A quick post (yeah, it’s been too long) about the retirement of David Letterman:
As most people know, Letterman left NBC on less-than-happy terms in the spring of 1993.
I left Salt Lake City, Utah, for Connecticut (for both happy and less-than-happy reasons) in August of 1993.
And the week after I arrived in Connecticut after a cross-country journey in my little Dodge Raider, Dave launched The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS (“the Tiffany network”).
I remember watching his first CBS shows from the living room of the group house I called home in Rocky Hill. I had just signed on to a job (Assistant Manager at the Wethersfield outlet of Strawberries Music), and was relieved to have found a source of income. Everything would be OK.
I sensed the same relief in Dave’s first week of CBS shows: he’d landed on his feet, and everything would be OK.
Now Dave has ended his 33 year experiment on television, from his fitful start on daytime TV, to two successful, groundbreaking, thoroughly enjoyable late night shows that blew apart the paradigm set by Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. He was equal parts silly teenager and old grump, wearing his flaws on his sleeve and able to parry and dodge with the most evasive of guests. He was a master interviewer when he chose to be, and a first-rate smart ass just as often.
Along the way, he moved the goalposts for all late night television hosts to follow. The Jimmys (Fallon and Kimmel), Conan O’Brien, Seth Myers, Craig Kilborn, Craig Ferguson, and James Corden all owe their shows to Dave.
(A special nod to Craig Ferguson, to my eyes the only late night host to push the medium beyond Dave’s model by further deconstructing the tried-and-true Carson formula.)
His final episode ran long, and rightfully so. He didn’t want to leave any member of his Worldwide Pants family unrecognized. He wanted to give the CBS Orchestra (still the World’s Most Dangerous Band) their full due. His face beamed when he recognized his wife and son in the audience. And he let the Foo Fighters play him out.
I feel lucky to have attended two tapings of Dave’s show, both times with Sam, back in the late 1990s, both times ending up in the 3rd row, right in front of Dave’s desk (I must’ve impressed the producers who interview the audience while it queues in the lobby to score great seats twice). Seeing the show in person was a treat, especially hearing Paul Shaffer and the band play full-length songs. These are NYC memories I’ll always cherish.
With Dave leaving the TV landscape, a chapter in my life comes to a close. It happens shortly after another chapter in my life closed (my job at Georgetown University), so it seems strangely appropriate.
So thank you, Dave. May your retirement be full of happy memories with Harry and Regina.