This week, NPR’s Fresh Air devotes a week of shows to late-night TV hosts and history – which has me thinking about friendships, and careers, and a just-departed dear friend…
For the week of shows building up to Labor Day, Fresh Air with Terry Gross is presenting a series of programs showcasing some of Terry’s vintage interviews with late-night TV figures – including a rare and revealing chat with David Letterman just before he got the late-night job. Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel are represented too, among several others.
On three of the shows, including Monday’s opener, Terry and I sit down together, talking about various shows and hosts and swapping stories, while I play such old TV clips as Steve Allen’s introductory remarks on the very first national telecast of NBC’s Tonight! show in 1954, and Jack Paar returning to his late-night program after walking off for a month out of protest over a censored joke.
I love the times when I get to sit down and talk TV with Terry, and this time is especially meaningful to me. Because she was asking me my opinion of both the past and present incarnations of late-night television, from Jerry Lester to Johnny Carson to Craig Ferguson to Jimmy Fallon, I was able to be both TV critic and TV historian.
And I was doing it on the radio, which let me combine all my careers – critic, teacher and broadcaster – in one place.
I’m very grateful for that opportunity, just as I am for the continued faith Terry and the Fresh Air family – and it is a family – has put in me over the years, and the decades. Terry, executive producer Danny Miller, my producer Phyllis Myers, my Fresh Air Weekend guest-host producers John Myers and John Sheehan, and my usual Friday-guest-host Fresh Air director and engineer duo of Roberta Shorrock and Audrey Bentham – these people aren’t just colleagues and radio teammates. They’re among my very closest friends, and I treasure them all.
And today, I don’t want to take any of them for granted. Because usually today, the news of my multiple appearances with Terry on Fresh Air this week would be trumpeted all over social media by Christy Slewinski, who has been doing double duty on TV Worth Watching as managing editor and social media director.
Except she died last Friday – a sudden loss that has wrenched the guts of everyone here at this website, though it’s a loss that pales in significance next to the loss of her husband, Darryl Blackall, whom Christy loved unconditionally and beautifully, and vice versa.
Just as I’m especially lucky to be on Fresh Air because of all the friendships it’s provided me since the mid-’80s, I feel blessed by the people surrounding me at TV Worth Watching, a Little Engine That Could website that’s been chugging along since 2007.
In our latest and most ambitious incarnation, Christy, like associate editor and website designer Eric Gould, was a central force, a daily player, and someone I couldn’t imagine doing this without. Now, somehow, I’ll have to, if we’re to keep going.
But I’m as grateful to her, for all her dedication and inspiration and truly unwavering support, as I’m capable of describing. We once worked together on the New York Daily News – where she rose from TV reporter to TV book editor – and it was a joy to reunite with her on TV Worth Watching.
So thanks, Christy. And thanks, Eric. And thanks, Terry and Danny and Phyllis and everyone else at Fresh Air. In your own ways, you’ve made me a better critic, and a better person, and allowed me to experience some honestly treasured friendships.
To listen to the Fresh Air late-night TV shows this week, check local listings and tune in, or, after about 5 p.m. ET each weekday, visit the Fresh Air website.