A YEAR AGO QUINCY JONES COULDN'T buy a booking in late-night to hawk his 33d album, ""Q's Jook Joint.'' The 64-year-old music man, perhaps the most influential African-American in Hollywood, was told that Leno wasn't interested and that Letterman's people wanted him only if he'd perform, which he hasn't done in 23 years because of a medical condition. Jones didn't get mad. He got even.
Landing your own late-night talk show is always the best revenge. ""Vibe,'' a nightly talk-variety program and planned expansion of his urban-youth-culture magazine of the same name, is Q's latest jook joint. He's the executive producer; young comic Chris Spencer is the host. ""It's been a void out there in late-night after Arsenio Hall left [in 1994],'' says Jones. Now ""Vibe'' and another nightly talkfest, hosted by actor/comedian Keenen Ivory Wayans, want to bring back some ""flava'' to the after-hours. Making their debuts last week, both featured hip hip-hop guests, including male supermodel Tyson, hard-core rappers Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and other performers who've never been seen in late-night.
Spokespersons for both Letterman and Leno said that they are diverse in their bookings, citing recent appearances by gospel hot-shot Kirk Franklin and rapper Puff Daddy. But ""Vibe'' executive producer Daniel Kellison, who once worked for Letterman, says his former boss and Jay Leno are more likely to book guests who fit their own profiles - white, middle-aged men. ""The bottom line is David likes ZZ Top and groups like that,'' said Kellison. ""That's what's comfortable for him and that audience. The same is true for Leno, so you are not going to see a big departure from those guys.''
Ratings were close between the new rival shows. ""Keenen'' even tied ""Letterman'' its first night out, though ""Vibe'' is shaping up as the classier show. Opening-week jitters were apparent. Wayans's comedy sketches are naturally funny, but his enough-about-you interviewing technique needs work. And some of his wardrobe choices are deeply wrong: one black ""pleather'' get-up looked like a skintight Hefty bag.
No doubt Magic Johnson is watching the Keenen-Quincy competition with interest: his late-night entry, ""The Magic Hour,'' jumps into the fray early next year. We know he's too hip to wear a Hefty bag.