Review: David Letterman Says Goodbye, With Self-Mockery and a Little Mush

21 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

David Letterman got a bunch of U.S. presidents to bid him farewell.

David Letterman ended his final Late Show with Foo Fighters, but the proceedings began with a slightly more stately vibe: George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W.The last “Late Show with David Letterman” featured comics such as Jerry Seinfeld and Julia Louis-Drefus paired with celebrities such as Barbara Walters and Alec Baldwin.

And a couple thousand hours of “The Late Late Show.” The retiring host is the founder of Worldwide Pants Inc., which produced both programs, as well as a handful of sitcoms. The guests roasted Letterman in his final “Top 10” list, a long-running segment of the “Late Show.” The topic was “The top 10 things I’ve always wanted to say to Dave.” Rock said, “I’m just glad your show is being given to another white guy,” while Tina Fey said, “Thanks for finally proving men can be funny.” As Letterman delivered his final monologue, he kept to his signature ironic brand of comedy, saying lines such as “I’m going to be honest with you, it’s beginning to look like I’m not going to get ‘The Tonight Show.’” Though many know her first for her gently trilling soprano voice, activism is as much a part of Baez’s identity as the sound that led LIFE to declare her, in 1962, “the best folk singer of them all.” From her performance at the landmark civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 to her advocacy for migrant farm workers and gay rights to her denunciation of torture and the death penalty, Baez has championed human rights both on- and offstage.

For a quintuple bypass survivor of 68, he’s a fine physical specimen, trim and energetic even if his hairline is gray and receding—still game to run his ritual 20-yard dash across the stage at the beginning of his Late Show swan song Wednesday night. But while Letterman and his studio audience enjoyed Foo Fighters’ stirring rendition of the 1997 song, home viewers were given an added bonus: a photo montage of Letterman through the years that included everyone from Barack Obama and Bill Clinton to Jay Leno. And yet, like Mark Twain’s beloved scamp Tom Sawyer, this “boy from a small town in Indiana,” as Late Show announcer Alan Kalter introduced his boss for the last time to a riotous audience, has enjoyed the rare privilege over the past several weeks of being present for all the adoring eulogies. “Dave!

Letterman’s peers, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, host programs crafted for the social media generation, with skits and nuggets that people share online the following day. “The Web has changed how people interact with archival footage,” said Jeffrey P. Now, in honor of her award, LIFE revisits photographer Ralph Crane’s early-1960s portraits of Baez near her home in Carmel, Calif. “Standing on the shore,” the caption read, “she evokes the same wistful intensity that goes into her rare but luminous recordings of sweet laments.” Some of them were sweet laments, to be sure, but half a century later it’s clear that her music has been so much more. Jones, director of the Peabody Awards at the University of Georgia in Athens. “Whether Worldwide Pants can translate that into some currency on the web is really yet to be seen.” Letterman is in a position to find out thanks to a career tragedy — being passed over by NBC to replace Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” CBS then pursued him, awarding him a deal with no modern equivalent. Dave!” the crowd in the Ed Sullivan Theater chanted and clapped, having leapt to its feet for a sustained standing ovation, prompting a bashfully smiling Letterman to warn, after several unsuccessful attempts to get them to take their seats, “See, now what happens is we don’t have time for the giving-gifts-to-the-audience segment.” Letterman, sporting clear-plastic spectacles, was dressed for the occasion in a sleek black suit, crisp white shirt and blue-patterned tie—less funereal than businesslike.

The audience, by the way, included Letterman’s wife Regina Lasko and their 11-year-old son Harry, who looked less than ecstatic and possibly embarrassed, understandably, when his dad proudly pointed him out to the crowd. As his legions of mourners have repeatedly declared, Letterman was the groundbreaking entertainer who reinvented the late-night talk-show form that had been established by his putative mentor and idol, the Tonight Show’s Johnny Carson. Letterman, who hosted a mis-scheduled morning show that NBC canceled after four months in 1980, and in 1982 launched his wildly successful Late Night 12:30 a.m. program that followed Tonight before jumping to CBS in 1993, replaced standard joke-telling (never his strong suit) with lightning wit and searing irony. Worldwide Pants has produced several other shows, including “Ed” and “Bonnie,” the most successful being “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which it co-owns with HBO and CBS.

Yet he didn’t turn up his nose at the sheer slapstick joy of a stupid pet trick, a goofball grin, a monkey-cam or an exploding TV set (hurled to the sidewalk from a Manhattan rooftop, natch). It’s been licensed again and again; a 2005 deal with Time Warner Inc.’s TBS netted around $650,000 an episode — which added up, considering there are 210 episodes.—Letterman and his loyal bandleader and sidekick, Paul Shaffer, pioneered new territory in subversive comedy and satire—puncturing pretensions, calling out bullshit, and treating celebrity guests like the flawed but fun and talented human beings they were. (Some of these celebrities were baffled or even frightened by Letterman’s zany and unpredictable hosting behavior; they were initially reluctant to join in, having been sent by their publicists, after all, not to expose themselves to a potentially scary situation in front of millions of viewers, but simply to shill for their various movies, sitcoms and albums.) Still, the recent eruption of near-universal acclaim for Letterman has come from his once-apprehensive showbiz peers, pop-cultural critics and just-plain fans—including a couple of presidents of the United States, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who sat beside him and bantered as equals as his 35-year career has drawn to a close.

But the owners have already extracted most of the value from the hit, as shows command less money the longer they’re in syndication. “Raymond” has ceded its place in culture to “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Office,” both of which TBS also licensed. Indeed, certifying his status as an American icon, Letterman’s producers managed to wrangle four of the five living presidents—George Bush I, George Bush II, Clinton and Obama—to participate in the final program. (Occasional Late Show guest Jimmy Carter, the 39th president who has been ailing, was a no-show.) In the cold open right before Shaffer’s CBS Orchestra struck up the Late Show theme, each Leader of the Free World echoed Gerald Ford’s historic words as he took control of the Oval Office in 1974 from the disgraced Watergate conspirator Richard Nixon. “Our long national nightmare is over,” the presidents repeated in a mock-solemn deadpan. The elder Bush, at 90, looked and sounded a tad frail, and the overall effect of the comic conceit was less humorous than Mount Rushmore-ish, yet it underscored the importance of Letterman’s body of work—more than 6,000 shows on NBC and CBS—and the poignancy of his departure. Clips would generate more revenue, but I don’t think it would be revolutionary.” The volume and breadth of those clips will make the library valuable, Burnett said. The latter was the sort of real-world comedy that was once a reliable staple in Letterman’s bag of laughs, but something he seldom if ever risked in recent years as he entered his sixties and increasingly stayed behind his desk.

Meanwhile, as the Foo Fighters performed their hit “Everlong,” one of Letterman’s favorite tunes, a breathlessly-paced photo and video montage demonstrated that Letterman had interacted with just about every significant pop-culture figure on planet Earth. And for fans of the old NBC show, frequent video appearances by the late Calvert DeForest, who played the endearingly incompetent recurring character Larry “Bud” Melman, had to be deeply satisfying. By contrast, Letterman seemed serene and lighthearted, by all appearances happy with his decision, looking forward to his next phase in life—and gratified that, whatever else can be said, he outlasted Jay Leno.

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