On the face of it, Craig Kilborn seems like a shaky replacement
for crusty broadcast veteran Tom Snyder. Say what you want about
Snyder and his eminently parody-able anecdotes, his staid interviews
were the best late-night television had seen since Americas generalist,
Bob Costas, surrendered his seat at Later. Like Costas, Snyder
can talk to anyone -- be they literati or glitterati -- and find
out something an audience might want to know. That the opening
monologue always found his massive, chuckling head wrapped in
the tightest close-up allowed by law hardly mattered, except perhaps
to the squeamish.
Fortunately, early indications from the new Late Late Show, which
debuted a week ago Tuesday, suggest that Kilby was never intended
as a Snyder substitute, but as CBS answer to Conan OBrien.
He does have the breeding for it. In a tradition at least as old
as Carson, hes a slice of white bread that could only have been
packaged way between the coasts (Minnesota, in Kilborns case).
Hes a provincial doofus like the rest of us, over his head in
a world of cinema celebs and supermodels. And of course, in a
tradition only as old as Letterman, Kilborn has a smug yet self-deprecating
awareness of this. Sort of.
If anything, he takes Lettermanesque self-consciousness to the
next level. Dave himself cant pull it off anymore. Hes been
around too long. We know what he earns and his just-in-from-Indiana
befuddlement has given way to full-blown bitterness. Meanwhile,
Conan OBrien has broken new ground in the field of self-proclaimed
loserdom, never missing an opportunity to detail his own purported
Kilborns self-deprecation, however, takes place on an entirely
different level. Rather than being a loser who becomes cool by
admitting it, Kilborns a loser who thinks hes cool, and painfully
isnt, but who still manages to make a joke out of his persistence
in the delusion. His self-mockery is aimed at his vanity, not
at his awkwardness.
Thus the endless promos featuring the dewy-eyed pretty boy tossing
his hair and whispering sweet nothings to the camera and the central
conceit that the show is being filmed from the hosts bachelor
pad in the Hollywood Hills. Conan OBrien is a dork who never
gets laid. Kilborn is worse: a player who never gets laid.
Not that Kilborn doesnt have his share of awkwardness. He cant
seem to get a handle on where to put his feet or hands during
the opening monologue and sometimes has trouble getting out of
the way and letting his guests talk. Hes still miles ahead of
OBrien, however, who couldnt introduce a segment without explaining
it to death if his life depended on it. Hes more at ease at the
desk as well, and his smarmy wit may be quicker than anyone expected.
As for bits, The Late Late Show has a way to go before things
fall into place. Fans of the Kilborn-hosted Daily Show will want
to tune in just for In the News and 5 Questions, spots that
were in no way damaged in transit. Beyond that, the shows writers
are taking a cue from Kilborns previous employer, satirizing
the idea of a talk show itself with constant references to focus
groups and demographics. (Funniest monologue line from week one:
A guy comes up to me from the audience. Nice guy, about 18 to
The show is also peppered with bits of Ernie Kovacs-inspired surreality,
prefigured in the hilariously bizarre promo spots featuring Kilborn
decked out as a devilishly self-absorbed Willy Wonka. After the
news, Kilby retires to the window to congratulate himself on a
job well done and to worry if Vince Vaughn is better-looking than
he is. Back from commercial, he silently spies through binoculars
at buildings falling down and bombers taking off. Combine these
un-gags with theme music that might have been lifted from a David
Lynch film, and watching The Late Late Show becomes a lot like
watching television from a foreign country.
Once the kinks get ironed out, the new Late Late Show promises
to be far more entertaining, if less informative, than the Snyder-led
version, and far better than any post-Costas episode of Later
ever was. It might even give Conan a run for his money, although
that seems less likely. The Late Late Show is strange, not wacky,
and its subtly quirky atmosphere will probably not produce any
catch-phrases that include the word poop. So much for ratings.
Then again, it could be so smarmy that it just might work.