Dear Dave: Get Serious
I would have sent this letter to the CBS Mailbag, but we haven't seen that segment on the show for quite a while. Sending it to teevee.org seemed to be the next best option.
I don't want to sound like the typical gushing fan, but I can't resist. Your show has been a nightly ritual for over 20 years, which covers almost two-thirds of my life. I've seen you be an innovator in the world of broadcasting. As a result, I hardly feel qualified to give you advice about your show, but I thought I'd let you know what one hard-core fan is thinking.
As usual, I watched the episode on Tuesday. I saw you rip into Bill O'Reilly regarding his rather insensitive comments about Cindy Sheehan. This resulted in a bit of tussle between the two of you. It was nice to see you show some passion. We don't get to see that fire very often these days. Most nights you seem to be rather bored. One evening earlier, you looked like you would've rather been anywhere else except interviewing the vacuous Heather Graham. I could barely watch it myself, and I'm a huge fan of the show. If I felt that way, I'm pretty sure that less devoted viewers were long gone by that point.
Here is my idea. It's time to make some subtle adjustments to the program. You've done it before when you moved from NBC to CBS. You need to look at making the show more like the O'Reilly interview and less like the Graham segment. Over the years, you've shown that you can do a mixture of serious broadcasting along with comedy. Your post 9/11 speech was considered one of the best statements made by any television personality. Your skills as an interviewer are quite underrated. We've seen you ask challenging questions before. Why not bring in more guests that actually have something to talk about?
You don't have to make radical changes. We don't want you to become Ted Koppel. We also don't need you to try to imitate John Stewart's show. I think there is an opportunity for your show to fill the gap that falls between Stewart and the now-departed Koppel. You have an hour which leaves you with enough time to do a couple of interesting interviews and still have the chance to do some comedy.
Leave the softball interviews with celebrities to Leno and the others. It's a tired concept anyway. You don't have to ignore the pop culture elite, but why not focus on inviting guests that interest you? Ultimately, late night talk shows are more about the host than the guests anyway.
This much is certain: if you are bored, the show is not going to attract more viewers. It seems evident that you aren't going to catch Leno in the ratings any time soon with the current formula. Even if it doesn't translate into better ratings, these changes might at least keep you interested.
Even if you don't make these changes, I'll still be watching. Your place as a legend in television is secure. But wouldn't it be great to cap your career with making shows that you can really be proud of instead of flying on auto-pilot into the sunset?
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