Television to milk cows by.

Monday, January 4th, 1999

I’ve come to understand that not everybody keeps my late night hours, and are therefore not as familiar as I am with the stuff that falls from the airwaves after Conan O’Brien, Bill Maher, and Tom Snyder have gone to bed. (And if you never see even those shows, clearly you get up at 6 am and are growing corn and soybeans somewhere west of Piedmont Park.)
Me, I’m just becoming lucid at 1:35 in the morning, and broadcast television at that hour is a delightful potpourri of infomercial, news rerun, and programming for the narrowest of audiences.

Take NBC’s offerings over the years. In the era when they still had Dave Letterman at 12:35, they followed it an hour later with Later with Bob Costas, an hour of simple one-on-one interviews so interesting and entertaining, they outdid Tom Snyder at his own game. Well, never one to leave a good thing alone, somewhere during Letterman’s transition to CBS and during Conan O’Brien’s shaky start as host of Late Night, NBC replaced Costas as host of Later with Greg Kinnear—a talented actor, but a lousy interviewer and at best, a Letterman impersonator in his role as talk show host. Not long after that, Kinnear’s movie career took off and O’Brien made the 12:35 show his own distinctive comedy playhouse, and Later became this weird, sad science experiment, hosted by a night-after-night succession of pathetic NBC "stars" (for example, Peri Gilpin from Frasier interviewing what’s-her-name the other woman from Frasier) doing shameless PR for the peacock network.

Worse, on Friday nights, the show once called Friday Night Videos became something called Friday Night, starring someone named Rita Sever. In this day an age there aren’t a lot of people on television who are simply untalented, but Ms. Sever is…simply untalented. Her NBC bio offers few clues why someone more annoying than anyone on network television (and I include Fran Drescher in this comparison) has been given a show of her own. It’s almost as if she was married to the head of NBC late night programming or something…what? Oh! She is married to the head of NBC late night programming.

So I guess that explains why NBC has announced that the next host of Later will be..well, her.

Bob Costas, still very much alive, is rolling in a cemetery somewhere. Tom Snyder, also not dead yet, but retiring from late night TV, is probably doing so in protest of the Sever move. And Linda Ellerbee, godmother of late night literate news programming (she co-anchored the wonderful NBC News Overnight in the early 80s) is probably just shaking her head in disgust.
So what’s a cable-free viewer to do, switch to WSB’s Jenny Jones rerun? Learn how to make Big Money Fast in real estate? Well, we latenight folks have been given a bit of a reprieve from this torture. Since after Christmas and through January, the Later timeslot is and will be filled with 16-year-old reruns of SCTV—Canada’s own latenight sketch comedy series arguably funnier and more original in its prime than anything else on the air. If you’ve never seen Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty, Rick Moranis, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy, and John Candy working together, why not stay up late—or set your VCRs, if you have cows to milk early in the morning.