It seems with the hundreds of more television networks we have on top of the millions of web sites, the fewer truly noteworthy TV moments we have. I don’t mean manufactured fights on “The View” or a Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction. I mean a fresh, human moment, where you think, “Hey, look at that. This is nice. This is good.”
Such a moment happened Thursday night on, of all places, “Late Night with David Letterman.” In some 25 years of watching David Letterman, — 20 of them wondering why he grows more bitter and cold with each passing year of enormous professional success — I finally glimpsed his humanity.
Dave hosted rescued Chilean miner Edison Pena, a down-to-earth (pun unintended), unselfconscious, poetic, unironically clever fellow who charmed Letterman with the retelling of the miners’ ordeal and fortitude. He stopped by Letterman’s show en route to running the New York City Marathon. Pena, speaking through a lively translator, was utterly engaging, explaining in one moment how he was too uncomfortable at one point in the mine to relieve himself, in another telling what he had done to overcome the mine.
And then, Pena gave an impromptu performance of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” (you know, “We’re caught in a trap …”) Did Pena even realize he was in the same studio where Elvis first performed on American TV? What a moment!
And Letterman, the sarcastic, prickly host who can’t hide his contempt for some of his celebrity guests, was wholly enchanted. He reached across his desk to hug Pena — a full-body, real-love hug. Moment!
While Pena may have a moment or two of celebrity, he doesn’t seem interested in extending it beyond that. He says there will be no trapped-in-the-mine book (this may have been unclear in translation, I assume he spoke only for himself). He said he didn’t expect to be in New York again.
Letterman’s only regret is probably that he followed Pena’s appearance with Tracy Morgan, who proceeded to make crude, unfunny jokes about the mine story, apparently having missed Pena’s segment, or having dismissed the sweetness of it. Letterman commented at one point, to no avail, that Morgan’s bit wasn’t exactly “in keeping with the spirit of evening.”
Thanks, Letterman and Edison, for a classy conversation. And Dave, why not invite more guests whom you actually like and admire? As we see here, relatively unknown people can be very interesting, and famous ones can be boring. It’s far more engaging television than watching you bristle and fake-laugh at young comedy actors and starlets and insult talented actresses who’ve probably done you no wrong.