Late-night hosts address Newtown tragedy before offering comic relief

December 18, 2012

TV late-night hosts — returning to the air for their first broadcasts since a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. — grappled in their own way with the segue in their opening moments.

“I want the people in Connecticut to know we do not take what you’re going through lightly, and we’re all thinking about you here a lot, all of us, even though we’re at a talk show,” ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel said on Monday night’s show, choking up.

“My job is to give you a little break from being sad, and I will try my best to do that,” he told his Hollywood studio audience and viewers at home.

CBS’s late-night statesman, and recent Kennedy Center Honors recipient, David Letterman spoke passionately on the subject to his Manhattan studio audience for nearly seven minutes — an eternity on broadcast TV. Delivering the kind of commentary that viewers once got at the end of network evening newscasts, Letterman referenced pages of research on gun violence he had with him at his desk:

“Since 1994, there have been 70 episodes of school shootings — and we don’t have them all here, and we limited it to schools. . . . I would have thought one a year would be too many,” he said mournfully.

NBC late-night hosts gave the subject a pass in their Monday monologues, but that network had already confronted the difficult transition, opening “Saturday Night Live” last weekend with a New York children’s choir singing “Silent Night” in lieu of the show’s trademark comedic cold-opener.

TBS’s Conan O’Brien touched on the “insanely mindless tragedy” for only the briefest of moments, before telling his Warner Bros.-lot audience that he would skip the traditional opening monologue — which he called “the news part of the show” — and instead “do silly and pointless comedy” because “when you think about it, that’s all I’m really good at.” Then he brought out one of his trademark holiday characters, Minty the Candy Cane That Briefly Fell on the Ground.

Comedy Central late-night shows, meanwhile, were in repeats.

NBC reporter on ‘Today’

After doing its best to enforce a news blackout on a report that chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel had been missing in Syria since last week, NBC News featured Engel and two of his crew members Tuesday morning on the ratings-hungry “Today” show.

“We begin with the news we just received this morning. . . . Richard Engel and his team were freed from captors in Syria, where they were held for five days,” said “Today” show co-anchor Savannah Guthrie as she kicked off the broadcast. She added: “Gentlemen, good morning, and let me be the first to say it is so good to see your faces.”

NBC had been trying to enforce a news blackout on what it called “rumors” about Engel having been ambushed by gunmen not long after entering Syria; he was there to cover the fight against President Bashar al-Assad. After holding off the press for a time, the network was thwarted by Turkish media online reports.

“After being kidnapped and held for five days inside Syria by an unknown group, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel and his production crew members have been freed unharmed,” NBC announced Tuesday morning in a statement.

After describing his and his crew’s ordeal to “Today” viewers via satellite, Engel told Guthrie — who was joined by NBC News’s “Meet the Press” anchor David Gregory via satellite — that “NBC was fantastic, informing our families, keeping people up to date — keeping the story quiet.”

‘Gossip’ finale turnout

About 1.5 million people watched CW reveal on the series finale Monday — turn around now if you fear spoilers — that Dan, a.k.a. Lonely Boy, had been the “Gossip Girl” blogger all these years.

Although it’s “GG’s” most-watched episode since April 2011 — and its highest-rated among its target 18-to 34-year-old chicks since February of that year — it’s nowhere near the kind of numbers that “GG” clocked in its second season, when it hit a series high of 3.7 million viewers.

In fairness, the jury’s still out on the finale, ratings-wise, given that “GG” is one of CW’s most DVR’d, and otherwise “watched later” shows. This season, “GG’s” audience tends to grow 50 percent when you add everyone who’s watching up to seven days after broadcast — and grows 66 percent in the target age bracket among chicks.

Seems Dan, the outsider from Brooklyn who was in love with Upper East Side princess Serena, launched the blog so he could reveal the dirt on Serena’s pals, and some of his own, so he’d seem more Upper East Side-ish. After the initial shock, the UES-ers had a good laugh over the whole thing and they all lived happily ever after, according to the flash-forward of the show’s final moments.

‘1600 Penn’ debut

Meanwhile, NBC — the network that brought us “The West Wing” — returned to the White House on Monday night in a sneak preview of “1600 Penn.”

NBC hopes the comedy about a hapless first family will fill the gaping holes about to be opened up on its schedule with the shuttering of “The Office” and “30 Rock.”

About 7.2 million people — slightly more than half the lead-in crowd from “The Voice’s” penultimate episode of the season — checked out the comedy’s first episode. (In the debut, all the air was sucked out of the White House by semi-idiot first son, Skip, played by “Book of Mormon” star Josh Gad.)

That’s nowhere near the 11 million people who watched last season’s opening of the NBC comedy “Up All Night,” which followed an episode of the reality series “America’s Got Talent” (which, BTW, is talking about having Rosie O’Donnell replace Sharon Osbourne as a judge). But “1600 Penn” did score 17 million — a number that’s considered respectable, given that scripted shows and competition series don’t attract the same crowds.

Plus, viewers might not have been much in the mood, at this moment in time, for a silly comedy about the president, his ridiculous family and little schoolchildren visiting the White House.

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/
tvblog
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