You can't read a computer book in bed

Late-night, talk show TV has passed me by. Sleep beckons before the witching hour (usually 11 p.m.) so I have no experience with the truly latenight shows. I've never been a David Letterman fan and Conan O'Brien I just don't get, much to the chagrin of my 29-year-old son.

But, I have watched a lot of late-night talk shows in the last half-century or so, being somewhat addicted.

It began with Steve Allen, one of the brightest and most gifted all-around performers to ever grace a stage, as he originated the Tonight Show on NBC Sept. 24, 1954. Allen was interesting and entertaining.

Jack Paar succeeded A llen in 1957 as host. He was somewhat aloof and boring. Still he managed to build an audience among those of us who worked late enough that the 10 p.m. news and late night TV was all there was.

Paar was bright enough but one particular guest on the show cracked up his audiences and the host was clueless to the humor. Bro. Dave Gardner, as he was billed, poked fun at poor Southerners. In his "Southern, hep-cat evangelist" style, he made fun of himself and of everyone else south of the Mason-Dixon line. Alas, perhaps Paar was more perceptive than we thought in that Gardner let white supremacists and drug addiction take over his life and he rightfully disappeared from the national scene.

True addiction to late-night TV came when Johnny Carson took over for Paar in 1962. Carson, whose reign spanned 30 years, was one of the more brilliant entertainers to grace the small screen. His sense of comic timing was unmatched.

Today, you can mention Carson's name to just about anyone over 40 and get a dissertation on the Tonight Show host's abundant talent.

Perhaps his "The Best of Carson" shows —clips of the funnier or more outrageous segments of previous shows — were more popular than even his regular nightly offering.

It was easy to get hooked on Carson because he was really that good. One of the early and joyful side benefits of watching that show was discussing it with other Carson addicts. Mary Edelstein loved his show. Mary was a septuagenarian and owned a fine clothing store in Richmond.

Young, mid-20s whippersnapper that I was, I went by the store almost daily to dissect the previous night's performance with Mary, a delightful woman. She almost always referred to me as "Mr. Webb," while I teased her about being so young at heart that I wanted to propose and run away to Mexico with her. "But, Mr. Webb, we couldn't watch Johnny Carson down there."

Ca rson's f irst 10 yea rs as Tonight host was in New York. In a 1967 trip there with some friends, we managed to wrangle tickets and an invitation back stage prior to the show's beginning. We didn't get to meet the "king" himself, but we did get to visit with the world's most famous Second Banana, Ed McMahon.

We hoped Carson would come into the audience that night and play "Stump the Band," but, alas, it was not to be. Maybe he'd heard us sing before.

Carson and Tonight moved west to LA in 1972 and the show remained brilliant. The grind of five nights a week was too much and Carson got Mondays off. Guest hosts included David Letterman and Jay Leno, who succeeded Carson in 1992.

Leno was entertaining enough to retain some of us Carson addicts, particularly with his Monday night "Headlines," with typographical errors in headlines and advertisements. Then there was the frequent "Jaywalking," which convinced many that our education system was failing because almost no one he interviewed could answer simple questions about current events and history.

Telev ision, even late night shows, evolve to meet generational likes and dislikes just as my Western movies have disappeared for the admittedly better flick fare today's generation craves.

So, I'm relegated to crossword puzzles and good books when my head meets the pillow. Now some are telling me I can read books on a computer.

Nah. You can't recline and hold a computer like a book.

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2009-11-12 digital edition

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