The rivalry between CBS’s new kid on the late-night block, Stephen Colbert, and NBC’s newly anointed king of late-night, Jimmy Fallon, has a familiar ring to it, TV columnist Brian Lowry writes in Variety. Lowry notes that the new late-night battle has a lot in common with the old one, between NBC stalwart Jay Leno and CBS icon David Letterman.
Fallon “appears to have entered his Jay Leno phase a bit sooner than scheduled,” Lowry writes. “With the arrival of Stephen Colbert on CBS’ ‘The Late Show,’ ‘The Tonight Show’ host has quickly become the popular kid, but not the cool one — the big box store of late-night comedy.”
Lowry notes that politicians are currently the “big get” in late-night, and Colbert proved he was up to the task with a Joe Biden interview “that was touching and funny all at once.” Lowry adds: “While Fallon rebounded from Colbert’s big sampling numbers to reclaim the top spot ratings-wise, his woefully thin encounter with Donald Trump the next night fed the perception that his is the ‘safe’ choice for candidates, perhaps, but also less likely to win the admiration of peers and pundits.”
The early positioning of the two shows, Lowry hints, echo themes from the Letterman-Leno era. “Fallon might be the ratings leader, as Leno was, but Colbert figures to be the choice of most critics and media elites, which might not be as easy to monetize but carries a certain cachet nevertheless,” he writes. On the other hand, Fallon and Colbert do not appear to have the kind of bad blood that was apparent between Letterman and Leno.
Lowry adds: “While trailing in the ratings gnawed at Letterman, Leno always laughed off the notion that his rival was more respected in certain circles, although he acknowledged the perception. When Entertainment Weekly left him off its list of the ’50 Funniest People’ in the late ’90s, Leno quipped, ‘It’s like your wife’s family. It’d be nice if they like you, but it’s not the end of the world.’”
We encourage readers to click on the link near the top of this story to read Lowry’s full analysis.