Appreciating all that makes America special

TV Show: Late Night with David Letterman

Bill Murray was David Letterman's first guest when Late Night premiered in 1982. I'm pretty sure the show wasn't in black and white, however. Uploaded by

David Letterman accomplished something that no one else could – he made late-night television hip again. Johnny Carson (Great American Things, June 28, 2009) was always cool, but as his show neared its end, his younger audience was losing interest. In 1982, David Letterman moved into the spot formerly held by Tom Snyder, and made staying up after midnight worthwhile again.

Letterman kept the form of a talk show – monologue, band, guests – but never seemed to take any of it too seriously. And he introduced elements that were sometimes irreverent, sometimes banal, and made them both eminently watchable and wildly funny.

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Many of the segments are legendary – the Top 10 List (from headquarters in some remote burg), Stupid Pet Tricks, Viewer Mail, visits with Larry “Bud” Melman, Throwing Things off a Five-Story Building, visiting his neighbors in New York, such as the gift shop owned by Mujibar and Sirijul. He used his production staff in gags, notably announcer Bill Wendell and bandleader Paul Shaffer. And you knew two things: no two shows were going to be alike, and you were going to laugh out loud at some point in the show.

When Letterman was passed over for the Tonight Show in favor of Jay Leno, he packed up his show and moved to CBS. Most of the bits also moved, though names had to change to “protect” NBC’s intellectual property.

In recent years, Letterman has grown crustier. In fact, I’d say that the best late night host now is Craig Ferguson, host of The Late Late Show. But just as comics of the last generation all owe a debt to Carson, comics of the next generation can thank David Letterman for leading the way in late night innovation.


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  1. Yes! I admit to liking the crust on Letterman. His talk show changed as his life changed. Getting married, his son, his heart. That’s got to sprinkle a little crust on anyone. And that crust protects the soft stuff now found underneath. His early years had a caustic edge. Even ten years ago or so I watched an episode with Lauren Bacall as the guest. He told her, “I used to watch you when you were beautiful.” That poor old thing just sat in her chair and smiled. But years later, when he announced he was going to be a father, there was a noticeable change in his humor. He had a softer side to his humor and it made one smile and laugh. Never had the smile in there before. It’s a nice change.

    Now, CraigyFerg, as he’s known on Twitter, is one of the funniest late-night hosts out there. Not sure everyone appreciates his humor, but that guy is quick with his wit and he’s unafraid to share his personal life with his fans. People think they know him. And he’s funny. Did I mention he’s funny? In a genuine, unscripted way.

    And Craig’s cussing bunny is pure genius. I don’t see Ferguson’s show as often as I’d like, because of that whole sleep thing going on and my alarm clock likes to go off at the most ungodly hour.

    Hey, enjoyed your post and loved those pictures of Dave with wild hair. Back in the days when he wore sneakers and a suit. Now he’s all shined leather and CraigyFerg is trying out the soft shoe routine now. The more things change the more they stay the same…

  2. What a great post! Thanks for visiting and for the comment. I enjoyed visiting your site and reading some of your writing. Wonderful…