Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Substitute Day

Remember back in grade school when your teacher called out sick and there was this feeling of disorganization? You sat in the classroom wondering what you were supposed to be doing, and various administrative types would poke their heads in the door to assure you someone was coming in. Eventually someone would be called from out of her bed and come in and provide some sense of order but deep down, you knew she really didn't know what was going on.

The seams of the organization were visible and this always fascinated me.

What's further amazing is when this happens on TV.

I remember turning on the Tonight Show one night in the mid-80s and Steve Allen was the guest host. That was odd, it wasn't one of Johnny's many many many many weeks off. Johnny obviously called out and we can only imagine what happened next. Freddy DeCordova and Peter Lassally huddled together going down a long list of comics, making calls and seeing who was available. "Jay, this is Freddy, can you host the Tonight Show this afternoon?.. You're booked? OK, thanks anyway."

(Steve Allen meanwhile made the night his own, delivering his monologue from a piano. He'd play between jokes and it became pretty obvious, this is the guy who invented the Tonight Show, and NBC should have probably never let him go.)


This happened last night with The Daily Show. Jon called out sick, the producers weighed their options. John Oliver, who did such an great job subbing for Jon over the summer is now at HBO, so he's off the list. Jennifer's too green, how about Jason or Samantha?

So Jason Jones hosted it, he did a bit about Joe Biden that was obviously written for Jon, jokes were made about his nervousness, and it pretty much worked. In the second segment, Samantha Bee made jokes that she should be guest hosting, which were cute, and recycled from when John Oliver hosted. Then they showed her pre-filmed segment.

In the third segment things kind of went off the rails. Samantha refused to leave the desk, and she and Jason both interviewed Daily Show alum Wyatt Cenak, in an interview that made you appreciate Jon's ability to put everyone at ease and be the funny guy for serious-minded guests, or be the straight man for comics.

Cenak had brought a pie, Bee asked if he made it with his own hands, then she said she wanted to taste his hands in the pie and it was just awkward. Jones brought up his American citizenship test and asked Cenak some questions. This worked. Cenak then  did a bit about plugging books by dead authors which was OK, but the whole time I'm just sensing flop sweat.

People like Allen and Carson and Cavett make hosting a talk show look easy, but maybe it's harder than we all think.

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