Despite a dearth of guests willing to cross Writers Guild picket lines and near-scab status himself, late-night host Jay Leno has still managed to trounce rival David Letterman in ratings. Not that either is that funny, but Letterman at least returned with "a fetching gray beard, and the moral high ground"—so why couldn't he steal the show? asks New York's Sam Anderson.
The "deep existential" Leno-Letterman divide is rooted in Leno's "dark magic," Anderson says. NBC's "prince of pandering" can't make you laugh, but "he’s a virtuoso of the mediocre." Leno's content to aim low, unlike Letterman, who's "a failed idealist," tragically interested in comedy. Between a rock and a hard place, fans choose Leno's "comedic temperament of an eighth-grade boy."