Monday, March 19, 2018

Will the real David Letterman please stand up?

It’s been a Letterman weekend. The OPEN ALL NIGHT clip I posted Saturday and then I watched his new Netflix series where he conducts in depth interviews. The one I watched (of course) was the one with Barack Obama.

Obama, of course, was magnificent. Charming, funny, articulate, smart, and caring. But what struck me was Letterman. I thought to myself, “Who is this guy?” It’s like he’s adopted a new public persona.

This David Letterman has grown a ridiculous gray beard, let himself go, and now seems to pass himself off as a man of great conscience and concern for humanity. Huh? We see him walking the bridge in Selma with John Lewis and at one point to Obama he makes this confession that when the Civil Rights marchers were there originally he was on a cruise to the Bahamas, and he almost mists up when he says, “Why wasn’t I in Selma?” WTF? David Letterman a freedom fighter? He made it sound like he’s been haunted by this guilt his entire life. That’s a lovely sentiment, but I’m sorry, I don’t believe it for a second.

I have been a fan of David Letterman’s dating back to when I first knew him as an aspiring stand-up at the Comedy Store in the mid-‘70s. I LOVED his NBC morning show, also loved his NBC late night show, and thought his CBS show was… okay. But in every case he was playing a “character.” Originally the wholesome kid from the Midwest who had a mischievous edge eventually morphing into a cranky curmudgeon and now an… I dunno, national treasure? But none of those are really Dave.

At first he was a very ambitious young man. Eventually he became very sullen, very bitter (why I don’t know), very closed off.

But all the years I’ve watched him, both on stage and on television I never feel I’m seeing a genuine person. And it's one thing if you’re a comic and do your one hour set. Steve Martin is not a wild & crazy guy. But if you’re going to be on television for an hour a night for thirty years I would like to think I’m getting to actually know you. Jimmy Kimmel feels more genuine to me. So does Jon Stewart. Even John Oliver. Yes, he’s revved up but I get the sense that’s the real him.

David Letterman keeps trying on characters. Maybe the problem is HE doesn’t really know who he is. But I'll become a much bigger fan when he figures it out. 

57 comments :

Douglas Trapasso said...

Not a therapist and don’t play one on TV, but it might all come back to The Tonight Show. He can’t let it go. Not just not getting it, but the fact that Leno (clearly second string, in Dave’s head) did.

Ted Kilvington said...

I read a biography of David Letterman back in the mid 1980s, where it said his whole life prior to his morning show he basically wanted to do a show like the Tonight Show Starring Steve Allen. And when he got to do that, he was happy. But when he reached beyond that, he never really seemed happy to me.

Rashad Khan said...

You don't know why David Letterman was/is bitter? Here's a hint: "The Tonight Show Starring NOT David Letterman." ;)

Pete Grossman said...

Ken, please check out Letterman's outstanding interview with George Clooney. It focuses on his family and their generosity, putting their money where their mouths are - and there are vulnerable Letterman moments.

Steve Bailey said...

I saw Letterman's interview with Barack Obama and liked it. John Cleese once said (and I'm paraphrasing) that now that he's older, he doesn't laugh as much as he used to because he's heard all of the jokes. Similarly, I wonder if Letterman, as an older man, has tired of distancing himself from his interview subjects with his former "I'm just kidding," ironic attitude, and he wants to talk to people on the level. I think he has earned that right.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I never felt I had much sense of who Johnny Carson was, because he was so smooth and polished. Letterman I've always felt I understood somewhat, especially after seeing his monologue after 9/11 and his on-air confession about his affair with an intern. I don't think those moments were all-persona.

I liked the Obama interview.

wg

Graeme said...

It's your blog, you're entitled to your view. I do think it's a mean-spirited view. I chose to see it as a mellowing on the part of Letterman. Someone who achieved a lot doing a particular thing. And it sounds to me like he's done a bucket of therapy and medication as well. And having a kid I'm sure has made a difference. (Most of his comedy seems to be Dad jokes)

I think it's genuine. I see what he's doing with this and it's in line with his post 9-11 monologue. I just don't think he let this side out because he was making money playing someone else at the time.

Also I think Letterman is a first rate interviewer, so I'm thrilled to see him do a program which allows him to use these talents for a change.

I think there was all kinds of positive things to see from My Next Guest... I'm a little disappointed you chose to go to the most cynical and negative ones, but that's your right.

Peter J. said...

When he moved to CBS to do The Late Show (especially in the last few years, probably around the time Harry was born) Dave took on a lot more of a social conscience, particularly with respect to environmental issues. (As I recall he's a proponent of electric cars, which is notable because of his ties to IndyCar racing.) I like the "new" Dave; if you've seen his episode of "Years of Living Dangerously" (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5056080/) then "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction" wasn't a surprise at all.

Keith Nichols said...

Letterman is among millions of us who lead lives unguided by true vocations. We spend years working and, if we're lucky, succeeding at things for which we have some talent but ultimately only moderate interest and sometimes little regard.

blinky said...

His new show seems to be the least he could do. Two chairs on an empty stage. Boring!
Maybe he should do Comedians in Golf Carts Shooting Skeet. Or Curmudgeons in Gondolas Dropping Water Balloons.

DaisyMae said...

Slightly off topic--I used to tape record Tom Snyder's show and then listen to it on my morning commute. I loved his laugh ("huh, huh, huh, HUH!!") and his erudite conversations with his guests, and listening to him made my commute bearable. I wish somebody would release all his interviews. I always got the feeling he was genuinely interested in what his guests had to say, and there wasn't a lot of bs celebrity promotion.

Joe said...

I think the guy we see on Netflix has always been part of Letterman. I think it began to come out more after three things, 9/11, his heart surgery and the birth of his son.

On the last few years of his CBS show, he would occasionally have on guests talking about climate-change issues, and he was always asking very smart questions and coming up with follow-ups based on his guest's answers that couldn't have come from a pre-interview with a staffer. He always showed a lot of depth with his interviews with military people, especially Medal of Honor winners.

It seemed to me the better the guest you had, the better Dave you got. That doesn't only apply to "serious" guests like environmentalists and Medal of Honor winners. He was always great with Steve Martin, for example because Steve was quick on his feet and either brought material or was so quick on his feet they could spar very well. If a guest was there ONLY to run his/her film clip and could only talk about how great the crew was on the shoot, that's when Dave could zone out and/or get cranky.

Patrick said...

Letterman was 18 at the time of the marches, there was no internet, I wonder just how tuned in he would have been to the situation in Alabama and if he even would have known what was about to take place. That certainly sounds like a regret formed in hindsight.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I was a huge fan of the Letterman show up until the last couple of years, when it just seemed to be marking time. "Okay, here's a show." But during those last few years, he seemed much more engaged to be talking to people about subjects that actually matter.

To play amateur psychiatrist, I'd say this about him: I think that most of his life, he was an untreated neurotic (he's discussed his early drinking problems) but that it worked for him a bit in the creation of his stand up act. I think that not getting the Tonight Show pissed him off for a while, and that the guy who took it from him having ongoing success was a continuing source of frustration for Letterman.

However, after the heart attack in 2000, he seemed to mellow quite a bit about most things. After his son was born, I think his perspective really shifted, maybe because if someone has to start explaining to a kid why the world seems to be sort of shitty it might make someone wonder what they could do about that. Also, somewhere in that period of time, he started therapy and prescription treatments.

Don't forget, his first significant post-retirement gig was that National Geographic special about India.

So, I've enjoyed the Netflix shows. They're a nice little bit of sizzle and steak -- come to see Clooney, stay for the human rights stories -- and given that he has enough money that he could just fish in Montana every day, I'm good with the new shows.

The beard? I have no explanation for the beard. Maybe he's using it as the mark of a different Dave, or maybe he just doesn't like his face.

Sorry to ramble. Thanks, Ken!

Y. Knott said...

The real Letterman? A mixed-up guy who -- I think -- gleefully but methodically built walls between himself and genuine human emotion over a period of decades. And who now looks back to some of his youthful (and self-centered and privileged) snark and "irony" and nihilism, and genuinely regrets some of it. And who also doesn't really have the emotional tools to change into the person he's now wishing he could be ... or at least, he's unable to change all at once.

So is who we're seeing the "genuine" David Letterman? I think we're seeing a guy who is *trying* to be genuine, but doesn't have it all figured out yet. And might not figure it out for some time.

But, to use Steve Martin as a point of reference (as you have done) -- Steve's a serious guy when he plays the banjo these days. He's very, very good at it, and of course he still shows flashes of humour when it's appropriate. But does Steve have a different "banjo" persona than his "wild and crazy guy" schtick? Yes. Is it also different from his "writing pieces for The New Yorker" persona? Yes. Is banjo Steve the real Steve? It's one side of him, yes. Is his banjo act any less credible because it shows off a different side of him as an individual? I don't think so.

Similarly, is "serious interview Dave" a different persona than "talk show host Dave"? Yes. But that alone doesn't mean -- at least to me -- that one is incompatible with the other, or that one is more genuine than the other. Or that both can't be equally valid sides of the same multitude-containing person.

Glenn said...

Letterman used to say in the 80s and 90s that he was really only happy the one hour a day he was doing his show. I know quite a few people like this... they love being onstage and performing, but don't have a clue how to function when the curtain closes. Which may explain why all the writers and staff members of his shows always talk about how they hardly ever spoke to the guy, since he would go into hiding until it was showtime.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

I haven't watched any of the new show, but Letterman's "concern for humanity" was evident for the last years of his own show. He brought on a lot of people working on the environment and world hunger. Sarah Vowell has an essay, I forget in which book, about some reporter doing a profile of Letterman and one of his producers speculated that Dave was a "non-voting Republican". Letterman didn't address the Republican part but used his show to go on a rant about how he had registered to vote as soon as he was eligible and never missed an election. Go back and watch his return to TV after 9/11.

and yeah, he's still bitter about The Tonight Show

Chester said...

Always liked Letterman's late night shows. His interviews, for the most part, were head and shoulders above any of the other late night hosts (although Craig Ferguson was pretty good too.)

I never sensed he tired to be anyone other than who he is. That's exactly why he often came across as curmudgeonly in his later years -- which is somewhat understandable after doing late night television for more than 30 years. He could be exceedingly quick and witty, but also genuinely candid and sincere. His shows after 9/11 and his heart surgery were heartfelt and very moving.

Considering he's had a rather charmed life, I can see why in his declining years he feels guilty for not having participated in significant events like the march from Selma. I don't think that's the thought process of someone who doesn't know who they are. Just the opposite.

Diane D. said...

I think Douglas T. Is probably right. What was done to Conan by Jay Leno was so much worse than Letterman not getting The Tonight Show, and his whole-hearted, on-air support of Conan along with condemnation of Leno took a lot of courage. One might have thought that episode in the late night wars would have finally made it possible for Letterman to let go of his painful history, but it didn’t appear to.

dwgsp said...

As a kid growing up in Indianapolis, I remember watching Dave as the weekend weather person on a local TV station, and then listening to his local radio talk show. He always stuck me as being a goofy / funny guy, and I enjoyed his shows, but after he moved to Hollywood I never expected him to be successful. He wasn't that good.

I'm not sure what to make of his current show. He stopped being goofy a long time ago, at which point he stopped being funny.

Linda Ginsburg said...

Another armchair psychologist here. I'm coming up on 65 so I have actual memories of the Carson-Leno-Letterman years (not just what I read in various books and articles over the years). Carson owned his show and the power to dictate how it aired (he axed the weekend reruns) and who followed him at 12:30 am. He apparently LOVED Letterman (he chose to appear on Letterman's show in retirement, not his former program). Carson could have said to NBC, "I want Letterman to take over the show" and that would have been it. He didn't and, amateur psychoanalyzing here, and I think he didn't want the more provocative and more popular Letterman to overshadow him right out of the box, and possibly for a long time to come. Leno has been scorned, belittled and demeaned throughout the years (mostly from people who don't remember how pointed and hilarious a stand-up Leno was before he took the Tonight Show) and therefore Carson's legacy has remained intact.

Letterman's anger is misplaced. He should be pissed at Carson, not Leno.

Oh yeah, that beard. Obvious Freudianism is that it is a physical manifestation of the wall Letterman has always had between him and the outside world.

Robert S said...

Maybe he doesn't like shaving. Do you?

cleek said...

the Obama episode was good. the Clooney episode was much better than i thought it would be. but the Malala Yousafzai episode was cringe-worthy.

Y. Knott said...

Linda Ginsburg, I'd agree with you if Carson had any influence over who followed him as host of The Tonight Show.

He had none.

He did not own the slot, and had absolutely no say over it once he stepped down. NBC, not Carson, owned the name "The Tonight Show", and the decision of whom to choose to replace him was completely, totally, and absolutely a network decision. (Sure, Carson *had* been a powerful figure, but now he had zero leverage -- he was leaving.)

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Maybe the man just doesn't like shaving. Lots of men don't!

btw, I meant to add before this link, to Roger Ebert's take on Letterman: https://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/whats-dave-really-like

I always thought it was (like all Ebert's interviews) perceptive, especially about their shared midwestern background.

wg

MikeN said...

I find the support of Letterman and the belittling of Leno fans strange. They will talk about how great Letterman was back in the day, and how he's been mailing it in for 20 years, while Leno stole some of Letterman's act. Well, who's the dumb one, the person watching a guy who's been mailing it in, or the one who watches someone who stole some of the other guy's act and is still trying?

Letterman's interview of Paris Hilton is presumably something similar to this 'classic Dave' that I hear so much about.

gottacook said...

Linda G.: When Carson died, Letterman began his show that day with a series of pretty-to-very-good jokes in his monologue, then revealed they were among the many that had been written and sent in by the retired Carson, who enjoyed contributing them incognito.

MikeN said...

I also don't get the complaints of what Leno did to Conan. Conan was given the Tonight Shoe, and he failed. All of Leno's machinations had nothing to do with that. The bizarre 11 PM show for Leno made no sense, but it doesn't change that Conan had failed to do well by then.

Linda Ginsburg said...

Y Knott - Carson Productions had at least a co-owner stake. (The shows that are running on one of the retro channels is authorized by the Carson estate.) And to say that because he was leaving Carson had no influence over who got what is absurd. Had Carson anointed Letterman as his successor that would have given Letterman the favorite status to force the issue.

Karan G. said...

@dwgsp - Also from Indy, I remember him, as well as Jane Pauley doing local news. Dave famously went to the local music venues in Broad Ripple after getting off work at Channel 8 to listen to some of our more talented local rock bands...his love for music was on display with some of his final Letterman Show guests being Tom Waits and Bob Dylan (very smart and poetic songwriters...showing an evolved taste in music...I would argue). Dave is smart and was very irreverent as a young man, getting fired at the Ball State University radio station, while attending the school. Apparently they had switched to classical music, and Dave would sneak segments in playing Rock & Roll. I agree with people's opinions that he was likely hurt by the Leno thing. I suspect that Dave looks back on his life's work, his heart problems, his affairs on public display, his young son, etc. and is evolving as a person and searching for some deeper meaning....he's kind of at that age... He is probably doing the kind of interviews HE wants to do, rather then interviewing everyone who is promoting their movie or tv show. He maintains a presence in Indy with his racing team, which we locals appreciate, and he has done a lot for his alma mater, so he honors his roots. I've always liked Dave and am enjoying his new Netflix show. I don't care whether or not he has a beard....do what you want Dave...don't worry about what people think...and I suspect he is not worried about what any of us thinks.

sanford said...

To Daisy Mae you can find some of Tom Snyder's shows on You Tube. His show on CBS was also good. I can't remember if he decided to retire or that was when Letterman took that spot. He also had a radio show before the CBS show. That was also great. He even took a few of my calls. As for Leno. I am not sure if they were at one time friends, but he was on the NBC show quite often. I think I read the Bill Carter book about what happened. I know Leno was in a closet and over heard what was going on. I don't know if that happened to be accidental or not. And I don't remember if he did any thing to encourage NBC choosing him over Letterman. As it worked out Leno had much better ratings than Letterman's show. I wonder if Leno went to CBS he still would have had better ratings. I think it was dumb of NBC not to let Letterman take some of the bits he did there. By all accounts Leno appears to be a pretty nice guy. Of course it is hard to say if that is just his public self. He probably took way too much heat for his taking over the tonight show. But maybe Ken has more insight since he is in he business.

Greg T. said...

Letterman was 17 years old when John Lewis marched in Selma. He's deluding himself if he thinks that somehow he should have been there.

Cowboy Surfer said...

Producer - Hey Dave, who do you want to interview next?

Letterman - David Isaacs

Bob K. said...

I loved his morning show too. (Bad phone call day was hilarious). And I was a huge fan of Late Night on NBC. But I lost interest soon after he moved to CBS. To me, the “fun irreverence” morphed into nasty and mean. Some years ago, I stumbled upon old Steve Allen clips on YouTube, at which point I realized that Dave was just ripping off Steve’s act the whole time. So for me, “whatever Dave does next” is pretty much last on my to-do list.

Biff Loman-Henderson said...

One of his producers speculated that Dave was a "non-voting Republican". Letterman didn't address the Republican part but used his show to go on a rant about how he had registered to vote as soon as he was eligible and never missed an election.


On one of Letterman's very interesting extended interviews on the Howard Stern Show in 2014 and 2017, Stern asked Letterman if he'd ever voted for a Republican. Dave said "Not that I can recall."

Doug G. said...

Carson Productions had no ownership stake in The Tonight Show. They produced and own all of the shows from 1972-92. Johnny Carson struck that deal because he was upset that most of the first 10 years of the show were taped over and lost forever. His production company also produced Late Night With David Letterman up until 1992 but doesn't own the shows.
I think the fact that he never appeared on Jay Leno's Tonight Show but made a cameo or two on Letterman's show speaks volumes. The fact that he didn't tell NBC that Letterman should be the next host is probably because he felt that it wasn't his decision to make since it wouldn't be his show after May 22, 1992.

Mike Doran said...

To Linda Ginsburg:

First off, I'm coming up on 68 (end of September), so I remember the times first hand myself.

I've also read the varying accounts (and boy, do they ever vary) of the palace intrigues at NBC during this time.

The important factor here was that Carson had had the Tonight franchise for almost thirty (30) years - far longer than anyone had had a single show in TV history.

Carson had outlasted not only his competition - he also outlasted several generations of NBC executives: the ones who were there when he came had either died, retired, or gone to work for him.

By the '90s, the NBC executive tier consisted of a gang of young number crunchers who mainly tolerated Johnny as something that was always there (they had a similar attitude to Bob Hope).
Meanwhile, the NBC affiliates had also been taken over by a younger generation that regarded Carson as a back number.
The relationship between Carson and the network had deteriorated so badly, that when Johnny announced his retirement at the '91 upfronts, he didn't bother the brass with an advance warning.
Thus, they were left holding a sizable bag in front of the whole country - and therefore had no desire to cooperate with Carson or his company. The determination was made that whoever got Tonight would not get anywhere near the control that Carson had.

At the same time, Dave Letterman's relationship with the NBC brass was even worse - in fact, it was outright hostile.
Any NBC exec who was assigned to Late Night would inevitably run afoul of Dave's mercurial nature, and would either quit or be dumped.
At long last, NBC determined that whoever ended up with the late night shows would have to people that the brass would not have to fight with all the time - and that specifically excluded Johnny and Dave.

Of course, they had a whole different set of problems with the notorious Mrs. Kushnick - but that's another story ...

Anonymous said...

@Greg T.

John Lewis was 25 at the time of the march to Selma in comparison to Letterman's 17. History being what it is and the march now viewed as an event that sought to gain justice and realize the ideals of the U.S. constitution, I don''t think Letterman is delusional but rather reflective of a missed(?) opportunity to be part of an event that is considered to be significant in U.S. history. Hindsight being 20/20, Letterman might have been expressing regret on the fact that he had the opportunity to participate and should have made that choice but didn't.

Orleanas

Frederick Herman "Freddy" Jones said...

Sorry, Ken;

You really don't know anyone, including the true nature of Obama or Letterman or Kimmel or anyone else you mentioned.

My favorite comedian of all time? Probably Letterman during the short-lived daytime TV program and during the early days following Carson. In second place is probably the SCTV ensemble late, late at night on NBC, just after the syndicated 30-minute TV show.

I never once thought any television personality was being true to their own reality because most don't have a TV camera pointing at them 24/7.

So, I got enjoyment out of their performances (including, sometimes, Obama's) but I never thought any of them were my friends, and I certainly could not see into their soul.

Maybe you've been living in the LA area for too long. Try taking a vacation or moving to a place with a funny name! Maybe Albuquerque or Tegucigalpa. Those are funny names. Just like "Edsel" without the hard-K sound.

I enjoy reading your blog, and while I don't agree with many of your opinions, at least you are not afraid to state them.

I admire your taking a stand. It's healthy to discuss issues. It's not so health to ever think you know a star or a politician, because their primary job is to fool you. Don't be fooled.





ScarletNumber said...

@Linda Ginsburg
@Y. Knott

NBC and NBC alone owns the rights to the name "The Tonight Show". That's why the Johnny Carson reruns are called Johnny Carson.

@sanford

It was Letterman who gave Snyder his CBS show. Letterman owned the show and hired Snyder to host it, followed by Kilborn and Ferguson.

Andy Rose said...

I had a recent online exchange about this show with Mark Evanier. I do agree with Mark that the current version of Dave is actually very authentic to how he feels about things these days. A revelation in the recent semi-authorized Letterman biography by Jason Zinoman is that Dave was not all that interested in doing an iconoclastic TV show. He basically had to be pushed into the more subversive stuff by Merrill Markoe and his early writers. That said, he could be remarkably transparent at times on the NBC show. Looking back now at clips from the 80s (I highly recommend Don Giller's amazing YouTube page), he made no attempt to hide when he thought a bit didn't work or the audience was dead. He even did a fair number of bits that played off his reputation for introversion and self-loathing. What seemed like comic exaggeration at the time turns out to have been sarcastic honesty.

I haven't enjoyed the new show because I just don't find Dave obsequiously interviewing people he likes to be that interesting to watch, especially in this overly-long format. One thing that was interesting to ponder about Dave's retirement in 2015 was that in all of the tributes, you saw almost no Dave highlights from the final decade of his show. People forget that his heart surgery happened all the way back in 2000, even before 9/11. The only things he did on the show since 2005 that drew any attention were when he admitted to philandering (in a rather self-serving way), and when he made fun of Leno during the Conan debacle. Pretty poor batting average at the end.

Diane D. said...

Actually, Leno and NBC promised Conan he would get the Tonight Show when Leno retired in 5 years. This was not out of the goodness of their hearts; they didn’t want to lose Conan, who was being courted by other networks. Conan wanted the Tonight Show as much as Letterman had wanted it, so he waited 5 years. He didn’t fail—-he was only given 7 months. Letterman and every other late night personality were outraged because they all agreed that was not enough time; and his lead-in was the extremely unpopular Jay Leno prime time Show (such a bizarre move). The local news show ratings went down dramatically with the addition of that show. In spite of all that, Conan frequently won in the most important demographic—I don’t remember the exact ages but around 29 to 45. If you have any doubt that NBC knew they were screwing Conan, just remember he got 40 million dollars after refusing to destroy The Tonight Show by accepting a 12:05 start time so that Leno could have a 30 minute show that started at 11:35! Unbelievable!

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Letterman, though, credited Steve Allen as an influence--something Allen acknowledged and appreciated.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

When Carson stepped down in 1992, I believe the only person who had exceeded him in longevity was Dick Clark, who helmed "American Bandstand" from 1957-1989.

Johnny Walker said...

People change as they get older (right?), but honestly I don’t think he’d be doing this show if it wasn’t closer to how he really feels. I always thought his bitterness was frustration with light weight talk show banter not fulfilling him anymore.

Barry Traylor said...

I liked Letterman ages ago but during his time on CBS he became unwatchable for me at least. Not sure what is up with the bearded hermit look he now sports.

Karan G. said...

A bit more amateur psychology here: Watching Dave over the years, he doesn’t seem to have the impulse of telling people want they want to hear…actually quite the opposite. He messes with people. On the other hand, he seems to genuinely respect President Obama. I think garnering Letterman’s respect is a high bar. Maybe the “Selma” comment was a bit of “trying to impress”, as well as an admission that he has been clueless most of his life, and possibly starting to awaken. Just a thought. Ya made us think Ken…

Orwell said...

I'm so old... I remember when David Letterman was funny.

estiv said...

I'll add a take on the bitterness issue: I remember reading years ago that Prince Phillip could be a very testy man when dealing with strangers and the spotlight was off. The journalist said, maybe you'd be unpleasant too if every stranger you met acted like they knew you and then wanted something from you, and this went on every day for many years. In fact, it became your life.

I think Letterman, like his fellow Midwesterner Bob Dylan, was raised to believe in some pretty sound values of how to treat people, then became famous in the big city, and found that the majority of the people he dealt with thought those values were laughable. I'm not saying that either Letterman or Dylan is a paragon of virtue, but they tend to not be phonies in public. I'm not sure that being that famous is really worth it, if it means that ordinary interactions with your fellow human beings require a state of constant wariness.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Some amazing and insightful comments here, and many express the complex Letterman very well. I might add that, on the Clooney show, upon which he met his parents, we got a rare moment or two of Dave opening up about his own mom and dad. His father loved comedy and that definitely shaped part of who he was. His father was also very flawed and frustrated that he never achieved what he really wanted in life. His mother was the opposite (sorry, I haven't read his book yet), and was not as forward with approval, from what I gather. As it is with so many of us, Dave's childhood informed a part of who he is. His dreams were partially based on his parents' life expectations.

There's also a lot of that Peggy Lee song inside David Letterman: "ls That All There Is?" If anyone hasn't heard it, be warned that it's very depressing and has the most despondent string arrangement in musicdom, by Randy Newman.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCRZZC-DH7M

Liggie said...

-- I think many late-night hosts tend to play "characters", probably from their backgrounds as comics; Kimmel is the overgrown frat boy, Letterman the prankster-turned-curmudgeon, Arsenio the cool cat, Colbert the political commentator, Fallon the goofball wanting to be liked by everybody, Leno the everyman (at least he thought so), Ferguson the convention-defyer. (Have not seen Seth Myers yet, so I can't comment.) James Corden might be the only host not playing a "character", and I think it's because he's an actor by vocation and not a comedian.

-- From my view, Leno seems pretty unpopular amongst other hosts and comedians. It might be the perceived hypocrisy between his nice-guy persona and both 1) his past feuds with Arsenio and Andrew Dice Clay and 2) his sabotaging of Letterman and Conan's careers at NBC. It might also be because many comedians lead tortured lives (addiction, mental illness, endless club dates to make ends meet), and Leno certainly does not; he's rich beyond anything, has a longstanding marriage, and his only addiction seems to be collecting classic cars (like that's a personality weakness).

-- Greg T: Agree with them or not, but looking at the way teenagers are taking the lead on gun control after the Parkland tragedy, I think the days of teenagers staying out of the political discourse are ending.

-- That above point leads to a possible Friday Question. Paramount was ready to release a TV series from movie "Heathers" pretty soon. However, because an early plot point involves teenagers pulling a gun in class, they decided to postpone it indefinitely out of respect for the still-raw Parkland events. Have you ever been involved with a produced episode or series that had to be shelved, indefinitely or permanently, because a news event created sensitivity issues with the storyline? https://pagesix.com/2018/02/28/heathers-tv-premiere-delayed-in-wake-of-florida-massacre/?_ga=2.119012425.1574598487.1521586000-394246627.1521586000

Andy Rose said...

@Greg Ehrbar: Peter Lassally -- who was exec producer on both Carson's show and Letterman's show -- recently did a rare interview with CBS Sunday Morning. He said that one personal demon that was shared by those two hosts is that they were both raised by withholding mothers whom they spent their whole lives trying to please.

https://youtu.be/uXhHHLarWNs?t=4m39s

MikeN said...

What's up with that picture? Why's it look like Gandalf and Gimli?

iain said...

Andy Rose,

That is an outstanding interview! He also put Garry Shandling in the group seeking but never getting approval from a cold & distant mother.

Jay Jones said...

First, young Letterman on Carson and then on his own show was absolutely hilarious.

Second, everything I've ever read (and it's most things on the subject, I think) indicates that NBC owned its airwaves and decided to go with Leno. Carson wasn't consulted and didn't have any way to affect or change that. And given Leno's utter dominance for a quarter of a century, it's obvious that NBC made the right choice--even if cool people like to cluck about how awful he was and how great Letterman was.

Third, Letterman over time became a dyspeptic jerk.

Fourth, I'll never understand why Letterman got (and gets) a free pass for serially sleeping with his staff. It wasn't that long ago, and even then it wasn't hard to see that even consensual affairs with a star like Dave were inevitably affected by a power imbalance, and at least put subtle pressure on the women to go along. And even then it wasn't hard to see that it wasn't fair in the workplace for some, but not all, of the staff to get to bang the boss--how could it not affect people's perceptions of who was being favored and who wasn't, etc.? And don't forget that he did all of this on CBS property! He kept a room available at the theater to have sex with his staff on demand! Extraordinary, even then. And today it would and should be career- and reputation-ruining. Honestly, he was a pig. Today people's careers are on the line if they're simply accused of being rude to female staff.

Letterman has gotten an extraordinary free pass, apparently because he's woke and cool.

Karan G. said...
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Jeff H. said...

I stopped reading this blog after your mean, insulting comments during Dave's final days and a friend told me that I missed some good columns. Apparently, you stopped watching Dave before his CBS show ended because if you watched you would have seen Dave talk about climate change, water deprivation, food scarcity and other issues impacting our planet. Maybe this was because of age or becoming a father but Dave was definitely doing this years ago. Too bad you didn't watch because if you had, his Netflix show wouldn't have been a surprise to you.