How TV Should Be

While everyone was focused on the Super Bowl and the Grammys, the greatest hour of TV happened when no one was watching

On the final Friday in January, I was stuck in Manhattan all night. I had missed my last train home and since I’m a novice to this area and still have trouble differentiating between the PATH, the Lightrail, and everything else, I couldn’t MacGyver my way home and had to wait until morning.

I’m sure I’ll always remember that night because of what happened to me, but also because of what I discovered the next day: while I was assessing my options and debating whether or not to sleep in Penn Station (again), a television episode aired that could and should — but won’t — change the way the medium is presented and watched.

“There are going to be peaks and valleys of all of this. It’s not all gonna be great.”

I came across it on Twitter. I didn’t know Adam Pally — though I have been told repeatedly that I should watch Happy Endings and The Mindy Project — and I only know Ben Schwartz from Parks and Recreation. I don’t really pay attention to late night TV, so I didn’t realize that they were rotating guest hosts for The Late Late Show. I spend a lot of time reading and writing and, besides, the TV in my living room is usually tuned to Disney Junior or Sprout.

If you haven’t watched it, click here to see it in all its glory.

The first time I watched it, I was absolutely riveted. I laughed and I cringed, but mostly I thought to myself that this is what I want to watch on TV. Ben Schwartz himself said it was “absurd,” while Vulture called it “a glorious mess,” Pajiba labeled it “abysmal,” and Splitsider called it “weird”. But I most agree with Rembert Browne of Grantland, who said, “It was genuinely some of the best television I’ve seen in ages.” The most important word in that sentence? Genuine.

Leno was sanitized to the point of being sterile, Letterman is so smart he’s bored by it all, and Fallon’s need for a laugh is borderline desperate. Pally and Schwartz, though, are acting as if they broke into the studio and are having a show for their own amusement, trying to make one another laugh, and admitting that no one is watching.

“This whole operation is bunk city.”

My favorite moments were the ones when it seemed like they forgot they were actually on television, like Pally reenacting a scene from Bangkok Dangerous, admitting that he farted in Charlie Rose’s chair or Schwartz finding a three-hole punch in the office and using it for absolutely no reason.

I posted it to Twitter and twice to Facebook. I am not exaggerating when I say that I’ve watched it every day, even going so far as to download it onto my desktop so that even if it gets pulled down from every site, I’ll have it for posterity. When my wife saw me putting it on again the other night, she said, “Really? Again?” I told her that it makes me completely happy. Isn’t that what entertainment is supposed to do?

Use whatever adjective you want, but Adam Pally’s single evening of hosting The Late Late Show was completely authentic, without the gloss and sheen of network TV. There were issues with the satellite delay, he ripped his suit jacket, and detailed how every crew member hated him. That’s far more relatable than anything else we see on broadcast TV.

It’s a show a network would never put on the air, which is why it will never happen again. And that’s a shame.

Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. In addition to his own site, his work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.