Yes, even better than Carson. That's a tough sentence to write, considering that I often find myself watching and laughing at the INFOMERCIALS for those Johnny Carson DVD's. His stuff holds up incredibly well, he got the best out of every single one of his guests. And I still can't quite believe the man is no longer with us.
But what people don't remember is that Johnny took some amazingly long vacations. I was amazed in his later years at how many guest hosts he'd have. Letterman himself made a joke about this when Carson was awarded at the Kennedy Center honors in December of 1993. Really, the only time Dave had guest hosts was when he had heart bypass surgery in 2000.
Here's what Dave being on the air at least through 2010 tells us though:
- It means that his CBS Late Show ALONE will have lasted longer than Leno's Tonight Show. Personally, I think Dave really wanted to be able to say this, especially after the bitter feud between the two that happened when Dave was passed over for his dream job (If you've never seen the HBO Movie The Late Shift go out and get it today; aside from Rich Little's horrible Johnny Carson impersonation, it's an extremely enjoyable watch, and it's Kathy Bates' finest hour as the manager who ran that wuss Leno's life).
- It would give Dave 28 years as a late night talk show host. Carson was on for I believe 29 years. Given Dave's high regard for Johnny, something tells me that he'd like to finish just 1 year behind Carson's reign.
Carson will always be remembered as the voice of the nation when he was hosting the Tonight Show. His legacy is firmly in place. Letterman however influenced SOOOO many comedians and other hosts (Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart are just two who go out of their way to say how Dave influenced their careers). Dave was also responsible for creating two brand new viable entertainment programs that were never even close to existing before, and will in all likelihood remain after he's gone:
- The 12:30am EST time slot being valuable. There was literally nothing on television after Carson would sign off, until 1982, when Dave started "Late Night" and proved that there was an audience who didn't fall asleep with Johnny.
- The more impressive one: As far as I can remember, CBS used to air re-runs of Gunsmoke or old movies after their local news. Again, until they wood Dave in 1993, and all of a sudden CBS became a huge player in the world of late night. It wasn't long before Letterman helped bring programming AFTER his new show, including the Late Late Show hosted by Tom Snyder at first, the what-was-he-thinking-in-quitting Craig Kilborn, and now Craig Ferguson.
- Oh, and if you've never seen it before, Letterman's most poignant moment, really the first TV host/comedian to further help a nation understand and heal.