Top 10 Things That Got Great Free Publicity from David Letterman

20 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Late Show With David Letterman’ finale countdown: Revisiting the New Orleans connections.

The first night Late Night with David Letterman aired, Bill Murray bounded on stage and vowed to shadow Letterman for the rest of his career. “I know you’re on here late night where nobody can stop you,” he ranted. “‘If it’s the last thing I’m gonna do, I’m gonna make every second of your life from this moment on a living hell.” Tuesday night, Murray will appear on the penultimate Late Show as Letterman’s last scheduled guest, and there’s an obvious symmetry to it, as well as history; Murray’s walked or flown onto Dave’s stage numerous times over the years. Jimmy Fallon got serious for a moment Monday night, delivering a heartfelt message to the retiring David Letterman: “Like every kid who grew up watching him, [I] will miss him.” “He’s always just there when you need him. During the nostalgic extravaganza, Letterman and bandleader-sidekick Paul Shaffer have been toasted by favorite guests and musical acts, while celebrating many of their best (and worst) on-air moments together. We wanted to see what Dave had to say and we looked at him to say something.” “He said, ‘There is only one requirement for any of us and that is to be courageous, because courage, as you know, defines all other human behavior.’ We needed that. For just a few months in New Orleans, though, because in fall 1983 NBC affiliate WDSU ditched Letterman’s show for the syndicated (and more profitable) “Thicke of the Night,” a Canadian transplant hosted by Alan Thicke.

Mark Lorando, the Times-Picayune TV columnist, called the replacement show “torturous.” Benjamin Morrison, also of the Times-Picayune’s TV staff, called it “painful and prosaic.” WDSU’s Royal Street studio was petitioned and picketed by “Save Dave” activists, and the newspaper’s TV Focus Forum – rocking reader interactivity and engagement decades before online comment streams and polls – was flooded with protesting letters. Have a nice retirement, Dave.” Letterman, whose last show will air May 20, was the first late-night host to return to air after the terrorist attacks, for a somber taping of his show that featured Paul Shaffer leading the CBS Orchestra in a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” They were entertainers part of whose acts riffed on the shtick of entertaining: think Murray’s lounge-lizard rendition of the Star Wars theme on SNL.

The 1970s SNL and the 1980s Letterman, both grimy New York institutions, had a kind of punk-rock sensibility, puncturing the artifice that had bloated showbiz and stripping TV down to essentials and anarchy. (You could say the same of some other classic early-Dave guests, like Andy Kaufman and Sandra Bernhard.) Fans responded to that same sensibility in Murray and Letterman, but their detractors saw a similarity too. People who didn’t like Murray thought he used irony as a crutch, using his laid-back delivery to smugly distance himself from, and make himself superior to, his characters and material. Murray kept making funny movies, but as he aged and greyed, he tapped into the melancholy that is often the silent partner of comedy, working with directors, like Sofia Coppola and Wes Anderson, who knew how to bring that out in them.

Letterman, meanwhile, struggled in the ’90s after moving to CBS; he topped Leno in the ratings for a while, but didn’t quite seem to know how to function as top dog rather than underdog. Then in his next decade–maybe not precisely with his heart surgery in 2000, but right around there–he entered his second great period, this time not as a comic bomb-thrower but as a raconteur, a spoken-word essayist.

The closest the city came to a “Late Night” remote was a November 1984 live appearance by Larry “Bud” Melman (later known to CBS Letterman fans by his real name, Calvert DeForest) aboard the Riverboat President. WGNO reruns of “Mama’s Family” and “Designing Women” ruled local late-night ratings – defeating both “Late Show” and “Tonight” — at the time of Letterman’s CBS launch. “Good Times” reruns on the same outlet would prevail in later years. By May 1998, Lettermen’s New Orleans ratings were so substantial that his show demonstrated its appreciation by flying 400 New Orleanians to New York to be in the “Late Show” audience for an episode. “Among the 460 passengers traveling by 737 and DC-10 to New York courtesy of Letterman were members of the Antoine’s and Brennan’s restaurant families, WCKW radio’s John Walton and Steve Johnson, assorted TV brass and Harry Connick Jr.’s geometry teacher, Jesuit’s Kathi Tomeny,” she wrote. “Social workers Kevin Bourgeois and Kim Cappiello designed crab and crawfish-studded hats for the occasion, while Kristen Marks and Heidi Landry donned sequined purple, green and gold vests and giant Mardi Gras beads.” “The stomping, clapping, cheering Orleanians — dancing in place along with an irrepressible (Frank) Davis, who led them from the aisle — paid little heed,” Peck wrote.

The episode featured a theme-setting Biff Henderson location piece (in which he sampled barbecue shrimp, beignets and Bananas Foster), guest appearances by Richard Simmons and John Goodman, music by Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi Rollers, and a New Orleans Top 10. Shaffer’s TV history with the city dates to the doomed Mardi Grass 1977 episode of “Saturday Night Live.” Shaffer had departed “SNL” after its first season to star in the sitcom “A Year at the Top,” which flopped.

It’s amazing how patterns tend to repeat, and while Letterman’s latter years on TV haven’t been a carbon copy of Carson’s, I have a certain sense of deja vu. His return to “SNL” came in time for a performance of “The Antler Dance,” the brainchild of head writer Michael O’Donoghue, on the Mardi Gras episode. “It was a satire on that kind of ’60s kind of dance craze,” Shaffer said in a story marking the episode’s inclusion in a 2008 DVD box-set release. “It was about this legend that Michael made up about this masked man that shows up once every 10 years at Mardi Gras and leads the wild throngs in the dancing of The Antler Dance.

Now that I think of it, in watching it, I still didn’t really understand it.” The odd bit is notable today for the background cameos played in it by a couple of The Meters. (The funk titans had been booked to perform on the episode but got bumped by time constraints caused by the legendarily chaotic execution of a live TV show during Carnival.) Shaffer and Letterman made consecutive December pleasure visits in the dark post-Katrina years of 2005 and 2006. The oddest of holidays rites began in 1998 when Jesuit High School grad Jay Thomas, a “Late Show” guest along with Vinny Testaverde, knocked a Hello Deli meatball off the top of a Christmas tree on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater.

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