson-ink fountain pen, as was the custom at the time. Or something.
From The NY Times:
The Leno-O’Brien fracas is both shocking — an explosion of incivility that burns through late-night bonhomie — and also reassuring. It turns out that the cliché that comics are angry, bitter people deep down is true. NBC on Thursday confirmed it had reached a deal with Mr. O’Brien to walk away. And Mr. O’Brien, who is getting an estimated $32.5 million, is still using his last moments on the “Tonight” stage attacking the network. And that includes spending extravagantly on frills for the show, like the rights to use the Rolling Stones song “Satisfaction.”
Even the imperturbably jovial Jay Leno, who is getting what he wanted, namely “The Tonight Show” back, dropped his Everyman mask this week to aim a cross-network shot at David Letterman, who has mocked him and NBC unmercifully. “You know the best way to get Letterman to ignore you?” Mr. Leno said in his monologue on Wednesday. “Marry him.”
This normally doesn’t happen. Television in the reality-show era is a world of rudeness and disinhibition except on network late-night programs, where old-fashioned show business etiquette, the Johnny Carson model, still rules.
In conclusion: The New York Times would appreciate it if all of you late night hosts would please get off their lawn. Thank you for your cooperation.
Since I'm not an 88-year-old who stopped watching TV when "that terrible scandal with the 21 show" broke, I am not the intended audience for this article. But as far as I can tell the basic point here is, "late night jokes these days are just so personal and uncivilized—which is a shame." Obviously this implies that there was a time not that long ago when late night jokes were detached and polite—by the way, "detached & polite" jokes are the best kind of jokes—which is, in keeping with today's red-hot uncivilized trend, total bullshit.
Late night hosts tell topical jokes, and that's been true since the beginning of late night. Many, many of these jokes over the years could be seen as mean, pointed, cheap, and/or any other synonym for "uncivilized." That's why they're fun. It's true that over the past two weeks the jokes have become more personal, but that's only because late night is the topic of choice for the topical jokes, and all the hosts across all networks are personally acquainted with that particular topic.
It "normally doesn't happen" that late night hosts joke at NBC's expense? David Letterman built a career out of doing just that. Even the NY Times' beloved Johnny "Ms. Manners" Carson joked at NBC's expense when he was leaving the network. Letterman and Carson even did it together.
And late night hosts making fun of each other? That's been around as long as multiple late night hosts have been on the air. When Johnny Carson announced he was retiring from The Tonight Show, he joked that he had to because Leno was trying to kill him. Of course, now we know it wasn't Carson who Leno was trying to kill:
Oh, how uncivilized. It's almost as if they're warping and exaggerating facts about Jay Leno for some kind of comedic effect. My monocle has fallen right into my tea.