If David Letterman hadn't found a way to sit around in a chair each night making an obscene amount of money, I suspect he would have made a great publicist. As it is, he still manages to pull a few terrific PR stunts. For instance, in a stroke of pure PT Barnum genius, he shot pepper spray into Dan Rather's eyes to induce the tears that showered the show with media attention. Jay Leno was so envious he wired his guest chair with electricity to induce similar emotional responses.The latest Letterman ploy was "entertaining
offers to jump to ABC and displace Ted Koppel. Doubtful that Dave ever seriously considered the move, but he knew the threat's publicity value. Sure enough, the affair became a headline-stealer for almost two weeks.
Probably because he's based on the East Coast, the New York-dominated print media has always considered Dave the darling of late night. He habitually loses the ratings game to his LA counterpart, Leno, but no matter: Dave can do no wrong. Jay is viewed as Hollywood slick, obsequious, and overtly ambitious. Dave is acerbic, smart, and New York tough. So they say. I prefer reruns of Seinfeld or ESPN highlights.
The late-night talk shows have always received disproportionate press coverage, given that Jay or Dave have garnered a smaller audience than the World Wrestling Federation. Think about it: more people in the US watch overgrown men in undergrown shorts grab each other's heads and pretend-kick each other in the groin.
Publicists treat the late-night turf as a battleground, prime real estate for launching big campaigns for movies, albums, or, occasionally, books.
In the case of the latter, it has to be a tell-all by a celebrity or an "insider
account. No one wants to hear of a new historical epic on Chester A. Arthur. Present readership excepted, of course. You are precisely the kind of intelligent, curious sorts who would be interested in our 21st president. Which is why I'll gladly inform you his middle initial "A
stood for "Awwwwright!!!,
which he ex-claimed upon learning the Lincoln bedroom came fully furnished.
Late night TV is, quite frankly, a yawn. With American culture devoted to the practice of working hard to buy new things and showing them off to your friends, not many people can even manage to stay up past 11. There are jobs to go to, children to deposit, and gyms to attend so you can show off bulging pecs along with your new things. A wise old man - it may have been my grandfather or just another old guy who liked to sit in his chair - once told me, "When you become an adult, you'll be tempted to stay up late and watch TV. Do yourself a favor. Just go to bed."