Even with the early mention in the nearly one-hour My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman of possible Russian interference in our democracy, “the diminishment by the head of the democracy of the press,” Twitter, the difference between Fox News viewers and NPR listeners, the name of the former Celebrity Apprentice host was never actually uttered by the former President. A segment in Selma, Alabama with Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis did mention Trump but only to dismiss him as an aberration in the American arch and body politic.
In basically ignoring the ever looming current President of the United States on another s**tstorm of a day, the pre-taped result from last fall was a primarily a warm, fuzzy, and sauntering up on dull chat between two well-spoken men who obviously like and respect each other and didn’t want to cause each other any possible grief. It may drive Trump bats**t not to have gotten any attention from his predecessor and an early morning tweet storm could always be coming. However, with Obama staying as far away from anything resembling controversy as possible, and Letterman often handing over the reigns of the interview, this debut episode of My Next Guest was not scintillating television by any stretch.
And that’s unfortunate.
The fact is regardless of one’s feelings about Donald Trump being in the White House and Obama being out of it, the imperious subject of The Art of The Deal has cranked up the political and cultural volume to previously unimaginable levels and news cycle speeds. Perhaps with a desire to turn that volume and velocity down, the sidestepping of Trump after a year in power and casting Obama within a very singular historical context made My Next Guest feel out dated. To put it another way – securing the first extended sit-down with Obama since he left office last January may have looked good on paper as a way to open the six-episode series but in streaming service practice, it was already old news before it had begun this morning.
With future guests scheduled in George Clooney, Malala Yousafzai, Jay-Z, Tina Fey and Howard Stern, My Next Guest seems determined not to break any new ground. Which again is unfortunate, because Netflix could be a perfect platform and the eternally oddball Letterman the perfect pitchman to lay down a bridge to a new sense of what late night could be.
Going for the a bit of Oprah, a bit of the UK’s now deceased Terry Wogan and a bit of what as once the Charlie Rose long format approach with My Next Guest, Letterman, who made it through his own sex scandal in 2009 after some public apologies, obviously wants to show those kids Colbert, Fallon and Kimmel how it could be done. A lofty goal, the immediate result is to still remind us why talk shows don’t yet ring true on streaming. Despite the best efforts of the talented Sarah Silverman on Hulu and Chelsea Handler for two years on Netflix, the old school moves of jumping on the news of the day still prove the most deft.
Just think of the show that could have been tonight if Letterman had quizzed Obama on his reaction to Trump’s apparent disdainful comments about immigrants from Haiti and Africa, where the ex-POTUS’ own father harked from. Just think about that Reed Hastings, and the subscription sign-ups you would have hauled in.
That’s not the show we saw starting at midnight.
After a clip of Obama on Letterman’s old CBS show in its final year of 2015 that saw the duo joking around about what they would do in retirement, My Next Guest cut to some intentionally low-fi footage of the ex-Late Nighter on the phone very politely asking the 44th POTUS if he’d come on his new show. In typically Letterman fashion, the host acts like he got a No when clearly he got a Yes and, after a brief curmudgeonly monologue about getting “fired” and a Bill Clinton gag, the My Next Guest frontman is joined onstage at New York City College by Obama for their tête-à-tête.
Being that we already knew Obama would be the first guest on the series from RadicalMedia and Worldwide Pants, the clip from 2015, the phone call and a scene of the ex-Senator from Illinois backstage, there really was little suspense or drama by the time he walked out on stage to a standing ovation from what was clearly a crowd that wanted to make America sane again. Once seated together, the thickly bearded and admiring Letterman and tieless Obama bantered about vacations, their kids, book deals, legacy, next steps, voting rights, the spirit of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the work the 44th POTUS wants to do with his post-Presidency foundation. Then they wrapped it up and it was over, disappearing into the digital fog.
And that’s unfortunate too.
You’re right Dave, your next guest needs no introduction but I hope the Oscar-winning Mr. Clooney comes with a bit more bite and lingering power.