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Hein's Picks: Savoring David Letterman’s Unlikely Second Act

Plus: The World Series, The Queen’s Gambit and The Undoing
  • David Letterman with Lizzo. Is anyone enjoying their retirement more? (Photo: Netflix)
    David Letterman with Lizzo. Is anyone enjoying their retirement more? (Photo: Netflix)

    Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.

    I've always been in awe of any entertainer who becomes identifiable by a single name.

    Howard. Oprah. Dave.

    These talk show hosts didn't start out with the single moniker like Cher or Madonna – they earned it.

    Howard is still the best at what he does. Oprah is busy running an empire. But a funny thing happened on Dave's exit from late night network television. Most thought he would ride off in to the Montana sunset, rarely to be heard from again if at all, Johnny Carson-style.

    By the time he retired in 2015, Dave seemed fed up with the cookie-cutter limits of a network TV talk show. Having to interview the star of the latest procedural crime drama some combination of the letters I, C and S in the title was tedious. After spending decades brightening our nights at 12:30 AM, and then 11:30 PM, it was time for our hero to move on.

    He spent some quality time with his wife and son. He grew that santa beard. He did some print interviews about the state of the country and late night television.

    And then, two years into his retirement, he made a deal with Netflix to do the interview show he wanted to do. Focus on one guest who piques his interest and take a deep dive into what makes them tick. 

    David Letterman first came on my radar in the 1980's when I couldn't sleep and watched Late Night with David Letterman. It was silly, witty, irreverent, and anything but your typical talk show. Dave was charming as heck, and a welcome contrast to his hero in the coveted 11:30 time slot, Johnny Carson.

    The battle to replace Johnny has been chronicled time and again. Jay Leno got the gig, and CBS got Letterman. The 11:30 start changed Dave and the show. 12:30 shows have a different vibe and personality. Following the local news, you need to play ball as a cash cow of the network. The anti-establishment guy became the establishment. But even as he stood out there in those double-breasted suits, Dave never lost the respect of his late night fans.

    You could tell Dave had had it by the end of his run. He wasn't as locked into his guests until those last few weeks of the show. When the host is engaged, I'm engaged – the interview subject doesn't really matter.

    Thankfully Dave found his calling on Netflix where he can do his own thing. The guests are fantastic. The interviews are fun and informative. I do miss Paul and the World's Most Dangerous Band, but I'll take what I can get, thankful that he hasn't ridden off into that Montana sunset just yet.

    THIS WEEK'S PICKS

    The World Series (FOX)
    Tuesday, October 20th 8pm

    The fall classic will take place in Arlington, Texas, and the home team Rangers won't be taking the field. The Major League Baseball bubble is fully in place, and as for the weather, well, winter is coming. This playoff run has actually been very exciting. Games were played every single day and the drama has been quite intense. The Tampa Bay Rays (conquerors of the Astros and Yankees) will face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers (who overcame a 3-1 deficit to the Atlanta Braves) for the world title. 

    Baseball is a slow sport to watch, but these teams have masterful pitching and timely hitting. Having a World Series also brings a slight sense of normalcy to a topsy turvy world.

    My Next Guest Needs No Introduction (NETFLIX)
    Wednesday, October 21st (Season 3 Premiere)

    Kim Kardashian West, Robert Downey Jr., Dave Chappelle and Lizzo sit in Dave's hot seat for the third season of his Netflix interview show.

    Dave doesn't hold back on why he's fascinated with his guests, and the mutual admiration society is in play on each episode. His genuine curiosity about these celebrity lives shines through as if he's on a mission to learn as much as he can while he can.

    I’m no Kardashian fan, but the opening episode with her shows Dave at his best. He seamlessly drifts from topic to topic making his guest look good with his self-effacing humor. CVS will never be the same again.

    There are only four episodes this season (thanks, COVID), but in a break from tradition Netflix is releasing the entire season at once, rather than one episode at a time.

    The Queen's Gambit (NETFLIX)
    Friday, October 23rd (Series Premiere)

    A female orphan growing up in the 1950's succeeds in the world of chess. If that sounds like it's straight out of a book, it’s because it is. Scott Frank, who created Godless, is in charge and Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Beth Harmon.

    Beth is a woman in the male-dominated world of chess who wants to be the best and topple the Russian champ. She is also addicted to pills and alcohol and walking that fine line between genius and insanity.

    Exploring genius is always a worthy endeavor. Mix in some addiction problems with the need to be steps ahead of your competition, and you've got a moody drama to dig in to. Your move. Watch the trailer

    The Undoing (HBO)
    Sunday, October 25th 9:00 PM ET (Series Premiere)

    David E. Kelley. Nicole Kidman. A murder at a fancy private school. Sunday night on HBO. Haven't I seen this before? Where's Reese?

    The Undoing is not Big Little Lies. The Night Manager director Susanne Bier makes winter in New York look awfully creepy. It's the perfect setting for Nicole Kidman to lose her mind over a murder.

    Hugh Grant plays the accused as only Hugh can, and it's great to see Donald Sutherland as his father in law living quite comfortably in NYC. There's plenty of social commentary about race and class while figuring out whodunnit. This isn't Succession, so level your expectations.

    Any David E. Kelley show is a crapshoot. It could be really good or it could be really bad. This one gets the Sunday night on HBO treatment, so we know it's going to be beautiful to look at. Still, the plot needs to be strong enough to keep me coming back.

    If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.

    Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

    Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.

    TOPICS: David Letterman, Netflix, Late Night with David Letterman, Late Show with David Letterman, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman