Louis Menand’s history of the latenight wars in the New Yorker is a really good read, much of it going over Dick Cavett’s fascinating stint as a host.
But there’s a particularly insightful passage about New York Times reporter Bill Carter’s new book about latenight that very deftly sums up what’s often wrong with the Times’ media coverage.
Menand mostly praises the book, but also notes that in exchange for his thorough access to the participants, Carter is nice to virtually all of the men in suits to whom he speaks.
Carter, who covers the television industry for the Times, has managed to put together a suspenseful piece of business journalism about the battle for “Tonight” in spite of the facts that, first, everyone interested in reading his book will already know how it all turned out, and, second, he has no spectacular revelations to share. He does seem to conclude that Leno, although he was portrayed as the villain of the piece by many of his fellow-comics, did nothing underhanded. He just did what NBC asked him to do: he moved to prime time, and then, when that didn’t work out, he moved back to late night.
There are a lot of agents and men in suits in Carter’s story. He has talked to most of them and to most of the late-night stars as well. (Letterman appears to be an exception.) He has in consequence been nice to pretty much everyone, though the writing is such that we can sometimes feel we are reading about the Battle of Stalingrad, rather than about a fuss over the careers of a couple of show-business millionaires.
Bingo. And it’s why I always throw up a little in my mouth when I read something in the Times periodically about how Hollywood coverage is “soft” in the Los Angeles Times, the Hollywood trades (or really now, trade) or anywhere else.
Too soft occasionally? Maybe. Softer than most of the coverage in the New York Times, ostensibly our leading journalistic light? Don’t think so.