America’s changed attitude toward comedy was evident Monday as television networks attempted to resume their normal schedules. Whereas comedy shows continued to run on radio during the first days of America’s entry into World War II (even while Pearl Harbor was being hit), the mood on David Letterman’s Late Show, for example, was decidedly grim, and it was hard to imagine how it might change in the days ahead.
Indeed, Letterman guest Dan Rather, who had displayed his usual arched aplomb as he anchored last week’s CBS coverage of the events in New York and Washington, appeared visibly shaken by the experience as he spoke to Letterman. As Rather apologized for losing his composure, Letterman touched him on the arm and remarked, “I know you’re a great newsman, Dan, but you’re also a human being.” Several times during the broadcast, Letterman expressed regret for the somber tone of the show. His rival, Jay Leno, is scheduled to return to the air tonight with guests Sen. John McCain and Crosby, Stills & Nash (whose Stephen Stills once penned the words: “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear …”). Conan O’Brien also returns to the air tonight.