Is it possible that some intrepid talk show host might try to keep his or her show going by converting it to actual talk? I have a feeling that Jay Leno would be terrified to be cornered in a genuine conversation, but there’s the occasional freewheeling moment on Letterman’s show that suggests he might do pretty well at it. In fact he’s done it before — Robert Morton, who was Letterman’s executive producer at the time of the last writers strike in 1988, reminisced Wednesday morning on NPR that Letterman decided to do shows without writers then because Johnny Carson had gone back on the air without them. “It was a different show,” Morton allowed, but “it was very funny…. It was sort of like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, let’s put a show on in a barn.”
In the version of the talk show that rides high now, actual talk is an afterthought squeezed in to fill whatever time’s left over after all the comedy bits. And the chitchat — as often as not with movie stars whose new films are about to open — is hardly spontaneous either. What I’m suggesting is that the talk show hosts invite on actual conversationalists and then engage in conversations with them — an idea that worked for Jack Paar half a century ago.
Besides, TV likes stunts. Remember the night E.R. went live? That would pale in comparison to the night Letterman — or Jay, or Conan — went on unscripted.
I’m not alone in suggesting this. For instance…