Daly back on the air without writers
Carson Daly returned to the air Monday night -- early Tuesday morning, actually -- without his writers, who are, of course, on strike. He is the first and will possibly be the only late-night talk show to go back on the air before the opposing parties shake hands, and his stated reason is the same offered by Ellen DeGeneres, who earlier recommenced her afternoon show: He is doing it for his (nonwriting) staff, who otherwise would be laid off.
It may be a convenient argument -- I can’t know whether it’s disingenuous -- but it’s not wholly without merit, and in any event, it’s true. To be sure, fellow late-night hosts David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel have for the moment avoided that choice by paying their idle hands out of their own pockets. (Letterman is doing the same on behalf of Craig Ferguson, whose show his company produces.) But there is a chance their largesse will end before the strike does.
Strictly speaking, “Last Call With Carson Daly” is post-late-night -- the other networks have all clocked off by then. (The CBS and ABC affiliates run repeats of their 11 o’clock news at that hour.) Only 30 minutes long, the show is a small, marginal thing, and, whatever the symbolic import of Daly’s return, it will have no more real effect on the strike than his show has had on the culture at large.
Monday night, Daly -- the only late-night host not a member of the Writers Guild -- acknowledged the elephant straightaway. Some thought had been put into his opening statement, and some jokes worked out. (He was back because they “ran out of repeats.”) He positioned himself as a kind of disaster victim trying to do his best in a difficult situation. Production had ceased “for a month to support our writers and the strike,” but there was the rest of the staff to think of. He was suitably self-deprecating: “We look like a car in the late-night fleet, but believe me when I tell you, under our hood is a 1982 Pinto engine.”
“I miss my writers,” he said. “None of this is written. Clearly.”
And things were indeed confused and halting on the way to the first break. “How much more time do I have to kill?” Daly asked his producer. He showed snapshots of his crew. He continued to struggle with his guest, Victoria’s Secret model Karolina Kurkova -- he seemed too distracted to get a rhythm going. Then the Plain White T’s played to an audience of excited young folk, and that was that.
What the host did not do on his first night back was to play the jokes he had asked friends and family to leave on a message machine. His solicitation, reproduced on “The Smoking Gun” website, suggested they would form “a fun collage of random people trying to ‘help me out.’ ”
Although the show was denuded of its comedy features (Buddy the Neighbor, the news in karaoke), one might honestly wonder whether “Last Call With Carson Daly” will be significantly worse without writers than it has been with. (Perhaps it will be worse, but more fascinating for it.) But there is also the question of whether television is really crying for new material at this hour, when there are so many satisfying reruns on, and old movies, and home shopping.