Top David Letterman “Late Show” moments

21 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

David Letterman’s secret weapon: How being TV’s biggest grump made (and maybe even saved) his career.

But when David Letterman leaves late-night TV after his final show Wednesday night, he will leave as an also-ran. For more than 30 years, David Letterman stood apart from the rest of the late-night world, his acerbic sensibilities in sharp contrast with the collection of milquetoast everymen and jokey nice guys who ran opposite him.

He created two network franchises, NBC’s “Late Night” and CBS’ “Late Show,” the latter in a time period when the TV equivalent of tumbleweeds once roamed. No matter how much moral outrage his defenders can muster — no matter how many column inches were filled by writers who said America should like him more — Letterman is the man who couldn’t beat Jay Leno, and sometimes couldn’t beat Leno’s replacement. “He was a former weatherman and a failed morning-show host who perfected a sort of snide, irreverent attitude towards showbiz types,” Rolling Stone wrote after Letterman announced his retirement last year. “After getting noticed by Johnny Carson and making a fan out of NBC bigwig Fred Silverman, however, David Letterman found himself taking his goofy antics to a 12:30 am time slot — and thus, a late-night TV legend was born.” There was no doubt that the legend was, well, legendary. Between his cynicism, biting wit, feuds with Oprah, and interviews that resulted in Cher calling him an asshole, Letterman’s reputation has long relied on his commitment to not giving a fuck. There also was the quintuple bypass heart surgery he underwent in 2000. (First joke when he returned five weeks later: “Wait till you hear what happened to me!… He invented the “Top 10″ list; he invented “Stupid Pet Tricks”; he poked a hole in the absurd, celebrity-fueled gas bag that was late-night television.

Plus, I got a haircut.” And then he choked up introducing the surgery team that saved his life.) Above all, there were the shows after Sept. 11, 2001, especially the first one after his return on Sept. 18, which included the finest eight minutes in Letterman’s 33 years on the air: “If we are going to continue to do shows, I need to hear myself talk,” he said, and did, in a sustained, emotional and powerful tribute to New York and the people that protect it. After several weeks of star-studded shows (the three most recent shows alone included Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, Eddie Vedder, Bill Murray and Bob Dylan), CBS is keeping a lid on what to expect for tonight’s finale, only saying that Letterman’s goodbye will include “surprises, memorable highlights, the show’s final Top Ten List and more.” The late-night mythology established Letterman as the bitter runner-up in the “Tonight Show” feud, a persona he pretty well embraced from his new perch on “The Late Show” as it became both an outlet for his misery and a part of his new act. He could barely hide his disdain for boring interviews, and called bullshit on the notions of celebrity and the expectations of corporate broadcasting. People admire the New York Yankees, but not because they lost to the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 American League Championship Series. “I’m awash in melancholia,” he told the paper of tonight’s exit. “Over the weekend, I was talking to my son, and I said, ‘Harry, we’ve done like over 6,000 shows.’ And he said, [high-pitched child’s voice] ‘That’s creepy.’ And I thought, well, in a way, he’s right.

Yet, it’s hard to imagine an alternate universe where Letterman got “The Tonight Show” and somehow became a plucky, network-loving, Jimmy Fallon-esque emcee. It is creepy.” “It is creepy”: Not exactly the note any showman should want to go out with while comparing retirement to “a good, solid punch to the head.” Contrast this to Leno’s first act after he retired the first time: He stole back his own show from Conan O’Brien and, after his second retirement, won a Mark Twain prize and leaped back on to the stand-up comedy circuit. In an era of late night where nice guys finish first — in the ratings, at least — celebrity glad-handing, G-rated games and bits lacking irony are what’s currently working for Jimmy Fallon and newcomer James Corden, a phenomenon that one “Conan” writer recently dubbed “Prom King Comedy.” Even Letterman’s sillier bits had an edge to them. “Stupid Pet Tricks,” for example, might be “Amazing Animals!” if it were made today.

Instead, he joked about Amy Fisher before getting down to business. “As some of you may know,” Letterman said, “in the past year and a half, I’ve kinda been interested in doing a show earlier than the one I’m doing now.” Ever the smart aleck, he thanked CBS for its “patience,” “support” and, slyly, “generosity.” (Letterman’s three-year deal was worth $42 million.) For a while after that press conference, Letterman was riding high. People just liked watching his show more than they liked watching my show.” “As Leno prepares for his final few Tonight Shows, he finds himself in a unique position: More widely watched than any of his competitors, yet widely reviled by the majority of his peers,” EW wrote last year. It takes a very specific kind of person to pause for applause and laugh breaks while telling a live studio and national TV audience how you’re being blackmailed for the admittedly “terrible things” you’ve done. And he fessed up to an extramarital affair in 2009. “I want to be the person I always thought I was and probably was pretending I was,” he told Oprah Winfrey in 2013. “I hurt a lot of people … I’m not looking to blame anybody.

And yet, the current path being followed by the most recently appointed late-night hosts is much more similar to the network-pleasing, unthreatening Leno road than the prickly, intellectual Letterman one. The most interesting indicator of whether or not the nice guy market has been saturated will be the persona of Stephen Colbert as “Late Show” host. As ABC 7 explained: “I was delighted by everything that happened — except you losing your job,” Letterman told O’Brien on ‘The Late Show’ in a May 2012 interview, during which both TV hosts did a mock imitation of Leno.” If Letterman wanted to use a 20-year-old feud for laughs or simply remind his audience the feud existed, such comments seemed irrelevant. We know that he’s an intellectual like Letterman, and a great interviewer, and to those who think his “Colbert Report” persona is 100 percent satire will be surprised to find out that he’s actually a pretty moderate guy. He could very well slip into Letterman’s affable-curmudgeon chair, combining the sense of fun and youthfulness of Fallon, with the intelligence and wit of Letterman.

He said he’d try to honor Letterman’s legacy by ”Occasionally making the network angry at his antics.” He immediately followed through by zeroing in on CBS’s ever-permuting “CSI” programs.

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