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Posts Tagged ‘David Letterman’

So Long To A Late Night World Of Love

May 21st, 2015 No comments


By the time this article is posted, David Letterman’s final Late Show broadcast will have already occurred, but as I write this, it’s still a couple of days off. There have been approximately one godzillion tributes to Letterman in the weeks leading up to his retirement, but I couldn’t let the event pass without offering a few words of my own.

I’m old enough that my first exposure to David Letterman wasn’t CBS’ Late Show or NBC’s Late Night, but his late ’70s stint as a semi-regular replacemet host on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I was such a fan that I was one of the few loyal viewers of his ill-advised gig as a morning show host in the summer of 1980.

Dave’s ironic detachment and self-aware mockery of television itself came to influence a generation of comedians and late night talk show hosts during his 11-year run on Late Night. He changed the tenor of witching hour TV with surreal comedy bits such as Chris Elliott’s appearances as a vaguely menacing guy living under the audience seats. Most people will bring up Dave’s Velcro suit or the Late Night Monkey Cam, but my favorites were theme episodes such as the annual “International Night” (with Kamarr, the “discount magician”) and the infamous “360 Degree Image Rotation” stunt in which the picture slowly spun over the course of the hour.

While I don’t believe that it influenced my decision to attend Ball State University, I certainly was delighted when I learned that Letterman had gone to school there. He and I even had one of the same broadcasting professors. During my junior year, Dave established a scholarship program and funded a radio studio with a plaque dedicating it to “all C students before and after me.”

As much as I would like to think that I picked up some residual Letterman mojo during my Ball State days, I have to say that his true influence on me was in demonstrating the fun of working in the medium of television, of getting on camera in front of thousands and doing something you can’t believe you’re getting away with. For good and ill, more than a few of my pledge drive moments have been informed by that “I’m the only thing on Channel 12 right now” attitude.

Happily, my wife and I had the opportunity to see Letterman’s Late Show in person a few years ago during a trip to New York. It was one of those “right place/right time” things. And while the Dave we saw was more settled-in than the one who staged elevator races or pitted a humidifier against a dehumidifier, I’m grateful to have witnessed a few minutes of Letterman’s late night legacy.

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A Little Late Night Music

April 29th, 2014 No comments

Last night it was announced that Craig Ferguson will be ending his run as host of CBS’ Late Late Show. Ferguson is yet another falling domino in the chain that began with Jay Leno’s not-entirely-voluntary retirement from The Tonight Show earlier this year. And as much as I’ll miss Ferguson, his robot skeleton sidekick and his Doctor Who fixation, it’s really the also-retiring David Letterman I want to write about here.


Even though Johnny Carson was the late night host of my childhood, I was truly a Letterman kid. I loved it when he filled in for Johnny, and eagerly followed him on his brief, ill-advised stint on a morning talk show during the summer of 1980.

Of course, it was on his own Late Night that he became the Letterman we all came to know, his show an exercise in surreal experimentation . While Top 10 lists and Stupid Pet Tricks remain his signature bits, what fascinated me were such stunts as his succession of unusually-mounted cameras (e.g. the Late Night Monkey Cam) and a regular bit in which he dropped a variety of objects from the roof of a five-story building. Chris Elliott showed up in a variety of guises, my favorite being a vaguely sinister man who lived beneath the audience seats.

I was a huge fan of Letterman’s theme shows, such as the ones in which he allowed the audience to vote on various production aspects of the episode, changing the theme music or the backdrop behind his desk. Then there were the “international” episodes featuring such dubious talents as Kamarr (whom Letterman nicknamed “the discount magician“). But one of my all-time favorite episodes of television was the “360-degree rotation show,” during which the picture imperceptibly turned through one full rotation over the course of the hour.

So many Late Night moments have stuck with me: elevator races, the “General Electric handshake,” Paul Shaffer’s “Bermuda” song (“it’s a cuckoo kind of place”), Dave’s chats with Meg in the window of the building across the street, and Larry “Bud” Melman handing out hot towels at the Port Authority.

Much of that was lost when Letterman moved to CBS and (more significantly) an earlier time slot. The rough edges were sanded, the weirdness toned down to suit a general (older) audience. Dave himself became older, crankier and less willing to leave the studio.

Which is not to say that CBS’ Late Show wasn’t essential viewing at times. Letterman wasn’t afraid to toss tough, challenging questions at political guests, and his post 9-11 speech was one for the ages. But as much fun as it was to hang out with such found-talent as Hello Deli owner Rupert Jee, the anything-can-happen quality of Late Night was lost. Conan O’Brien, Dave’s successor at NBC, kept the freak flag flying for a time, as has Craig Ferguson, with his cursing hand puppets and pantomime horse cohort. When Craig and Dave hang it up later this year, it really will be the end of an era.


Happily, Vicky and I had a chance to see the Late Show in person during our 2012 New York trip, and as you can see above, we got the full experience, including lunch at the Hello Deli. To have that crossed off our bucket list is especially comforting, now that Dave’s late night days are numbered.

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Don’t Blame Conan

January 20th, 2010 No comments

I haven’t written anything about the recent salvos of the Late Night TV Wars. That’s partially because I’ve been very busy, and mostly because they’ve been so thoroughly covered elsewhere.

Oddly, while I consider myself on “Team Conan” in the current feud over The Tonight Show, he’s really my third choice for what to watch in that time slot. Second is David Letterman, of whom I’ve been a fan since he first sat in Johnny Carson’s chair.

Truth to tell, these days I’m a Colbert watcher. If Stephen’s in reruns, I flip to Letterman. And as much as I personally like Conan (who, I remind you, wrote the classic “Marge vs. the Monorail” episode for The Simpsons), the truth is that I was much more likely to see him at 11:35 pm. And even that’s in question now, as I’ve really taken to Craig Ferguson.

So, even though I think Jay Leno should’ve gracefully bowed out, I admit that I really have no horse in that race. Which is not gonna stop me from posting this clip from last night’s Late Show, in which Letterman eviscerates his former pal Leno.

Updated: Taiwanese TV explains the Late Night Wars via goofy computer animation and superhero metaphors! I really need to start watching more Taiwanese TV.