Monday, April 07, 2014

My thoughts on Letterman's retirement

Wow. It took Jimmy Fallon less than two months to topple David Letterman. Dave announced his retirement last week. He claimed it was because he was losing passion after doing over 5,000 shows. And I’m sure that was a factor (you could tell the last 2,000 of them). But getting handily thumped by upstart Fallon and the other Jimmy for that matter was, I’m betting, the more overriding reason.

I think you have to be of a certain age to really appreciate Letterman’s brilliance. For the last ten years he’s just been this cranky guy, quick with a one-liner, but primarily resting on his laurels. The Top Ten, Vegas lounge banter with Paul, monologue.

But in his early days, especially on his late night NBC show, Letterman’s show was a riot. Now, to be fair, a lot of the credit goes to head writer Merrill Markoe, but David Letterman was the perfect choice to pull it off. He set just the right tone of snark, intelligence, and absurdity. His show was filled with remote bits, running bits, recurring crazy characters, and general nuttiness. At times the humor was inspired. For my generation, Letterman was must-see (the way THE DAILY SHOW and COLBERT REPORT is today).

Then something happened along the way. He went from “you and me against them” to “me against all of you.” It’s almost as if he got tired of his act before we did. But a meanness crept in, and the bits and remotes were phased out. From time to time something could energize him and he was once again fantastic. Unfortunately, those instances became few and far between.

And now that he’s announced his retirement you’re not reading an outcry of people saying, “No! Don’t leave us! You still got ten good years left!” Just the thought that Vin Scully is going to retire from announcing Dodger games already has the city of Los Angeles in deep mourning. Letterman’s announcement was met with “thanks for a job well done.”

I’m sure Letterman would hope his legacy will be up there with Johnny Carson, but that’s not going to happen. One thing to keep in mind – ever since Dave went to CBS he’s lost. Jay Leno and NBC always beat him. For twenty years. Johnny Carson trounced all competition. Carson’s numbers were larger than all three late night talk shows combined. And Carson was better. His class, relatability, sense of humor, and interview skills were unmatched. Letterman may have been funnier, but Carson’s humanity trumped him.

Letterman will be remembered fondly, as he should, and who’s to say what he’ll do in the future? I don’t think he’ll just disappear from the airwaves like Carson. My hope is that he finds another project that reignites that fire and passion. Again, Letterman at his best is a comic force of nature.

Now comes the circus as to who will replace him. And the mayor of LA has already implored Les Moonves to relocate the show to Los Angeles. We have no NFL football team, but god forbid only six national talk shows originate from here instead of seven.

Personally, I only care about one thing. Whoever inherits that show, keep Darlene Love singing Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) every year. You can fuck with anything but that.


John said...

While NBC execs were jerks for denying Dave his intellectual property when he moved over to CBS, for a while that helped fuel some new barbs for the show. But there was something about the Letterman style that fit the less brassy/lower-budgeted venue of 12:35 a.m. better than 11:35 p.m. The former as you noted had more of an "Us Against the World" feeling. You couldn't regain that after CBS paid him $14m a year, re-did the Ed Sullivan Theater and doubled the size of Paul's band for the new show.

The change in focus didn't kill the show by itself, but The Late Show to me was never as enjoyable as Late Night was, and even if you add in Dave's early years at CBS, of his 32 years of after-hour hosting, the first 16 years stand well above the last 16 years (i.e. -- the drop-off was far more obvious than if you spit Johnny's first 15 and final 15 years hosting The Tonight Show). And I get the feeling if Craig Ferguson's show was moved up an hour and 'tweaked' to fit 11:35 p.m. sensibilities, it would suffer the same loss of edginess Dave suffered in 1993.

Jim S said...

You're right about Letterman phoning it in for the past few years. When he has one of his classic guests - Julia Roberts or Tom Hanks or Michael Keaton, he's on. Steve Martin prepares for these shows like it's a concert and will do recorded bits, etc. But if it's just, say, Chris Evans promoting Captain America, you can see the boredom in Letterman's eyes.

Letterman was a huge influence on the talk show motif. Kimmel and Conan are his disciples. The crankiness, the snark, the cynicism is from him.

Which is why I think Fallon has proven to be popular. Jimmy is sincere. He's having fun, and with his games and bits, I think the guests are actually having fun. To be fair to Letterman, he's been doing it for more than 30 years. How fresh will Fallon be in 10 years. I can easily see his enthusiasm becoming somethink akin to Joe Flaherty's Sammy Maudlin Show in SCTV.

And let's not forget, by the time Carson retired, he was down to three days a week, when he was working. He made big use of guest hosts and even during a week in which he was working, he still had Leno host a show, and there was a rerun.

I think young people like Fallon because he's doing something new. Sincerity is the new cynicism.

Or I could be wrong.

Curtis Jones said...

Some of Letterman's recent interviews have been bush-league awful. When Julianne Marguilles was on the show this year, at the height of "Good Wife," Letterman was clueless about it. He even admitted during his retirement announcement that he sometimes had no idea who his guests were. Thanks for 15 great years, sir, but not so much for the 15 that you phoned it in.

Pat Reeder said...

I feel uniquely qualified to comment on this because writing a daily radio service, I have to watch/DVR all these shows to make sure we don't inadvertently repeat one of the hosts' jokes. I also loved Letterman in the early years, but haven't tuned in as often lately. The grumpiness went from amusing curmudgeon to angry old fart. A celebrity who's an acquaintance of mine and has been a guest on most of the late night shows told me that being on Letterman's was not a very friendly or pleasant experience, and that Dave acted like "a jerk."

That said, I think his place in TV history is secure for upending all the expectations of a TV talk show as a safe, bland, predictable nightlight for sex (Jimmy Fallon's bringing that back, though).

Now comes the "who'll replace Dave" BS. I like the way Jerry Seinfeld put it: nobody "replaced" Carson - when Carson left, the "Tonight Show" effectively ended, and it became the Jay Leno show. As Jerry said, nobody says they went on "Tonight" or "Late Night," they say they went on Leno or Letterman or Conan. Whoever takes the time slot will have to start fresh.

I wish Conan could move back to network from TBS. He's doing the funniest show in late night and deserves a chance to air it without having Leno wear out his audience for an hour beforehand. I love Craig Ferguson, but he'd have to water down what's special about him too much if they moved him earlier. And the less said about the Chelsea Handler rumors, the better. I noticed that one news story about that was followed by hundreds of comments, almost all of them boiling down to one word: "Noooooo!!!!" If CBS does that, then they will wrest away NBC's Late Night Wars record for the dumbest programming decision ever, currently held by the "Jay Leno at 10 pm" debacle.

Bum said...

As John pointed out, the show got too "big" when it moved to CBS; big venue, big graphics, big band, etc. And as we all know, when things get too big, the fun factor [and in many cases quality] goes right out the window [See: NFL/Super Bowl]. Everyone knows the Top Ten List, but how many people remember that when the bit started, it was actually PARODYING the fact that there were too many Top Ten Lists out there already [and that was 1985!]? I can remember tuning in to "Late Night" for the sake of seeing Dave and the show itself, but as the years went by, and especially after the CBS move, I found myself tuning in less and less, and for the last ten years have only tuned in if it was a "special" [IE anniversary] show, or there was a guest in whom I was interested. But as they say, you should always judge a creative person on their best work, and with that in mind, Dave was one of the greatest hosts of all time!

Johnny Walker said...

I think David Letterman is going to leave a much bigger mark on the annals of cultural history than Jay Leno. When Leno stepped down it was more of a, "Your bags are already packed. There's the door. See ya!". It won't be as big as Carson, but TV was different back then -- would Carson have as much of an impact today as he did back then?

Although Letterman got grumpy, I kind of respect him for his integrity. He was always sharp and expected his guests to keep up. Or at least have fun. He didn't always make it easy for them, but he was never unfair. (Sure it's not great if you're a guest he could give two fucks about, but usually didn't give two fucks about them either.)

Carson remains the king. Nothing a guest said could phase him, or put him on the defensive. He welcomed everything, and took it all in his stride. (Carson even made Crispin Glover in maximum performance art mode seem like a regular guy.)

I'd like to see Letterman move into more serious interviewing myself. I could be wrong, but I think he'd do a good job of challenging politicians in a forum where he didn't HAVE to crack jokes. Whether there's an audience for that, I don't know, but he doesn't need the money.

Ivan said...

Dave actually beat Leno in the ratings fairly regularly at the beginning until Leno scored the "get" of the first Hugh Grant interview post-scandal. Whether it was Leno's inoffensiveness trumping Dave's perceived edginess or the then-impressive NBC prime-time ratings spilling over into the late-night block that set the tone for the next decade plus is hard to know.

Johnny Walker said...

Jim S: I hope you're right. I've been waiting for the "cynicism = wisdom" trend to end for a decade.

Klee said...

He never recovered losing the Tonight show to Jay and to make thing worse, he never came out on top after that debacle. His rating only surged a bit after his heart attack (when he was seen as a bit more "like us", more relatable as an everyday guy IMO). But Carson was really a pro at the late-night game but his ratings were huge mainly because there was not a lot of competition in the old days. There were basically only 2 other networks.

However, I must disagree when you say Carson had "humanity"--just ask Joan Rivers.

Allan said...

Problem with doing a talk show is that they don't leave much of a legacy. They have practically no syndication afterlife, so you're really only well-remembered until people's memories start to fade and you eventually reach a point where you're acknowledged, but primarily in an intellectual sense. (People acknowledge Steve Allen and Jack Paar, but mainly because of what they've heard about them. Not from first-hand memories of seeing their shows.)

Gary Benz said...

There's always the tendency to think an artist's earlier stuff was better. In Stardust Memories, Woody Allen's character here's two festival goers reminisce how they always like his characters, "older, funnier stuff." I don't buy that Letterman "phoned it in" for 15+ years. His show at 11:30 was different than his show at 12:30 just as his 12:30 show was different than his day time show on NBC. Adjustments always get made for the changing tastes of the public. When Letterman started, the landscape was just far different. There were less cable channels, less splinter channels siphoning off different demographics, no social media, no YouTube. You either watched the show at 12:30 or you taped it but that was it. Now every late night show has a separate division parsing up chunks of the previous night's show, putting them on the corporate web site, releasing to YouTube, etc. I think Letterman was consistently brilliant but the sheer volume of his work means that there were shows and perhaps longer swaths of shows that weren't quite as good. So be it. His place in television history is more than secure.

Igor said...

Ken wrote: "Whoever inherits that show, keep Darlene Love singing Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) every year. You can fuck with anything but that."

Well, yeh, 'cause I can't fuck to anything but that.

Gerry said...

Letterman aside, I just want to say that I am really happy that I got to grow up watching Johnny Carson. No one will ever match him.

Dan in Western NY said...


I don't get the conjecture about Steven Colbert at all. Colbert the character heads a semi-fictional show that would be ridiculous to move from Comedy Central to CBS.

Colbert the non-character has almost no track record on TV.

Tracy Tran said...

I was going to say the same thing Gary Benz just said. Letterman has always been brilliant and also, he didn't sugarcoat anything. If he didn't care about a guest, you can see it. I think the past several years why Letterman is cranky is because celebrities are on a PR-blitz and want to control, but Letterman won't buy it.

Also, the most under-appreciating aspect of Letterman is his olive branch. People know Stewart, Kimmel, Colbert, and others were influence by Letterman. However, Letterman also produce some great TV shows like Everybody Loves Raymond and Ed and shows like Monk and HIMYM were from former writers of Letterman.

I always thought ratings were the most important thing and was upset why Leno was getting higher ratings, but when you think about it, Letterman and his influences combined have a bigger audience than Leno.

Letterman's legacy is still intact and what his retirement proves is the late-night era is done and moving towards social media and viral bits, which I didn't like about Fallon and Kimmel. Letterman can do viral bits by accident, which still makes for great TV.

Ben Scripps said...

"Personally, I only care about one thing. Whoever inherits that show, keep Darlene Love singing Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) every year. You can fuck with anything but that."


This a thousand times. Times a million.

This agnostic who was born on Christmas Day gets so fucking sick of Christmas music in the stores since Halloween and displays and lights and dumb commercials and faux “wars” on the holiday. And then two days or so before the day, Darlene Love sings on Letterman, and all is right with the universe, even if only for a few minutes.

Stephen Robinson said...

I grew up with LATE NIGHT -- I started watching it during summers and on Fridays in 1987 when I was 13. That show ended in 1993. I tried watching LATE SHOW that year but couldn't connect with it.

Letterman himself commented that you could do the "goofy young guy with anti talk show" (my words) for so long. He worked running after Carson. After Leno, a contemporary, and closing in on 50, it was time for a change. Conan worked in that capacity.

I haven't warched Fallon but I can see the point that his sincerity translates better to the earlier timeslot.

What's interesting is that reportedly Carson had the same demons as Letterman but he kept them off stage.

I suppose that's why people suggest Colbert because he has a mature hip feel like Carson but I agree that without his character, he'd be an unknown quantity,

John said...

Blogger Ivan said...

Dave actually beat Leno in the ratings fairly regularly at the beginning until Leno scored the "get" of the first Hugh Grant interview post-scandal. Whether it was Leno's inoffensiveness trumping Dave's perceived edginess or the then-impressive NBC prime-time ratings spilling over into the late-night block that set the tone for the next decade plus is hard to know.

4/07/2014 7:25 AM

I think the real changeover ironically came because of something Dave wasn't cynical about -- the O.J. Simpson case. Remember, he refused for a long time to do jokes about the murders or the trial because he didn't think it was a laughing matter, while Leno had the 'Dancing Itos' on his show.

As coarse as everything's become nowadays, you kind of wish Letterman's line of thinking had won out, but Leno did cement his ratings lead during the late-1994/1995 time period, and his nightly jokes about the Simpson case were a big part of his schtick during that time.

Mike Barer said...

David Letterman threw a brick when he hosted the Oscars and I don't think he ever got his edge back.

Tim W. said...

I'll add to the chorus who said that Letterman was at his best when he was at NBC. That's when I watched it the most. I haven't seen it in years, though. I also haven't seen any bits from the show go viral, like the other shows, so that's probably a sign.

As others have said, even Dave said he'd lost interest in the show, and it showed, but he was great when he was at his best. Way better than Leno.

Mike said...

He rated ahead of Leno early on, but has been behind for decades.
Letterman is a cult show where the audience will cheer just the announcement of a name that most people have never heard of, like the guy who owns the deli. Conan and others are like that too.

Canda said...

Poor Leno is getting blasted here unfairly. Leno made no bones about the fact that his job was "to tell jokes at 11:30". He worked hard at it, became a better interviewer over the years, and made the audience comfortable. Fallon is doing that, except with half the intellectual heft.

I agree with all who said Letterman never got over the Tonight Show snub, and his antagonism toward Leno ceased to be funny, and became overtly bitter. It effected the rest of the show over time.

John said...

Dave during the early years was as good or better than any that have come since - his CBS show included. His early years featured a lot of people that were unknown (or unknown outside of NY). Marv did the monthly sports bloopers. Andy Kaufman was there often. Stern. An unknown Chris Elliot doing bits.
He dropped stuff off the building, he interviewed the shopkeepers in neighborhood, he did stupid pet tricks, he wore velcro and Akla Seltzer suits. And he sparred with his guests. Some liked him, some didn't. Cher said that she wouldn't come on for years because she thought he was an asshole. But Sonny and Cher sang "I Got You, Babe" for the first time in years on his show for scale.
1130 changed him. I haven't watched much of Fallon since he switched slots, but hopefully he stays the same as he was, because it was different, and at times very fun.
I generally prefer JK and Craig over the others (Dave included now). I think that Dave's NBC spirit lives in them.
I love when Craig is fucking with a guest who just doesn't get him, or cannot do a talk show when the host won't lead them into their memorized "spontaneous" story - they have to at least be competent enough to get there themselves. A lot of them are his buddies and/or authors and artists that no one else has on.
Jimmy has got the spirit of Dave's early silly bits - Cousin Sal and Uncle Frank / Guillermo substituting for Larry Bud and Chris Elliot; interacting with the neighborhood he is in; this week in unnecessary censorship; and doesn't the whole Matt Damon thing seem like something Dave would have done at the beginning?.
When JK or Craig are on ... it's almost like Dave of my youth. Or am I just remembering it so fondly because it was of my youth? Maybe it's better.
As for Dave's replacement. Please not Craig, I don't want his show changed. I read a lot of comments about the need for someone besides a white male. That may be, but I cannot think of who it would be. Not Chelsea. Not Arsinio. If Ellen wanted to, she might be succesful - but she's not my cup of tea. Tina Fey? Again, not my choice, but she could probably do it. Ken Jeong? I don't know how thin he would wear, or if he could interview, but he seems bright enough on his feet. Amy Schumer? Maybe. IDK. Keegan Michael Key? Maybe. Again, seems bright enough to do it.
Do a tryout. Get it down to maybe a dozen people and have them rotate around for a couple months. Cut one every couple weeks - it will be obvious who can do it and who can't. It's a shame that noone does guest hosts anymore so there is a crop of people who are ready.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

I remain a huge Letterman fan. No question he has lost some of his energy, what people are calling "phoning it in", and no question those old remote segments-- Dave works a drive-in, Eatin' With Zsa Zsa, Eatin' WIth Zsa Zsa: London, even Throwing Things Off a Four Story Tower-- were the highlights of the show, along with stuff like the Velcro Suit, the ALka-Seltzer Suit, etc. But I don't get the meanness charge. He's always been notorious for his lack of interest in celebrities; not a great trait in a show-biz talk show host, but hardly recent. I remember an article about it back in the mid 80s (I can remember that cause Annie Lennox was one of the complainers quoted and Eurythmics were at the height of their US fame).
As I see it, what makes Dave a little less interesting is he's lost some of his edge as paternity, age and other things (9/11, his heart surgery, the sex "scandal") have mellowed him; he stops a bit short of sucking up to the likes of Paris Hilton (after the great "Would you like a parakeet?" interview) and Donald Trump. And his "reconciliation" with Oprah defanged some of his best humor, IMHO. His bit about their "Superbowl of Love" and "Dave's Oprah Journal" were hilarious. But it's the same mellowing, I suspect, that led him to give so much airtime to environmentalists and anti-hunger activists. Not exactly "mean".

And yes, Darlene Love.

John said...

Jay Leno was funnier before he got The Tonight Show. But, as was stated above, he changed to do an 1130 show instead of a stand up act. Hell, Letterman changed to do an 1130 show instead of a 1230 show.

Cal said...

How about somebody in late night who's not a white guy? (Okay, Arsenio's back, but I mean somebody who's not a white guy that we might give a damn about.)

Bryan L. said...

No one has mentioned his morning show. Bits like "coffee cup theater" were genius. In that time slot he went up against the very shows he was satirizing.

As to more recently, there was a noticeable difference between when Dave liked the guest and he didn't. I watch every time Matt Damon's on, or Steve Martin. It depends on the guest.

ocaAnd that's the noticeable difference between he and Carson: Johnny would never phone it in. He may have worked less, but it was always his best effort when he did.

Phillip B said...

The "lost" Letterman is the morning show - where he often paid tribute to Steve Allen - and his guest host shots on the "The Tonight Show."

The edgy Letterman was an outsider and an underdog, the C student from Ball State who could not quite believe that he become "the best talk show host in his price range."

He was a spectacular failure hosting the Oscars, and gave a few forgettable acting performances. He has had middling success as a producer and funding race car drivers. He had enough good will to outlast a sex scandal which probably should have forced him off the air. But he just was not as appealing as a top dog.

Hard to imagine him doing something else, which may be the very reason it will be so interesting if he does.

D. McEwan said...

Losing Letterman will leave a void in my viewing no cheery child can or will ever fill. Funny how his interviewing style didn't bother me, as I seldom watch celebrity interviews done by ANYONE. Guests came on and I switched over to a DVD, as bored with movie star plug interviews as Dave was. It could be a sci-fi movie: The Day a Movie Actress Said Something Original on a Talk Show!

Yes, Dave morphed into a cranky old man over the least decade, but you know what? So did I! Now where will I go for my Cranky Old Man demographic?

Cranky Old Men rule!

Anonymous said...

When Letterman would have a typical celeb on that he didn't know and really didn't care about it would be obvious. But the look in his eyes when one of the celebs surprised him and was funny, charming, and actually interesting, is priceless. You can see his brain kick in and off he goes. It is truly quite amazing to see.


Mike Schryver said...

I'll add to the conjecture about why Leno began beating Dave in the ratings. I think it's because of the station defections from CBS after they lost football. A whole bunch of strong stations, with strong 11PM news shows, switched to FOX from CBS. CBS was left with a bunch of very inferior UHF stations.

CBS has rebounded, of course, and that doesn't explain why Leno continued to beat Dave, but I think that was why the momentum changed.

MikeN said...

If Leno was given a new show by Fox, he would be #1, Letterman would be #5.

Liggie said...

Whatever succeeds Letterman, I want something different. Bands, sidekicks, overlong monologues, guests just plugging their latest project and nothing else .... zzzz. Craig's robot sidekick is a start, but let's see a format shake-up. Graham Norton's no band, brief monologue, and all guests on at the same time would be a good model.

droszel said...

With all due respect, I'll take this take on Letterman's retirement over Mr Levine's

benson said...

This raging debate takes me back to my high school days in the early 70's. The kids seemed to break down into two groups. The people who liked Top 40 and the people who like Album Rock. The Album rock types seemed to have this better than you snobbishness. "Cooler than everyone else" Anti establishment types. Leno was good. Letterman was good. Their humor was different. Leno spent more time with his monologue. Letterman's strength was goofy bits and attitude. Leno was more along the lines of a Carson, while Letterman schtick was closer to Steve Allen's. If you use ratings as the yardstick, then Leno won 90% of the time. But CBS still made a shload of money being #2.

Agreed that it would be interesting to have a non white male, but who's out there? It's not like stand up is hot like it was in the 80's and you could pluck a Tim Allen, Rosanne (arghh!)or Ray Romano and put them into a series. I've heard Chelsea Handler and Tine Fey mentioned, but it's not like (in Fey's case) you can implant them with 5 years of standup experience and 5 years experience in spontaneity in front of an audience.

Hey, maybe there's a promising TV weatherman out there.

Brian said...

On thing I liked about Dave was his love for bluegrass and country music. Earl Scruggs,Nanci Griffith and other musicians like that were on the show.

Michael said...

I hope the reports that Craig Ferguson is due a large payout if he is not given the 11:30 timeslot are true. I don't see him getting it both because his style doesn't fit 11:30 and because of his ratings and I think he is in real danger of losing the 12:30 timeslot to someone like Chelsea Handler.

Curtis jones said...

It's gonna be Stephen Colbert. Take it to the bank. He has the best writers in the business, he's funny as hell (in and out of character), and he will do an awesome show. He already does, but with a $$$ budget, it'll be even better.

John said...

I think Colbert would be fine.
I really do think that the desire to pick Not a White Male will play a HUGE part. IF the successor is not an established talk show host moving to a different network / timeslot, it will be NWM. If someone (like Colbert, or Conan, or Craig) moves their slot will go to NWM. The only way I see NWM losing to someone without a current talk show is if it were a major get. Someone whom noone expects to do it - Seinfeld, Hanks, Clooney, Spacey, Andy Kaufman finally delivering the punchline, etc.

Powerhouse Salter said...

I'd be in the market for a half hour late show, preferably Craig Ferguson with a less frequent and predictable letters/tweets segment and no more audience member intros ("When I tap you on the shoulder, please state your and where you're from") Ferguson's monologues are often a pleasure, as is the blend of humor and engagement he extends to guests.

Brian O. said...

The 1980s were gold for Letterman.
The early 1990s were a brass medal.
Since then everything's tarnished.

David Schwartz said...

Anybody mention Chris Rock? He's one of the funniest guys around and also one of the most intelligent. I think he'd be great!

Gary said...

The early Letterman was great, but hardly innovative. The anything-goes style was exactly what Steve Allen did on his later syndicated shows -- even Letterman admitted that.

Doreen McGettigan said...

He became too political. It is as simple as that.

Lorimartian said...

Craig Ferguson was in re-runs last week, but the week before he made a comment along the lines of "How are we going to do this an hour earlier?" which caught my attention. He didn't say it as if he had the job, but it made me start wondering what he knew and when. From what I read, he was never considered the heir apparent. I enjoy his show, but as others have said, it would have to be re-tooled somewhat for an earlier time slot. I like that he conducts interviews without the pre-interview cards, which is an unwelcome challenge for some guests and gives the illusion of some spontaneity.

I'm not ready for Dave to leave, but I understand his reasons. I hope it's not premature because I think Fallon's numbers will level off. In any event, I liked hearing Dave talk about Harry and was hoping to follow the progression of that relationship a little longer.

Colbert as himself would be a strong choice, but his edge might be blunted by having to conform to network standards. Wayne Brady is multi-talented, but I don't know about his interviewing skills.

At least we have Dave for one more year, giving us time to show our appreciation.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago Bravo did a weekend marathon of 1980s David Letterman shows, and they were just as great as I remember. Wish they'd continued doing that. But even in the 1980s Dave would sometimes drop the ball. One night he decided he was going to cold call people in the phone book and give someone a free TV set. People kept hanging up on him, thinking he was a prank caller. Instead of realizing that this bit was dying he continued for 20 minutes until he finally got someone who believed him and awarded them the TV. By then we didn't care and you could tell that Dave was relieved that the bit was finally over even though it had really been over 15 minutes earlier. I know back then he'd watch episodes to see how things played out and I have to think it was painful for him to watch that particular train wreck of an idea.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they can bring back the CBS Late Movie

Anonymous said...

John said...

Anonymous said.

Well, if you're going to talk about old versions of what came on before The Late Show, here's the really old version of "The Late Show", circa 1965 from the CBS owned & operated stations just after they started broadcasting in color and Leroy Anderson subbing for Paul Shaffer:

Steve Orlandella said...

Steve Orlandella

The difference between Letterman and his idol Johnny Carson is simply this...I doubt if any of Johnny's viewers knew if he was a Democrat or a Republican. Letterman not so much. Is politics were on display for all to see. Why else do you keep making George Bush jokes three years after he was out of office? Never was heard a discouraging word about the next president. All this while claiming to be an Independent! Seriously? This combined with the meanness was enough for me. In the last ten years the best show was the night Paul Shaffer was the guest host. For me, he will be remembered for one thing, he gave us a real talent, Craig Ferguson.

A_Homer said...

Fallon's Tonight Show is a bunch of parts, a monolog and desk bits, music/great band (obligatory touch of non-white faces to the show) a significant section of gameshow to make the "celebs" actually work to entertain the audience. It's basically designed to serve internet clips and why not. But it could be anywhere, anytime, like the clips it wants to produce. It is pure entertainment doubled-down for security. If someone would be in any way "different" Fallon comes off as if he has to explain to the audience what someone just did in front of them and that this is funny.
Letterman was the white male from the Midwest, sure, but his show drew from good comedy plus alternative scenes, like imagine having Brother Theodore, or for that matter Pee Wee Herman, (who, if you read the recently republished Playboy interview with Letterman, was not at first mainstream accepted, he was still more performance-art) and many more. Letterman delivering a basket of fruit to the new owner GE - and getting refused - it's not only in his early years, he still had life in him.
But the point being, Fallon never even tried for that, his world / cultural view is summed up by.... Timberlake and giggling. So his audience and he got the Tonight show they wanted, it's childish, gameshow, without an edge, just watching celebs perform for us.

Conan was too much about the art of the show still, he was still a believer in some of that weirdness that Letterman had maintained. And that is over. Coming from The Simpsons mentality, he was able to command an alternative 90s-00s feel. But he isn't about to be a gameshow host like Fallon.

If Fallon reinvigorated the band idea with The Roots (otherwise the show would be way too white face) Seth Myers reinvigorated the (improv) side-man dialog with Armison. That is the only thing I see as potential with Late Show, where again, he has to sharpen with timing on his interviews.

It was no surprise when Drew Carey and Craig Ferguson changed places, both could do the other's job - Carey was excellent in the monolog, surprisingly much less so in the interviews; Ferguson can do a game show, but it reminds that he isn't very verbal-funny, he only makes mocking faces or look like he's got to run to the toilet.

Barry Traylor said...

I see there are still people here trying to shoot barbs at Jay Leno. For me it pretty boils down to who I would care to be trapped in an elevator with Jay Leno or Dave Letterman and for me at least is would be Jay. At least with Jay at the very least I could talk about classic cars and motorcycles.

Anonymous said...

Carson was talented and I loved watching his show when I could stay up that late but remember, there was no competition. Look at all the cable stations Dave and his fellow late night hosts battle with each weeknight.

solarity said...

How can Colbert be seriously considered for Letterman's spot?! Has anyone here actually seen him do anything of consequence where he wasn't playing a character? Who knows if has an "entertaining" personna of his own. The guys a completely artificial creation of his writers.

As to Letterman, he has an amazing gift for the quick zinger but he seems to have spent his entire life in ironic town. He's about a mile wide and an inch deep and his knee-jerk leftism turned off a huge number of potential viewers. I'm not going to miss him much. But I do miss that early gap-toothed comedian before he morphed into a conventional and boring old man.

Mike said...

Options for a replacement.

Howard Stern, it's be a pay cut but he'd do well.

Sarah Palin, would be #1 in ratings.

Ryan Seacrest, probably the frontrunner with American Idol going off the air.

Anonymous said...

Agreed Ken, Letterman has morphed into a bitter old relic recycling the same schtick. He hasn't been relevant for over 10 years.

MrJeff2000 said...

The talk show format has ossified but Letterman was the one who revived the Steve Allen tradition of messing with expectations.

And it was those expectations that Letterman shucked a few years ago in favor of the status quo.

I have not watched the show in years, but I haven't been a fan of the format for many years. Anything that remotely works goes "viral" and you can catch it online. Sadly, nothing Letterman-related has gone "viral" in years.

Mitchell McLean said...

Letterman's replacement will be Julie Chen. You know why.

Anonymous said...

Dave's replacement should be the Kardashian family, a train wreck at every turn. All we need is the music.

thomas tucker said...

Ryan Seacrest? Is that a joke, or were you trying to make me barf?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I missed a lot of the TV of hte 1970s and 1980s - in college, no TV, out of the country, no Internet, so I never saw Letterman's original show. (I've read one of Merrill Markoe's books, however, and she really is very funny.)

I'm not convinced it's Fallon's ratings that's sent him into retirement - if anything I'd think he'd relish the challenge IF he were younger and didn't already have so many hours of TV on his clock. I hope we'll hear more from him in some other capacity.

For me, his best shows have been the ones where he had to deal with difficult circumstances: the Madonna interview where she wouldn't leave the stage and said "fuck" 14 times; the shows during the blizzard; and, most especially, the shows after 9/11. He had an extraordinary ability to hit the right note at those times.

I never found Letterman mean; for me, *Leno* was mean. But I haven't had much access to the show in a while.

As for replacement hosts...when Letterman had guest hosts it was really notable who the good ones were. I can imagine Ellen DeGeneres doing a good job...and the guest host that really surprised me (I think when he had the heart operation) was Bonnie Hunt. Enormous presence. Letterman has produced a couple of sitcoms with her in the lead; none of have really quite hit.


D. McEwan said...

I am amused by those saying "It will be Stephen colbert to replace Dave. Fait Accompli."


Is he going to do the entire show in-character? Cobert has no out-of-character act. An hour of ironic hosting and interviewing every night? Hopefully for decades? A late-night network talk show focussed on politics instead of show business?

Cobert would be as nuts to leave his current show as Jon Stewart would be to do the same, and Stewart has an out-of-character persona. The one thing you can take to the bank is that it will not be Stephen Colbert, any more than it will be Graham Norton.

I agree with all the praise heaped on Norton. His is the one talk show where I don't tune out or lose interest once the guests are trotted out. But it can not be done that well on a daily basis. Norton's shows are so excellent in large part because he only does one a week. There's much more time to create and craft bits. (And he's doing less elaborate bits, especially out-of-the-studio bits, than he was even five years ago.)

Charles H. Bryan said...

I adored David Letterman for most of his career. I mean, seriously, adored. He was the reason I bought my first VCR in the early/mid eighties; I taped and saved and even indexed a bunch of those episodes, because (I thought) "Someday Dave won't be on and this is all I'll have of him." I had a few large cardboard boxes filled with those tapes. When I moved about ten years ago, a bunch of those boxes went to the curb. I no longer taped/saved every night, although I would still tape and watch. Gradualy, I stopped recording; it was okay to miss it, and then, a couple of years ago, I just couldn't take it anymore -- it was literally the same monologue every night. Now, I can't remember the last time I watched. I don't watch any of the talk shows anymore.

But when it was good, it was absolutely great. I'm glad I watched it, and I don't resent that Dave has stayed on and made some extra cash. It's like Derek Jeter's contract; he might not earn it this year, but he earned it in the past. And, frankly, who can blame him for being bored by most of his guests? They're boring.

dinofromnewark said...

Shortly after getting out of the USAF in 1980 and moving back to NJ, I started going to the International School of Animal Arts at 61st and 1st Ave in NYC. Many times after classes I would roam around the city while heading back to the train station. One of these times I walked into the building where they were taping Letterman.....(I suppose that was 30 Rock at that time). There was a restaurant in the building that offered a cheeseburger, fries, and all the beer you could drink for about $15.00. As soon as I walked through the doors, a page came up to me and asked if I wanted to watch a taping of Dave's show and, even though it would put a dent in the time I had to drink beer, I jumped at the chance. Back then they were giving tickets away and there weren't lines out the door as stand-by. I still remember the two guests. The first was Sugar Ray Leonard, the boxer. The second was a young man who worked for the city in man-holes. He happened to see a women getting accosted and when he went to help, got stabed and lost a LARGE amount of his blood. He was somehow able to survive and became a local hero. And that, as I remember, was it. I don't even remember a musical guest. Being a little beer-buzzed and watching a taping of Letterman was one of the highlights of my life. Even though I think his monolouge has gotten stale and I now prefer to watch Jimmy Kimmel, I think Dave does the smartest interviews on TV when he has smart people on as guests. When Brian Williams is on, I'm both thinking AND LMAO.

Mark said...


I agree with many of your points, but I do get tired of the 'Carson was the greatest!'. Yes, there were good silent movies too, but they weren't BETTER than anything made since 1906. And Carson was certainly an enjoyable product of his time, but his show did not age well. It's hard to watch now. I grew up with it too. I enjoyed it for what it was. It was part of its time and that's great. But the world has moved on. Yes walkman's were great. And vinyl sounds wonderful and cheap gasoline was nice. It's time to move on.

Greg Ehrbar said...

So many fascinating and thoughtful comments in this thread.

Actually, Bonnie Hunt would be great. Like Letterman, she did a fine job in her morning show, but it wasn't the right audience. She has a grasp of the current, like Ellen, but she's also more of a pop culture nerd. Her improv background and friends from her Second City days would come in handy for viral bits.

Craig Ferguson is so smart and versatile that he may surprise everyone and make a transition to 11:30 much more seamless than we might think. He's articulate and can squeeze entertainment out of less-than-interesting guests, then scores big with the ones who "get" him.

I would not like all of late night to become a wasteland of P.R.-scripted interviews. Fallon can pull it off because he comes across with such affable sincerity. So can Ellen. But the loss of Letterman (and possibly Ferguson) would bring TV to the brink of talk shows that sound like press releases.

Like them or not, Letterman and Ferguson are the only hosts who seem to wear their heart on their sleeves. Not as much as Paar did, but still quite a lot in today's "sanded-down" talk show arena.

What I see in Letterman these days isn't so much crankiness. It's more disappointment, a sort of Peggy Lee "Is That All There Is?" He's a gazillionaire, is considered a TV legend and outlasted his contemporaries, yet it doesn't seem to have made him happy.

It's as if it wasn't what he thought it was going to be -- and even if he got the Tonight Show, he still may have felt this way.

Maybe Letterman can become like Larry King, take over that talk show, have more control over his guests, and stay on the show for years, as King did.

I still miss Paul Shaffer's impression of Cher singing "O Holy Night." He seems to have stopped doing it. For tradition's sake, I dial it up on YouTube. And if you watch the actual Sonny and Cher Christmas Show, you'll see that his impression is spot-on.

MikeN said...

CBS should replace Letterman with Jay Leno.

D. McEwan said...

"MikeN said...
CBS should replace Letterman with Jay Leno."

Oh yeah, that'll happen. That's the way to make the show more appealing to the non-elderly. Leno is MUCH younger than Letterman (and for the last 20 years, only half as funny). Jay is, after all, a full three years younger than Dave. The kids will flock to him.

(We only just finally got rid of Jay; why would we want him back?)

Storm said...


It's a kooky kinda place!

Kooky, kicky kinda place


Almost all of my favourite memories are of his old show, which I watched from the very first night. Rejected Halloween Costumes, the Museum of the Hard to believe, the night they strapped a camera to a chimp on roller skates and called it Chimp-Cam (and it went nuts and went after Sandra Bernhard with a broom), Films by My Dog Bob, the first time Pee Wee was on, the time Crispin Glover freaked out... such good times.

I stopped watching regular late night TV when I got cable 7 years ago, after not having it for over 10 years; once I had other options, Dave and Conan (who I also used to be VERY loyal to) were an afterthought.

And yeah, the first thing I thought, besides that it was probably time, was "Oh, dude! I can't even deal with Christmas without hearing Miss Darlene Love!" SOMEBODY better continue that tradition, I don't even care who.

Cheers, thanks a lot,


D. McEwan said...

"I said...
I am amused by those saying "It will be Stephen colbert to replace Dave. Fait Accompli."

[And then I elaborated on it]"

Well, I was 100% wrong. Second time it's ever happened. Third time if you count the entire 1980s.

Well, If nothing else, I'll man up and admit it when I'm totally wrong. I was totally wrong.

This is why I NEVER make bets or gamble with money. I'm no damn good at it.

But I still say Gay Marriage will never be lega--- What? Oh never mind. I'm gonna go watch a movie.

KHolmstrom said...

I've seen Colbert as a guest on Letterman & other shows. He's sharp & witty. As for Dave's knee-jerk leftism, I don't think he's as "knee-jerk" as all that. For example, I recall several years of Bill Clinton "intern" jokes & the still-continuing Hillary "pantsuit" jokes.

MattA said...

Dave became a grumpy cat because he wanted to become the politically liberal figurehead for the nation. Unfortunately for him, John Stewart beat him to it.

D. McEwan said...

"MattA said...
Dave became a grumpy cat because he wanted to become the politically liberal figurehead for the nation. Unfortunately for him, John Stewart beat him to it."

Utter nonsense. Absolute insanity.

Oh, and it's "Jon" Stewart. Apparently, you can't get any facts right, like all right-wing True Believers.