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Celebs’ Late-Night Gamble: Lion’s Den or Comfort Zone?

Reps rate talkers in considering right fit for clients

A bevy of publicists were willing to provide — if not for attribution — their thoughts on the nightly battle to plop clients happily on the chair across from the hosts of latenight talkers.

“It’s very important to pick the host who is going to help make the best magical moment,” says one publicist, who, like her peers who were interviewed for this report, spoke strictly on condition of anonymity — for obvious reasons.

Across the board, all agreed that good storytelling is the key.

“They don’t want to hear about how your limo was late or your private plane broke down,” remarks one. “But your kid pooped on you? Your dog did something funny? They love anything that makes the guest seem accessible and appealing.”

Much depends on the depth of the pre-interview, and in that regard there’s a clear favorite: “Especially as it pertains to releasing a movie or an Academy campaign, Jay Leno remains the gold standard.” Unique to NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” “the same people producing the segment are also booking it, so they’re going to look for someone who’s good TV.”

The host remains good TV, too. “Jay’s just a nice guy. You feel safe with him.” “He wants the talent to be comfortable.” “He just creates a terrific environment. He’s very pleasant backstage, and he always watches what he’s talking about, so he’s really up to speed.”

CBS’ “Late Show” host David Letterman is seen as the cagey yin to Leno’s exuberant yang. The comedian/provocateur seems to take pride at times in not prepping for his guests.

“I love Dave, but he’s the most unpredictable. You never know what you’re going to get with him.” “If your client says to the Letterman people, ‘I don’t want to talk about X,’ Dave’s gonna talk about it. … He just goes for the jugular.” Still, “he’s not going to hurt a friend; he’s not going to go after Tom Hanks in a way that’ll make him uncomfortable.”

The Jimmys are popular with flacks because “they’re both naturally funny guys” — Fallon (NBC’s “Late Night”) from his sketch comedy background on “Saturday Night Live” and Kimmel (ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live”) from his radio-honed sharpness. “Fallon’s a good hit.” “With Fallon you feel like he’s already a friend; you can be playful with him.” “I’m sure it’s going to be lots of fun for young celebs, especially, to connect with him.”

“Kimmel’s having a little more fun, I think,” says another. “Going back to the ‘I’m fucking Matt Damon’ thing, Kimmel has paved the way for stars to do stuff outside their comfort zone and think it’s cool.” (Which carries an additional big benefit: “Then they don’t have to talk about themselves.”)

Cable perils are illustrated by TBS’ Conan O’Brien, who “went from 0 to 60 back to 30,” says one rep, “but obviously he has a following.”

Cable’s cool crown is currently claimed by Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” whose host is “so smart and clever he can roll with almost anything.” This could be “the hardest booking to get,” and is “special because they don’t take everybody.” Moreover, “you’re only on for six minutes, the interview segment is real short.”

Matching guests to cable stars is a delicate art. On Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” “you’re talking to someone pretending to be someone else, which is a little confusing.” “I’ve had celebrities say they aren’t going to do (Stephen) Colbert. If it’s going to be unpredictable like that, they’re going to be nervous.” On the other hand, one young starlet told her rep, “I have nothing to talk to Jay Leno about and I’d be scared to talk to Dave. But I love Colbert!”

Chelsea Handler of E!’s “Chelsea Lately” is “provocative. … Put the wrong person on and she’s going to magnify all the missing attributes.” Still, when it comes to promoting wild comedy features, “who better than someone who emulates that energy or audience?”

When it comes to emceeing the best television, the consensus is clearly PBS’ Charlie Rose. “He’s the pro. He’s as hip and young, or as comforting and old, as you want to be.” The rep of a major filmmaker reports, “The first one we did was Rose, then we did others. He’ll actually ask you some questions you might want to answer. He generally is a curious, polite guy.”

Across the board, publicists give kudos to show bookers and producers, “who have to fill a slate every single night, dependent on people who sometimes cancel and have crazy demands. That’s gotta be some crazy pressure.”

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