Jay Leno and David Letterman represent late night TV's biggest rivals. Letterman's decision not to mock the Commander in Chief may be the deciding factor in their final months of head-to-head competition.
In short, Leno is suddenly cleaning Letterman's clock, around the same time Leno upped his comedic attacks on President Barack Obama.
In Nielsen numbers for the second quarter of this year, NBC’s “Tonight Show With Jay Leno” was easily the top-rated hour in late night....
Letterman’s “Late Show” on CBS, meanwhile, continues to head in the opposite direction and logged one of its weakest quarterly performances on record. The program was down from last year in virtually every category except adults 50 and older.
Leno will be handing The Tonight Show over to fellow NBC personality Jimmy Fallon early next year, but Leno continues to pound the president as the daily headlines demand. He does so without venom--he's merely mocking the powerful as he's been doing ever since taking over for Johnny Carson in 1992.
Letterman, by contrast, avoids Obama jokes in his monologues. When he does serve one up, he looks as if he'd rather be anywhere else but on the Late Show set.
This may not have mattered two years ago, but with Obama's approval ratings falling as fast as his administration scandals pile up, late night viewers may be frustrated that Letterman doesn't feel compelled to tell the kind of jokes late night humorists have told for decades.