Watch the Most Famous Late-Night TV Goodbye Ever

21 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

David Letterman Farewell: Fans, TV Crews Gather Outside for Final Show.

Letterman debuted on the network in 1993 after over a decade hosting the NBC show “Late Night.” He also served as a weatherman and had a morning show, “The David Letterman Show,” also on NBC. Thirty-three years later, he’s stepping down from a late-night landscape that changed around him, having stayed true to himself as the medium changed from appointment viewing to something to be easily digested the next morning in three- to four-minute clips. “I recognized the value of it,” Letterman told The New York Times back in April of his competitors’ tendency to gear their shows toward digital audiences. “It’s just, I didn’t know what to say.Late Night television comedy — most notably David Letterman and Saturday Night Live (and going back to Ernie Kovacs, but all TV was a petri dish then), always has represented the progressive forefront and unsupervised playground of network television.Crowds and TV camera crews have camped out in front of the Ed Sullivan Theater in Manhattan as David Letterman prepares for the taping of tonight’s final edition of “The Late Show.” The streets outside the theater at Broadway and 53rd Street were clogged with news vans and fans who came to snap pictures of the “Late Show With David Letterman” marquee.NEW YORK – Comedian David Letterman will sign off for the last time on CBS’s “Late Show” on Wednesday, concluding a 33-year career on late-night television with a show that promises to be full of surprises, a run across the stage and his final Top Ten List.

It was long enough ago that Jay Leno could be Dave’s special guest, and that one might wear that argyle sweater on TV. (We don’t know what that shirt is: An Oxford with a popped collar?) But what’s truly eerie about this is the very opening: The opening montage surveys New York City, beginning at the southern tip of Manhattan, where the Twin Towers then stood. His last several episodes have included several notable guests, with Tina Fey, Tom Hanks, Bill Murray, and President Barack Obama, among others, all making appearances. There were enterprising efforts to capitalize on the moment — one man brought an easel and offered to sell his oil painting of the famed blue-and-gold marquee. You’re so happy to see so many beloved old faces back together again, and yet … you know there’s a good reason for it, and God knows you can’t bring it up, but still — you miss Stephanie. The 68-year-old host, famed for his quick wit, sarcasm, offbeat humor, attitude and crazy stunts, hosted Hollywood stars and U.S. presidents in his final weeks of the show before handing the reins to comedian Stephen Colbert.

And before it makes its way uptown to Rockefeller Center, the cameras come rushing right toward the World Trade Center, break through the walls, and soar through a floor of offices. Singer Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam performed on the show recently and Bob Dylan performed the song “The Night We Call It a Day” on the May 19 episode. The young woman often introduced into comic skits as “Dave’s assistant” — before she was revealed in real life to be Dave’s apparent mistress — Birkitt was an absolute comic highlight of Letterman’s third decade on the air.

His candor and prickliness, often seen as points against him, led to some of the most talked-about interviews in late-night history – segments that, in an Internet age, ironically would have easily made him a mainstay in morning-after roundups. Given the events of 14 years later, it’s a very unsettling image — and perhaps the one piece on vintage Letterman which hasn’t been uncovered this week. Letterman was a breakout comic from Indianapolis with only an appearance on Mork & Mindy and the good word of Robin Williams to his name when NBC gave him his own morning show, The David Letterman Show, in 1980. By noon, “Late Show” crew members — wearing team jackets emblazoned with “Thank You and Goodnight” and the number 15 — were busy working out of two trailers parked on 53rd Street, a frequent setting of outdoor hijinks for the show and also the home of the Hello Deli, another favorite “Late Show” location. I remember catching her frequent appearances in the early 2000s and thinking this was someone special — a very young woman doing a subtle kind of humor at a fairly advanced level.

However, NBC had faith in Letterman’s talent and signed him to a contract that would keep him tied to the network, guest-hosting now and then on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The reigning comic actresses of the day — acerbic Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, bubbly Jennifer Aniston and Sarah Jessica Parker — were balls of fire, performers with a capital P.

After Carson was granted the rights to the time slot immediately following his own show, he reached an agreement with Letterman and NBC to launch Late Night with David Letterman in 1982, the first iteration of the franchise. Deli owner Rupert Jee, who became a TV celebrity after appearing more than 200 times in skits and stunts on “Late Show,” served coffee and posed for photos with tourists buying souvenirs. I never worked for David Letterman, but he is who I watched as a kid, and when I helped my former improv theater intern get a foot in the door to write there 20 years ago, both of our careers really took off. Tom Barlow, 50, was finishing a series of paintings of the theater with Letterman’s name on the marquee to commemorate what he described as the end of an era. “He was a genius and very down to earth,” Barlow said. “My mother, who is 87, is a big fan. I realized then that what made me laugh lined up with the writers in charge, and that was an opportunity for me and my funny and weird likeminded friends.

Reggie showed off her button souvenir from that day and tried to persuade a crew member to get Letterman to autograph a copy of Time magazine with him on the cover. However, “Late Show” producer Rob Burnett told CNN, “I don’t think so” when asked whether Leno will pop in. “We invited Jay … it didn’t come to pass.” Fellow late night hosts Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, and Jimmy Kimmel all recently paid tribute to Letterman, mentioning how Letterman changed the late-night talk show format as well as what audience members expected of a late-night program. “I think this show, what late night has become, is a result of him playing with the genre and experimenting and exploring, and I, like every kid who grew up watching him, will miss him,” Fallon said during his show, while Kimmel said during his program, “I learn[ed] how to do everything from Dave.” Meanwhile, O’Brien called Letterman “a comedic revolution” when writing for Entertainment Weekly. “Like every comedian of my era, I watched Dave’s subversive, untamed morning show with delightful incredulity… Dave didn’t belong, and he had no interest in belonging.

I subsequently sent over a wave of folks, many of whom occupied the 14th floor of 1697 Broadway for a generation and went on to do wonderful things there and elsewhere. Reggie said she also watches Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” and other latenight shows, but no one compares to Letterman. “We’ve seen him many times,” she said. Everything about that show was surreal and off-kilter … Not one single writer/performer in the last 35 years has had Dave’s seismic impact on comedy.”

Furthermore, as Peter Lassally, an executive producer on Carson who followed Letterman to CBS revealed following Carson’s death, the late Tonight Show host would feed his protégé punch lines for his monologue. To be welcome there was an honor for me; I imagined I was visiting a modern day Your a Show of Shows writers room (the real original one was but blocks away), and I was careful to avoid eye contact with the new Caesar so as to never outstay my welcome.

Letterman bested Leno in the ratings for a couple of years, but Leno pulled ahead in 1995 when Hugh Grant made his first public appearance after being arrested by the LAPD for soliciting a prostitute. In Letterman’s self-aware talk show-about-a-talk show — with cameos by the petulant cue-card guy (Tony Mendez, also sadly written out of “Late Show” history) and jokes about failed jokes — Birkitt wasn’t an actress playing a smart-aleck page mouthing off to the boss.

She’s been watching since the 1980s. “I used to work two jobs and run home to watch his show,” she said. “I’d call my friend and say ‘did you see what he did with that monkey?” Hawkins didn’t have a ticket but just wanted to be here. “I just want to get in there to give it to him. In one of the biggest public relations disasters in NBC history, the network essentially recreated the dispute that led to Letterman’s departure in the ’90s. Everyone saw the Worldwide Pants logo on Everybody Loves Raymond, but the talent cutting their teeth at Letterman was varied and energetic, and it is safe to say as an example that How I Met Your Mother would not have existed had Dave not hired and given that writing team early encouragement, credibility and momentum. O’Brien was granted Leno’s Tonight Show spot by the network before Leno was ready to retire from late night – and before NBC was truly ready to let him go. O’Brien experienced a brief ratings bump following his Tonight Show appointment, but it failed to hold the attention of the older demographic that were accustomed to Leno’s older-skewing sense of humor.

Even as their affair turned into a public disaster in 2009, when her producer boyfriend attempted to extort the talk-show host, she was already 34, a law school grad who had just passed the bar — solidly a member of Generation X. Think of Greta Gerwig, Lena Dunham, the broads of “Broad City” — actresses whose brilliance is the ability to convey a very naturalistic and youthful self-consciousness. When The Jay Leno Show also missed the mark with audiences, NBC became too anxious too quickly and reverted to the status quo in order to quell the rapid dwindling of their late-night audience. Fallon only compounded a situation that began to gain speed one year prior, in January 2013, when ABC pushed Jimmy Kimmel Live! 25 minutes earlier to the 11:35 p.m. time slot. Both Kimmel and Fallon’s comedic sensibilities, which skewed far younger and which tended to create segments tailor-made for digital audiences, were the final death knell for Late Show.

But Birkitt was no movie star, and their dynamic was one you could relate to: It was great office chemistry, like the fun table in the employee break room, trading inside jokes with your favorite cubicle-mates. This ordinary young woman was cracking up this titan of comedy, and letting us in on the joke — and it made the edgy, aloof Letterman seem relaxed and fun.

Given that Letterman had already experienced such a lengthy career, the move was not necessarily influenced by Fallon and Kimmel’s dominance over the late-night ratings. Do you have any thoughts here?’ ” – he’s the one who “had made the decision [to leave]. … This is what comes when you make this decision,” he added. As for Letterman’s plans for the future, it seems they will follow much the same path as his mentor, Carson, who essentially disappeared from the public eye following his retirement. Like the time he cajoled her into demonstrating her ex-boyfriend’s dance moves for the audience, heaving her torso around to the riff from Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” He’s not mock-ogling her, we realize now.

On Thursday, when Letterman awakes to an empty calendar, he intends to spend time with his family and especially with his 11-year-old son, Harry, he told the Times. “For the first time since Harry’s been alive, our summer schedule will not be dictated by me. It’s even tricky to find bootleg clips of her nearly 300 “Late Show” appearances; the only ones that remain on the Internet are a few postage-stamp sized QuickTime videos that a dedicated superfan started collecting long before there was a YouTube, and a few others that are so unusably blurry they must not have been worth the copyright complaint. Maybe she wasn’t a great comedic talent in the end — maybe she really was the gawky assistant just being herself, rolling her eyes at the host for real, not as an act.

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