Late Night's Last Grownup

Now that NBC has shuffled its lineup, this fall David Letterman is going up against his old rival, Jay Leno, at 10 p.m. as well as new contender Conan O'Brien later in the evening. So far, Letterman has won against O'Brien because, according to New York magazine's Peter W. Kaplan, he's the last grownup on television. Letterman's rise to maturity derives from three key moments: In 2000, he had quintuple bypass surgery and quipped "a bypass is what happened to me when I didn't get The Tonight Show," evidencing an emotional depth he had previously failed to show; the September 17, 2001, show that made him the first post-9/11 entertainer to return to the air, where he said that "if you live to be 1,000 years old," the attacks wouldn't make "any goddamn sense"; and this year's political incidents, from John McCain's couch-side apology to Letterman for lying, to his apology to Sarah Palin for suggesting that Alex Rodriquez knocked up Bristol.