"If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us. The free mind is not a barking dog, to be tethered on a ten-foot chain."

Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.

A Library in Your Pocket

January 16, 2010

The Tonight Show Starring Paula Poundstone: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Someone needs to call it once and for all.  The Tonight Show franchise: time of death - May 22, 1992. That was the night 67 year old Johnny Carson gave his final monologue. Let me be clear at the outset. I grew up watching Dino crash Johnny's couch.  I knew every one of Johnny's twitches and tics, wives and exes. Hell, Johnny is probably as much responsible for me taking up smoking at 15 as was Julie Rich, the girl who taught me how to french inhale and blow smoke rings.

As loyal a fan as I was of Johnny Carson in my youth, by the time of his retirement, I had long ago wandered away from the Tonight Show. On the Letterman versus Leno debate, I was in the Letterman camp if any, but mostly I didn't care.

What NBC has obviously concluded by its actions in the past year is that it does not have faith that either Jay Leno or Conan O'Brien can be the franchise player to carry the Tonight Show banner. I agree. What makes no sense is to give the franchise back to Leno whom NBC already determined and publicly admitted was the wrong man for this job.

Here is my advice: Stop giving the franchise to the wrong man and give it to the right woman.


The right woman to take over the Tonight Show is Paula Poundstone. 

Joan Rivers was the right woman 18 years ago, but her ship has sailed, circled the globe a couple dozen times, and dropped anchor too often to count. I love the raunch of Chelsea Handler, but her mouth demands cable and even there, more than an occasional bleep and bar of soap. Ellen is great, but already has her own successful talk show and the new commitment to Fox for American Idol eliminates her from contention. Alexa Chung has perfected awkward charm for the MTV audience, but she needs to finish puberty before taking on any new assignments.

Paula Poundstone embodies everything that made Johnny Carson special as the Tonight Show host.  She is quick witted, but never mean spirited. She has the ability to interact with the audience in a hilarious way that allows everyone to laugh without anyone feeling they are being laughed at.  As a seasoned stand up comedian, she can handle the monologue out of the gate.  She appeals to a broad demographic and a young demographic. Also like Johnny, she can do skits, something no one has been able to pull off since Johnny.

And as if all these weren't reasons enough, by all accounts Paula Poundstone is well liked and respected in the show biz community and can probably be had for a relatively modest starting paycheck, especially compared to what NBC will reportedly have to pay Conan just to settle his contract.

I for one would return to the Tonight Show fold with Paula Poundstone at the helm and I can't believe I am the only one.  Make a bold decision NBC.  Go in a truly new direction with a proven talent. Make it the Tonight Show starring Paula Poundstone.

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