Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Ny Times Magazine article
Leno and Letterman have been rivals since NBC chose Leno to be Johnny Carson’s successor and Letterman moved to CBS. Letterman was Carson’s pick — when Carson retired, he appeared twice on Dave’s show and never on Jay’s — and he’s revered in the tight-knit community of comedy writers, many of whom, like O’Brien, grew up watching him. Letterman’s cool irony (especially when compared with Leno’s genial demeanor) can make him seem unkind, but it can also create thrilling comedy out of unexpected situtations. On Feb. 11, Letterman’s interview with a heavily bearded, quasi-comatose Joaquin Phoenix not only offered up Letterman at his best but demonstrated why talk shows endure even as the TV audience becomes increasingly fragmented. By allowing Phoenix, who was unable to speak for stretches at a time, to dictate the pace of the interview, Letterman created strange, uncomfortable and riveting live television. “When Dave is good,” [Conan] O’Brien told me the day after the Phoenix episode, “no one is better. At moments like that, I can’t touch him.”

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