Thursday, May 21, 2015

5.21.15 Hero of the Day: David Letterman

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Name: David Letterman
Age: 68
Occupation: retired talker
Last Seen: New York, NY
Awarded For: giving us many years of laughter... and something to think about
Last night was an emotional night for those who stay up a little later.

It was the final night David Letterman ever hosted a talk show. After over 6,000 episodes of NBC's Late Night from 1982-1993 and CBS's Late Show 1993 to last night, the funnyman officially called it a career. He had his great moments and even a few bumps along the way.

It was Letterman who had the longest-running career in late night TV, beating Johnny Carson by one year. When he first hosted Late Night in 1982, we only had three major over-the-air TV networks, Pac-Man was a must for any video gamer, audiences packed movie theaters to see "E.T." and your humble webmaster was pooping in Pampers.

Of course, getting into late night TV wasn't a total breeze for Dave, who started in college radio and moved on to the third-place ABC-TV affiliate in his hometown of Indianapolis, WLWI-13, now top-rated NBC affiliate WTHR. He moved to Los Angeles where he became a regular at The Comedy Store, and from there on, it was The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. Dave and Johnny became good friends and remained so until Johnny's death in 2005. Letterman even guest-hosted for Carson for many years while he also became a regular on game shows such as The $25,000 Pyramid.

Letterman even had his own talk show on NBC, The David Letterman Show, which aired in the morning in 1980. However, it was canceled after 90 episodes due to poor ratings despite positive reviews and the debut of some of his regular features, such as Stupid Pet/Human Tricks.

However, Dave made his big comeback two years later with Late Night. The show was a monster success because quite simply, it was different. It wasn't another show where everybody had to dress up and be hoidy toidy. It was casual and fun. Letterman had his usual suspects of comedy sketches, interviews and that quirky Top Ten list. For years, he wanted that coveted 11:30 spot held by Carson, but it went to Jay Leno instead, thus creating one of the greatest rivalries in TV history. Everybody knew that Carson wanted Letterman for The Tonight Show, so Letterman settled by moving over to CBS to launch The Late Show.

Yes, I think we all have had our favorite moments with Dave, such as the reunion of Sonny and Cher to Drew Barrymore flashing Dave her tits to Howard Stern's many appearances from a short-haired geek in 1984 to the cross-dressing vixen promoting "Miss America". There was Dave throwing objects off the Ed Sullivan Theater and visits to the Hello Deli. Let's not forget Calvert DeForest and Biff Henderson and yes, Paul Shaffer.

When I was a young teen, I would stay up late on school nights to watch Dave. Growing up in boring northern Michigan where you had to be a senior citizen to enjoy anything, I had little joy as a teenager, especially when my parents divorced at age 12. Yes, my parents tried to get me to turn the TV off at around 10 p.m., but they had to pry the remote from my cold, dead hands. Watching David Letterman and Conan O'Brien took my mind out of the depression I felt from school, growing up north, and life in general. Yes, I got only four hours of sleep most nights, but I didn't care. To me, Dave was the best friend that I never had.

True, we now have Fallon, Kimmel and virtual newcomers James Cordon and Seth Meyers, and oh, yes, Nightline is still on the air, the honest truth is that it was David Letterman who set the modern standard for late night TV. Not as a funnyman, but also somebody who told it like it was. When he came back after 9/11, Dave exclaimed that those responsible for crashing the planes into those buildings did it for religious fervor and said "if it makes you live to 1,000 years old, does it make any goddamn sense?" When Indiana's governor recently passed the state's anti-gay law, it was Dave who said that "this isn't the Indiana I grew up with". He was also very vocal about his heart problems and the affairs he had with co-workers.

When the news broke that David was retiring, it wasn't shocking for me one bit. He was around the same age as Carson when he retired (he was 67) and worked in late night one year more than Carson himself. Now that his son Harry is 13, it's time for him to be a dad. I hope he and Regina give him the best love any parent can imagine giving their son.

One last thing: I, like many of you wonder if Dave will still be around after retirement or if he'll end up reclusive like Carson. The world may never know, but all I can say is this:

He had a good run.

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