David Bianculli: The Latest From The Late-Night Wars

Fresh Air's guest host and TV critic recaps the best of last night's salvos from the talk-show wars — which are getting fiercer with every passing hour.

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DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

I am a TV critic and I've been astounded by the latest round of the late-night TV talk show wars. And no matter what happens today, tonight, or next week, there's no question that already the gloves are off in a way they've never been before, at least not in public. Tuesday, on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live," that show's host sided with Conan O'Brien by doing his entire show impersonating Jay Leno. And last night on NBC's "Jay Leno Show," Leno had Kimmel on during his 10 @ 10 segment, throwing 10 questions at Kimmel who was seen on a giant TV screen in a satellite interview connecting Burbank with Hollywood. Leno's second question threw down the gantlet.

(Soundbite of TV Show, "The Jay Leno Show")

Mr. JAY LENO (Host, "The Jay Leno Show"): All right. Question two: Besides doing a cruel impression of me, what is the worst idea your writers have ever pitched you?

Mr. JIMMY KIMMEL (Host, "Jimmy Kimmel Live"): Huh, well that was my idea to be honest.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIMMEL: But they pitch a lot of bad ideas, yeah.

Mr. LENO: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: That set the tone and the tone was vicious, in both directions. When Leno asked Kimmel who in the world he would most like to interview, this was Kimmel's response.

(Soundbite of TV Show, "The Jay Leno Show")

Mr. KIMMEL: You and Conan together.

Mr. LENO: Oh, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. KIMMEL: I would like to have the two of you.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. KIMMEL: In fact if Conan won't do it I would like just you. In fact, I would like to do 12 @ 12 with you tomorrow night

Mr. LENO: Really?

Mr. KIMMEL: if you would be willing to do that because I have a lot of questions to ask you

Mr. LENO: Yeah.

Mr. KIMMEL: about this whole thing. I don't think people care about what I have to say.

Mr. LENO: Yeah. I agree with that

Mr. KIMMEL: what's going on in your life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LENO: Tomorrow night eh, tomorrow night bad for me. Let's move on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: From that point on, both Leno and Kimmel knew that Leno was boxed in, forced to ask the rest of his prepared questions. And Kimmel just swung at them like softballs and swung for the fences. Best prank Kimmel ever pulled?

(Soundbite of TV Show, "The Jay Leno Show")

Mr. LENO: Number five: You're known for pranks, what's the best prank you ever pulled?

Mr. KIMMEL: Well when my aunt Chippy(ph) was at work, I painted her house orange and green once and she was not happy.

Mr. LENO: Really?

Mr. KIMMEL: The whole outside of the house orange and green, but the best - I think the best prank I ever pulled was I told a guy that five years from now I'm going to give you my show, and then when the five years came, I gave it to him, and then I took it back almost instantly.

Mr. LENO: Wow.

(Soundbite of cheering)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. LENO: Very good friend, very good friend.

Mr. KIMMEL: I think he works at Fox or something now.

Mr. LENO: Yeah, I've got you. Number six

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LENO: ever order anything off the TV?

Mr. KIMMEL: Like NBC ordered your show off of the TV?

Mr. LENO: Yeah no, no, no.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. LENO: Actually something like that, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: Leno took a real risk though when asking question number nine.

(Soundbite of TV Show, "The Jay Leno Show")

Mr. LENO: Number nine: Is there anything you haven't hosted that you want to host?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIMMEL: Oh, this is a trick, right?

Mr. LENO: No.

Mr. KIMMEL: where you get me to host "The Tonight Show" and then take it back from me?

Mr. LENO: No, no, no, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIMMEL: I'm not going to - listen, Lucy, I'm not Charlie Brown. I don't fall for that trick.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: And even when the 10 questions were up, Kimmel squeezed off one final shot and it was a bull's-eye.

(Soundbite of TV Show, "The Jay Leno Show")

Mr. KIMMEL: Really. Listen Jay, Conan and I have children

Mr. LENO: Oh, I'm sorry.

Mr. KIMMEL: all you have to take care of is cars.

Mr. LENO: That's right.

Mr. KIMMEL: I mean, we have lives to lead here. You've got $800 million for God's sake.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIMMEL: Leave our shows alone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LENO: A plea from Jimmy Kimmel. Jimmy, thank you very much for your time. See you tonight, "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

(Soundbite of cheering)

BIANCULLI: Yikes. No wonder the country is fascinated by this very public battle. It's got everybody talking. It's got the participants rolling out their A material and it's even got me watching "The Jay Leno Show" and laughing.

(Soundbite of music)

For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

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