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Late Night Television Returns

We really take cartooning seriously, because we think it has a way of cutting
to the basic emotions and reactions. And while (we think) a French diplomat said
that understanding baseball was key to understanding America, we think comedy is
just about as important. So we have watched the talk shows with great interest
and some trepidation. Letterman, though we missed his first show, has been
superb, and as the reigning king of talk in New York, he is very important. He
clowns a lot, but basically, Letterman is a prince of a man beneath all that, a
man of dignity and decency and not someone who places himself above the rest of

Leno was back on, and gave a highly emotional talk, rather than monologue,
about helping people, about the American character, his father, and the decency
of our people. It was really very moving. Conan O' Brien
came on later and was very shaky and admitted that he had made a career out of
getting in over his head, but that this was too much. He talked a bit
about seeking solace in St. Patrick's, and almost apologized for having
religious impulses. But he then talked of the young demographic his show has
claimed, and urged young people not to give into cynicism. Very moving,

Now here's how we know things are very serious indeed: old antagonists are
putting disputes aside and embracing each other. On the Late Show, it was
Letterman and Bryant Gumbel. Letterman has ridiculed him for years, at two
networks. At one point he used a bullhorn to harass Gumbel while he
was filming for his show, to Gumbel's enormous annoyance. But they were
old friends last night.

Gumbel had the interesting idea of rebuilding the towers, but only as a
shell, to restore the skyline. The real estate is too valuable for that,
we suspect, and in grand New York fashion, it will be put to work.

More striking though, was Leno. He had Sen. McCain on as a guest, and McCain
talked a great deal about the situation at hand. Then Leno had, as musical
guests, Crosby, Still, and Nash, and we thought: what a horrible choice.
What a dumb choice for musical guests. Typical Jay.

Now, keep in mind, we think these guys have a gorgeous sound, but when was
the last time they were relevant to anything? When were they last all sober? Ok,
scratch that, but that's a band with some serious substance abuse problems in
the past.

Anyway, we're thinking all of this, and then, to close the show, they sang
"My Country 'Tis Of Thee." This was the last thing we expected -
patriotic songs from Crosby, Stills, and Nash? But what made it particularly
moving - almost devastating in fact - was a shot of Sen. McCain, listening

He was in shadows, and somber, and only then did Leno's genius at this moment
make sense. Here was a man who was having his limbs broken in the
Hanoi Hilton while the band agitated against the Vietnam War.

It was an astonishing portrait of that war in miniature, and the light and
shadows were highly evocative, and one could almost see the whole experience
roll across his face, though McCain didn't move in the slightest.

After the song, McCain came out with Leno and shook hands with all three
members of the group.

We think about the people on both sides of that war from time to time. We
think about West Pointer Coach K and one area journalist who worked
against the war, and we realize that is still a subtext in their relationship,
and a deep one, too. We think about McCain and Clinton, and there,
too, it is the subtext: you coward! How could you not go! You bastard! how
could you go?

What Leno did in bridging that gap, at least symbolically, spoke volumes
about where this country is right now. We're not particularly big fans,
mind you, but it was an astonishing moment, and we're not sure anyone else could
have pulled that off. Simply remarkable, and very moving.