Thursday, February 18, 2010
Is there a Doc in the house?
How important is it to have a strong band anchoring your late night show?
We wonder now that Kevin Eubanks is reportedly leaving Jay Leno to pursue career options that include recording and touring. (Hard to imagine he couldn't have fit recording into his schedule, but touring definitely would have been a challenge. Still, don't you agree he looks a bit like a rat on a sinking ship?)
The funniest man on late night, Craig Ferguson, has no band at all. Maybe we should find him a guitarist. David Letterman has Paul Shaffer, leader of "the world's most dangerous band," but could you name the other members? Conan O'Brien had perhaps the best known musician among the performers in Max Weinberg, but the E Street Band drummer worked the kits and seemed to struggle with comedic interaction.
And that's really what these musicians are all about. Shaffer is a foil for Letterman's jokes, just as Eubanks has been for Leno. Eubanks may be one of the best guitarists on the planet (does anybody know how good he is? Every song sounds the same) but I'll remember him for his Philadelphia Eagles jerseys and caps, and the big smile and laugh that Leno used to pull off his monologue.
I miss Doc Severinsen, who not only played a mean trumpet (and I believe toured on occasion while under contract to NBC) but had a great personality that Johnny Carson knew how to mine. The clip above is one of the funniest examples of spontaneous humor you'll ever see between a host and his musical leader. It's certainly nothing that could be duplicated by any of today's comedians and their sidemen.
What would you be looking for if you were Leno, who has some ground to recover in his return to late night where Letterman is now king? We're talking about NBC here, so we'll be surprised if they have a clue or a plan. But what an opportunity if you're willing to try something completely different.