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June 16, 2009

Paul Schaeffer Baits the Palins on Letterman?
Correction: More Likely Explanation Offered By Commenters

I was a huge fan of Letterman, back when he was funny. So even though I can't find a cite to "prove" this, trust me, I watched the show almost every damn night when it was on at 12:30, and then for a year when it was on CBS, too.

Paul Schaeffer plays a game with Letterman and his guests -- an innocent, fun game. About half of the band's song choices contain a reference significant to the guest, the movie the guest is promoting, or a sketch that's being introduced. Sometimes they're obvious, sometimes they're subtle.

For example, if Pierce Brosnan were on promoting a James Bond film, Schaeffer might play "Secret Agent Man." A pretty obvious reference. Not really a good "game" prompt, as it's too easy. (Note: These examples are made up as "for instances" -- I don't remember the specific references in the songs Schaeffer chose for various guests.)

Often they'd be more subtle, relying on knowing the name of the band or recalling a single lyric from the song. If someone were on promoting a movie adapted from an Elmore Leonard book, for example, taking place in Florida (as many of his books do), the band might play "Walk on the Wild Side." The reference there is just to the lyric about someone coming from "Miami F-L-A."

Letterman and the guests would often give Paul the hat-tip and comment that they'd gotten the reference. If Jim Carrey were on promoting his role as The Riddler in the Batman flick, Shaeffer might play "96 Tears," which doesn't seem to have anything to do with The Riddler, until you realize the song is by a group with the odd name "? and the Mysterions," with that question mark a reference to The Riddler's question-mark spangled costume.

"Question Mark and the Mysterions," Carrey would say to Schaeffer as he sits down. And Schaeffer would say something about the band, and, while not expressly saying so, his tone says "You got it, sir."

Anyway: I'm not making this up. This was a longstanding habit of Schaeffer's and a game enjoyed by himself, the band, and Letterman. And the audience -- I enjoyed trying to figure out the reference. A lot of the time I couldn't, meaning either I just didn't know the lyrics or the guest's career well enough, or else there actually was no reference at all. After all, sometimes the band just wanted to play "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys," whether it contained a reference to a guest or not.

Whether or not Shaeffer still does it, I couldn't say. I imagine he does. He seemed to enjoy it. But I haven't watched the show in years so maybe he's abandoned the practice.

This is a long lead up to the song Schaeffer plays as Letterman offers his new, more user-friendly Apology 2.0.


That's "I'm a Man." Know the lyrics which match the music just as the band finishes and Letterman begins speaking?

I'm a man
Yes I am
and I can't stop from loving you

...which seems entirely inappropriate in introducing what is supposed to be a "sincere" apology by Letterman about cracking a joke about Alex Rodriguez "knocking up" a teenaged girl.

Deliberate? I think so. Schaeffer would obviously know the first segment of the show after the monlogue was intended for this apology. The show is planned out, after all. It's not as if Schaeffer and the band show up for taping without any mention of the guests. And this has surely been a big topic of discussion 'round the show, too.

I don't think a big deal can be made about this. It's easy for Schaeffer to claim "Oh I didn't mean anything of the sort," and who can prove otherwise? He does, in fact, often play songs that have no reference within them at all. Songs they just play because they want to play them.

Still, given the nature of the segment, and the certainty that Schaeffer knew Letterman would be making his apology, and his long history of in-joke musical introductions -- seems baiting to me.

One thing I have to admit -- even though it would make for a better point to pretend otherwise -- Letterman usually doesn't know the reference, nor is he told about what songs the band will be be playing. It wouldn't be a game he could play if Schaeffer told him in advance the songs and the references. So, to the extent this matters, it's on Schaeffer and the band, not Letterman.

For dueling opinions about whether the apology is sincere and sufficient, see Laura for the "con" and and Treacher for the "pro."

Oh: And since Palin accepted the apology (on behalf of "exploited" young girls), that's pretty much the end of the scandal.

Note that pushing something like this damages the person pushing it almost as much as the one who is to blame for it.

The media only covers things like this when Republicans make an issue of it -- and thereby make themselves look smaller and meaner for pushing it at all.

When the Democrats are offended, they aren't required to push it to get exposure. The media will push it on their behalf, and Democrats can pretend to be high-minded as they disclaim any interest in pursuing the matter. They can say that, of course, because they know damn well their Liberal Spirit Squad in the media will push the story even as they themselves pose as bystanders to it, thus giving them the double advantage of hurting Republicans while taking no damage themselves.

So, that's it.

Ahhhh... Adrienne thinks this is a reference, but a well-intended one:

I think the song reference was for the situation but I think it was positive - i.e. he's being a real man and apologizing and he likes/loves Sarah Palin and he made a mistake and didn't mean it. That's what it seems to me.

Okay -- I admit, that makes sense too. Maybe more sense when you consider the situation -- Schaeffer's a pro and probably would not try to deliberately undermine Letterman.

You guys is so smart.


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posted by Ace at 04:56 PM

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