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Late-Night Impressions, First Night Back
January 3, 2008  | By David Bianculli
The broadcast network talk shows returned in full force last night - CBS's David Letterman and Craig Fergsuon with writers, and ABC's Jimmy Kimmel and NBC's Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien without them. What, and how, did they do their first nights back?

letterman.jpgLate Show with David Letterman, CBS - Letterman had the best and funniest guest of all of them: Robin Williams, who spent the first few minutes of his guest appearance doing riffs on Letterman's strike beard. But a Top 10 list read by striking writers wasn't as funny as it should have been, and a "Get to Know the Staff" segment - presented as a hint of what the show might have looked like without writers - fell pretty flat. Letterman's monologue was good, though, and his rapport with Williams was first-rate.

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC - Leno wrote his own monologue, and said it felt like when he first started out as a standup comic, trying out his own material on his wife. That part of the show went fine, but a Q&A with the audience wasn't as sharp as it might have been. Where Leno shone, somewhat surprisingly, was during his interview segment with Mike Huckabee - who was a lot funnier and more relaxed than might be expected of a presidential candidate the night before the Iowa caucus.

Conan O'Brien photo

Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC - O'Brien's big guest was Bob Saget, who didn't help much. But the host, all by himself, was very funny, and sported his own strike beard. He milked the lack-of-writers situation by doing anything, and everything, to waste time. "That's good water," he said after taking a lengthy sip from his cup. "Killed some time." He got applause, and added, "You can't write a moment like that." Spinning his wedding ring on the desk, goofing with the band, O'Brien made the most with the least last night.

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, CBS - Like Letterman, Ferguson was able to return with writers, so he opened with a taped skit - one that showed him sporting a comically long beard while serving as a shepherd back in his native Scotland. Then, as he showed up in the studio, the first words of his monologue were a nod to classic talk-show lore: "As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted..." (Except for the "rudely," those were the exact words with which Jack Paar returned to the Tonight show, ending a one-month walkout to protest network censorship.

ferguson.jpgOddly, Ferguson made the decision to have no first-night interview guests, filling the hour instead with comedy bits featuring such recurring visitors as Tim Meadows. Meadows and Ferguson always are funny together, and were again tonight, but a big guest, the first night back, would have showcased Ferguson's interview strengths, one of his biggest and most natural assets.

Jimmy Kimmel Live, ABC - On the other hand, sometimes choosing no guest at all is a better move than choosing the wrong guest. Kimmel's big guest his first night back? Two words: Andy Dick.



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