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The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning critic blogs at TVWeek.com with wit, humor and strong opinion.

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Tom Shales


July 2007 Archives

Double-Breasted Dave

July 30, 2007 9:21 AM

Something funny’s going on with Dave Letterman—other than the obvious, that is. Still the fastest wit in late-night TV, maybe in all of television, Letterman hasn’t been quite himself lately. Or maybe he’s been himself and then some.

For a few weeks, Letterman has eschewed the stupid double-breasted suits that he used to habitually button and unbutton during his monologue and the rest of the show. No longer does he make the occasional mad dash from the wings onto the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater as he was wont to do in months past; months past; he has lost oomph. He’ll sit at his desk during some segments with his single-breasted suitcoat still buttoned, which looks uncomfortable and awkward. (See??? We don’t just write about how Katie Couric looks. We’re not sexists around here.).

I was worried, seriously, that Dave was ill or that there were some problems associated with the lifesaving heart bypass he underwent a few years ago. Unfortunately, Dave goes ballistic if anyone on his staff talks to the press about him, even if they talk to, say, a TV critic who has slathered Dave with praise for more than 25 years, so it’s hard to get anything confirmed or denied.

Thus we have to formulate a theory and this is the one that seems most plausible and the least worrisome: DAVE IS GETTING FAT. He’s putting on weight. He’s packin’ pudge. He’s developing what’s commonly called a beer belly whether from beer or not.

It is possible. After Johnny Carson traumatized the nation by leaving NBC’s “Tonight Show,” one of the first things he did was pile on pounds, elated not to have to be constantly mindful of his weight any more. The irony about Dave getting chubby, if that’s what’s happening, is that the proverbial and perhaps immortal “fat guy” has long been one of Letterman’s favorite joke targets.

He does it so often that it appears he thinks of fat guys as some freakish, separate and distinct group apart from the normal population. The fat jokes used to bring occasional remonstrance from occasional nut-fringe guest Richard Simmons. In a 1991 show, back when Dave was on NBC, he tried to reassure Simmons and any fat folks watching about “people with weight problems.” He told Simmons: “I like them, I know them, I care about them.” He said he had an “Uncle Earl” who weighed “680 pounds.”

Would there be some cruel justice in this habitual fatty-basher plumping up himself? Yes of course, but not the kind we should take any pleasure in. Getting fat could be a sign of depression, but then, Dave seems to have been depressed ever since he first stepped in front of a TV camera. A happy Dave is not the real Dave—any more than a Fat Dave would be.

Dave, Dave, Dave—listen to the voice of experience: If you go down that road, you may never be able to turn around and come back. Lose it now or forever drop the fat jokes from your repertoire.

Busy Signal

July 24, 2007 2:23 PM

Maybe this has become a common practice – I know it’s been done before – but the latest example seems so graphically a sign of the times, and of the practical realities of business, that it stands out on the landscape.

Though the commercial is fairly new, you’ve probably seen it by now, or at least one version of it: a good-looking young man in underpants and a t-shirt is getting dressed in his apartment for a night out, trying to pull on his apparently super-tight Levi’s jeans. As he pulls up the jeans, a telephone booth, of all things, bursts up through the floor, and eventually the room is demolished (the boy has dropped his Levi’s to his ankles by this time) and the whole apartment sort of bursts up through a city street.

Yes, it’s quite weird. But that’s not the point. In one version of the ad, a beautiful girl appears in the phone booth and the boy, enticed, pulls the Levi’s up again, successfully this time. The ad ends with boy-and-girl hugging and going off together into the city. They must be going to her place, since his is in ruins.

Anyway – Fade out.

It’s an okay ad if hardly revolutionary. But there’s quite another version. Viewers who watch Logo, the channel aimed at gay men and women and their discretionary income, see a slightly different pitch. Same boy, same jeans, same telephone booth bursting through the floor. But this time, the phone booth is occupied by a handsome guy. The two young men look each other up and down flirtatiously, just as the man and woman do in the other version. Their eyes, how they twinkle; their dimples, how merry.

Soon they are sauntering down the street together.

Levi’s: All Things to All Men.

There is one other major difference between the otherwise identical ads. The two young men do not nuzzle or hug or even touch. They walk off together very close to each other, however, and you’d have to be pretty thick to imagine they’re on their way to the public library.

Then again, we don’t want to stereotype. Maybe the public library is the site of many a gay date. Meanwhile, if there’s a lesbian version of this ad, we haven’t seen it, but let’s not rule anything out. Lots of lesbians wear jeans too – not that there’s anything wrong with that.