The network’s late-night lads can be a bunch of drama queens. They’re like overtired boys at recess, ganging up and name-calling and bullying and pouting — except for little Jimmy Fallon, whose parents taught him to be nice. Slippery Jay and Grumpy Dave are on the seesaw, each considering a jump off, and there’s Sly Jimmy Kimmel lying in wait. Meanwhile, Brainy Conan O’Brien got shipped out to private school. Decades on, they still want to be crowned the next Johnny Carson (all rise).
But there’s another group of nighttime talk-show kids who are sitting on the playground steps, disconnected from the same old game-playing. They don’t particularly want to be the next Johnny, and they’re all on cable, away from the crushing Nielsen pressures that can turn a comic into a neurotic megalomaniac like Garry Shandling’s Larry Sanders. They have no connection to the endless media rumors about late-night jockeying — including, last week, buzz that had Jay Leno gone after next season, Fallon taking over “The Tonight Show,” and Howard Stern picking up Fallon’s slot. They don’t rate musical-chairs reports yet.