Ed Driscoll

Late Night TV: From Avant-garde to Palace Guard

“Leno is leaving the late night arena with huge ratings and the reputation of being the only host to treat President Obama like … the President of the United States,” Christian Toto writes at Big Hollywood, in a piece titled, “Goodnight, Jay: Leno Last Fair, Balanced Late Night Host:”

Recently, a few fellow comics have hit the president over the disastrous ObamaCare rollout. More often than not, Leno’s peers prefer to poke fun at a Republican, any Republican, rather than the most powerful person in the world.

So who is replacing Leno on NBC’s iconic talk show? Jimmy Fallon, the Saturday Night Live grad who once let Obama “slow jam” the news with his talking points during an election cycle and sat by while his band leader called Rep. Michele Bachmann a “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” via song.

Another SNL alum, Seth Meyers, is taking over the Late Night franchise from Fallon. Both comics served under Lorne Michaels, the SNL producer who recently admitted his show hits Republicans harder than Democrats.

We’ve certainly witnessed SNL go soft on Obama over the past five-plus years, be it via its sketches or the Weekend Update desk Meyers manned.

The irony is that Leno likely isn’t a conservative. He’s never admitted to being right of center, and during interviews with Republican guests he often sounds more like Jon Stewart than Ben Shapiro.

It will certainly be interesting to see what happens to NBC’s late night ratings in the post Leno-era. I’d quip that this is a huge opportunity for Univision’s late-night division, but in reality, it’s an opportunity for the actual English-speaking networks, but they’re simply not ideologically capable of pouncing. It’s unfortunate that both of his competitors on the other two original over-the-air ratings are as equally politically hidebound as Michaels and his stars, because there’s a huge opening here for a host willing to use a less plonking and predictable approach than reactionary “liberalism.”

Back in a November issue of National Review On Dead Tree, Charles C. W. Cooke had a terrific article titled “Revolution in Dotage,” which appears to be inside the subscriber paywall, but in any case, here’s the gist of it, and how ideology can kill humor right in its tracks. (See also, that recent BuzzFeedGawker attack on Jerry Seinfeld that Roger L. Simon wrote about yesterday.)

If the Left is going to insist on having its opinions on all facets of life, and on backing its opinions up with force, couldn’t we at least insist that they be interesting, and that the influence that the movement has won not be used to alleviate what H. L. Mencken described as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy”? Take almost anything regarded as both “fun” and “American” and you can all but guarantee that the modern Left has a problem with it.

Local control? Dangerous — people will make the “wrong” decisions. Individualism? That’ll lead to greed. Religion? What if you believe things that aren’t true, or disapprove of behavior we like? Rap music? Careful of those misogynistic lyrics! Alcohol? Too much is bad for you and, besides, the socialized costs of treatment require us to remind you of this at every opportunity. Flying? Hurts the environment. Cars? Same thing, I’m afraid. Jokes? Every one of them has a butt, so careful whom you offend! Guns? Dangerous! Race? Well, everything is racist. Averages? Lead inexorably to stereotypes. Football? Violent, patriarchal, and perilous.

And don’t even get them started on smoking.

Even hugs have come in for condemnation in recent months. In October, Slate’s Amanda Hess bothered to write a column advising against the “awkward, falsely intimate power plays” that she believes plague Americans greeting one another across these 3,000-something miles.

None of this, of course, is to say that conservatives are all radicals, nor that all conservatives want to be such. None of this is to suggest that all conservatives are in favor of the permissive society. None of this is to pretend that conservatives are incapable of being censorious — although they are almost certainly less likely to try to tell others what to do. But then, conservatives generally do not pretend to be exciting. As my colleague Jonah Goldberg has observed, your average leftist believes himself to be a “live-and-let-live sort of person who says ‘Whatever floats your boat’ a lot.”

To put it more bluntly, modern leftists seem still to believe that they are all Hunter S. Thompson — open-minded and rebellious outsiders who look on with disdain from the fringes of society. In fact, in their old age, they’re the old guy down the street, the guy who won’t stop telling you about the glory days 40 years ago — and who won’t give you your ball back either, lest you hurt yourself with it.

As original Saturday Night Live writer Anne Beatts liked to quip, “you can only be avant-garde for so long, before you become garde.”

Or Palace Guard, in the case of Leno’s successor and the other remaining late night hosts.