CBS exec Vinnie Favale enjoyed a long run on the David Letterman laugh track

20 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Bill Murray appears to be a drunken mess after ‘Late Night with David Letterman’ final appearance.

But we’ll still encounter something of Letterman on every late-night TV talk show from now until they stop making them. Here’s what’s on TV tonight: The final “Late Show With David Letterman” (10:35 p.m., WWL) is a bit of a mystery, because, unlike every other “Late Show” ever, there’s no announced guest list.Longtime CBS late-night exec Vinnie Favale will say goodbye to Letterman when the gap-toothed comic hangs up his mic Wednesday — but Favale was just a wet-behind-the-ears 23 when Letterman arrived as host of NBC’s “Late Night” in 1982.No the Minnesota icon sang a Frank Sinatra song with a fitting theme, “The Night We Called It a Day,” from Dylan’s current album “Shadows in the Night.” (Sinatra recorded it in 1942, Dylan cut it this year and just released a new noirish video clip of the song.

Following the “Groundhog Day” actor’s interview with David Lettermen he hopped over the MSNBC for “The Last Word,” but it seems he may have celebrated a little too hard at CBS.David Letterman is retiring on Wednesday, after 33 years on late-night TV, starting on NBC then, after getting passed over for The Tonight Show, launching a late-night juggernaut at CBS. While we wait, here are a few sign-off posts: The No. 1 best thing about Letterman and his late-night show — then and now, the thing we’ll probably end up missing most and root around YouTube years and decades hence in a quest to recall — is his Indiana-raised insouciance.

It wasn’t long before the future network bigshot and his pals were using VCRs — newly invented gizmos that let consumers record television — to tape “Late Night” and then swap their favorite episodes. “We started with taping and trading whole shows and then after a few years, when the price of VHS tapes dropped, we started making compilation tapes of highlights,” says Favale, who has been in the control room for Letterman’s entire run at CBS. “Dave’s show was essentially YouTube before YouTube existed,” says Favale. “There were all of these little, irrelevant bits of humor — cats doing silly things, melons being thrown off of the roof of a building,” he says. “These were bite-sized pieces that people could share with each other.” What made Letterman’s stunts so groundbreaking — and so different from other late-night show hosts like Johnny Carson, was that he went outside the studio. You can see at the bottom of this post.) Letterman introduced Dylan by saying he taught his son the two most important things in life: “Be nice to other people” and “the greatest songwriter in modern times is Bob Dylan.” The performance was fairly typical of Dylan in concert, which means that if you haven’t seen him lately you might have found him a little quirky. Murray, who is known for his physical high jinks, first falls out of his chair on live TV but it is when he begins to slur his words that it looks like he really might be impaired.

He’s had a lot of great moments, transformed late-night TV into something more fun and unpredictable, and made a lot of people laugh and feel less alone. We came to believe firmly, after so many magazine profiles that tried to crack the code of Letterman’s personality, that the secret to his success was to be found in his skepticism and casual indifference to hype. He included regular people and found humor in simple situations that were almost the opposite of Carson’s glamorous Hollywood-fueled “Tonight Show.” “The difference between Carson and Dave was long form to short form,” Favale says. “Carson was like FM radio: ‘We’re gonna play you the whole album cut,’ while Dave’s was more like some kind of radio station from another planet,” he says.

He stood there, all billowy curls and glaring eyes, singing into one microphone while another adjacent old-school microphone, in a separate stand, was unused. During the actor’s earlier appearence on the ‘Late Show’ he jumped out of a giant three-layer cake, with the words “Goodbye Dave” splashed across the front and fell to the floor.

Murray also welcomed Letterman in his first show after moving to CBS in 1993. “We just want more, Dave,” Murray said, ending the segment outside on the New York streets singing with fans to the tune of Give Peace a Chance, substituting the end of the chorus with “Worldwide Pants,” a reference to Letterman’s production company. Late night’s two Jimmys, NBC’s Fallon and ABC’s Kimmel – the very guys hastening Letterman’s departure – have gone out of their way to pay their respects to their rival at CBS.

The most beautiful aspect was Letterman’s ability to make anyone a part of it. “People think stage manager Biff Henderson is an actor — and he’s a good one now — but back then, he was just the stage manager!” Other regulars include neighborhood souvenir shop salesmen Mujibur and Sirajul and, later, Rupert Jee, the proprietor of the Hello Deli around the corner from Letterman’s CBS studio. A Jesuit High School graduate and Emmy winner who starred on “Cheers” and “Murphy Brown” and a bunch of other stuff, Thomas participated in an almost-annual “Late Show” rite of using a football to knock a meatball off a Christmas tree on the Ed Sullivan Theater stage (and also tell an odd story about “Lone Ranger” actor Clayton Moore).

Favorite and bewildering moments came from clueless, aged actor Larry “Bud” Melman and a very young Chris Elliott, who would emerge from the trap door under the audience seats. For hardcore Dylan fans, it was a bit reminiscent of his first Letterman appearance in 1984 when performing “Jokerman,” he let his band play on a little long while he tried to grab the appropriate harmonica for a solo. Longtime bandleader Paul Shaffer from Thunder Bay, Ont., drew his own laughs setting up the segment with a jab at Letterman’s long-time rival, attributing “I’m bored with it all” to Jay Leno instead of Winston Churchill. Nearly everyone hosting a late-night show these days – not just the Jimmys, but Conan O’Brien and Jon Stewart and Seth Meyers and Letterman’s pending replacement, Stephen Colbert – owe a tremendous debt to the guy from Indiana with the gap-toothed smile and the irrepressible ability to turn everything into a joke. Aside from a couple of brief recent clips, Letterman hasn’t acknowledged that ritual, which Thomas enacted for more than two decades, and for the last time in December.

There were two other Canadian content notes — Murray came out to Shaffer and his fellow musicians playing The Band’s Chest Fever, while Letterman introduced one segment as “having never been done anywhere … not even in Germany … not even in Calgary.” Letterman received drop-in visits from frequent guest Regis Philbin as well as Rupert Jee, owner of the local Hello Deli owner who first appeared as a “man on the street” foil in 1994. Only Letterman’s mentor, Johnny Carson, who hosted “The Tonight Show” on NBC from 1962 to 1992 and forged the late-night talk show into an American institution, was as meaningful to the genre. “I think he is as important as Carson,” said Ross Brown, who teaches at Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University in Orange. “They are different in what they contributed.

The holidays special episodes also included Darlene Love, who sang “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” even longer than Thomas played meatball-slayer. He returned to work, Letterman said, because Mayor Rudy Giuliani had “implored us to go back to our lives, go on living, continue trying to make New York City the place that it should be.” (It was Giuliani’s finest hours, too.) Then he said this: There is only one requirement for any of us, and that is to be courageous.

From the monologue to the taped bits to the Top 10 lists to the animals to the fluffy kids interviews to being the straight man for a thousand comedians to the post-9/11 show to the serious interviews — and he might be the best political interviewer of the last 20 years — to the day he got laughs while confessing to and cleaning up his own potential scandal, if you wanted to replicate that show you’d need half a dozen hosts all onstage at once. In another classic bit, Letterman flew off a trampoline wearing a suit made of Velcro and stuck to a wall. “We traded those tapes the same way people used to trade recordings from Grateful Dead shows,” he said. “Lately, it’s like we’ve come full circle.

The CBS promo promised “an hour filled with surprises and memorable highlights.” The 68-year-old host gave an indication as to his plans after the final curtain goes up on the show: “Tonight it’s Bill Murray, next week I’ll be Googling foods that improve prostate health.” But Dave really broke through and found a style that has become much more of what’s happening today.” For all of his innovation, though, trends in television are pushing Letterman, 68, off the “Late Show” stage just as surely as his desire to retire. He also sang on Letterman in 1984 and, on the host’s 10th anniversary special in ’92, offering “Like a Rolling Stone” backed by an all-star band that included Carole King, Chrissie Hynde, Mavis Staples, Rosanne Cash and Emmylou Harris. Letterman’s other guest on his penultimate show Tuesday was Bill Murray, who had been his first guest when the talk show premiered on CBS in ’82 and again on NBC in ’93.

A: I’m acting silly in front of the Letterman show with the line of people, and I’m just going to ask people there why they think I’m not on the last show. Always known for making wacky entrances for Dave (there was flying in a Peter Pan costume, driving in a Rolls dressed as Liberace, etc.), Murray emerged from a giant cake, embraced the host in a schmear of frosting and then spread some frosting on faces of audience members. Kimmel, whose “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” started from scratch 12 years ago, is in a virtual tie with Letterman for total viewers but outstrips him by 20 percent among the advertiser-preferred demographic of adults younger than 50.

Raised above his guests like the emperor he is — Jerry Seinfeld got him to switch seats on his last visit to see how that felt — Letterman has been unflappable, except when getting flapped might pay a comic dividend. After the two comics chugged vodka from a bottle (at Murray’s suggestion), the movie star pleaded with the host. “It’s great for you but what about the rest of us? Seth Meyers opened his show with a shot-by-shot (approximate) recreation of Late Night’s opening credits in 1982, when Letterman launched the post-Tonight Show program. I’ll tell you what’s funny, he ran a little bit of me and the Lone Ranger story last Friday night, and then last Tuesday he said, “Who’s going to replace Tom Brady?” And he says, “This guy,” and he shows me throwing the football at the meatball.

But if it’s fair to say Letterman might not be leaving if Fallon weren’t around, it’s also fair to say that Fallon’s show might not exist without Letterman. An astute student of comedy, he reached back to the 1950s to borrow bits from Steve Allen and Ernie Kovacs, then buffed them up with a post-modern gloss. He was hosting a talk show while somehow standing apart from it and saying, “Isn’t this kind of silly?” He was simultaneously a teenager too cool for school and a 10-year-old boy driving Dad’s car around the parking lot.

Notably, where Carson would engage celebrity guests and trade friendly banter, Letterman was just as likely to provoke them by saying something inappropriate – if it seemed funny. Letterman almost immediately signed a deal with CBS to create the rival “Late Show.” Leno and Letterman engaged in a back-and-forth battle for ratings until Leno retired last year. Not only will she be one of the ultra-rare female hosts (Joan Rivers briefly had her own series on Fox), Handler’s show will be available for viewers to watch when they please. Listen, when I was 30-something years old and I would go into an audition, I would see all these 60-something actors and voiceover guys, and they would have their male purses and they would be kind of trudging into the audition, and there we are, the new young turks.

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