Monday, April 27, 2015

David Letterman

We're coming to an end of an era.

David Letterman is retiring.

Thank goodness for my DVR, so I can watch the last shows. It's hard for me to stay up late, but the DVR saves me. This way I can watch by daylight as opposed to moonlight and these shows are really worth watching. All kinds of people are coming on to pay their respects to him. Al Franken, excuse me, SENATOR Al Franken was on and you could tell he and David go way back. Back to the Senator's Saturday Night Live days and even before. That was really good TV.

Alec Baldwin was a guest, he's been on a thousand times and he was great. Jerry Seinfeld was just on and I must have rewound it a zillion times, it was that good. He did his stand up comedy but get this, he did the exact same jokes he did the first time he was on Letterman. That was over thirty years ago.

Jerry sat down and after some back and forth, he mentioned that the one thing Dave hasn't done is be a guest on his own show. Jerry turned the tables and sat in Dave's seat and Dave sat in the guest seat. He then proceeded to ask Dave some questions. It was so much fun watching these two legends, friends, interact. It was like we were eavesdropping. I'm telling you it was heaven. And a hoot.

David Letterman changed late night television but don't take my word for it. Just ask Jimmy Fallon, Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, ask his replacement Stephen Colbert. They all will happily tell you he did.

By now everybody knows his story.

He's from Indiana and went to L.A. to do stand up. He was on The Tonight Show and killed. Johnny Carson loved him and David began filling in as host. He flourished coming on after The Tonight Show with his show called Late Night.  NBC let him run wild and he did things we never saw before. Cool things. He was in line to succeed Carson when...

Jay Leno got the show.

David was devastated.

And then CBS persuaded him to come host Late Show with David Letterman. 

And we who worked at CBS were thrilled.

I remember the night he started. No, I wasn't in the Ed Sullivan Theater with the audience and not because I didn't want to be there. David had a thing about not peppering the audience with, what he called, network types. He wanted the audience to be full of regular, everyday fans. That was the reason we were crowded into a restaurant next to the theater watching his debut on a tv. I say we, because it was those 'network types' and big wigs. And me. Watching him on the restaurant's television.

And that's how David Letterman began on CBS.

I didn't know David but I had a passing acquaintance with his bandleader, Paul Shaffer, from my rock and roll DJ days. He was a guest on one of my shows. And the fact that David once was a weatherman was not lost on this weatherman.

I was doing CBS This Morning then and David took his show on the road, one time to London of all places. That coincided with me doing the entertainment interviews, so off I went.

You'd think it would've been easy. It wasn't.

David had a reputation of, how do I put this, of not being the easiest person to talk to. Difficult is a good word.

He did his first London show, which I thought went very well, and met me upstairs in a room above their set. There I was with two camera crews raring to go.

First thing I said was, "Great show!"

David answered with an expletive about how bad it was. The one that starts, "Piece of..."

That's how it began.

We continued down that rainy road and the interview didn't get any better. Finally, he lit up a Cuban cigar and began to smoke it.

"Nice cigar."

"You think it looks juicy? Want one?"

I said, "Sure."

Anything to help move the interview to a better place. I took one from him, lit it, and proceeded to see three David Lettermans. It was that strong. I concentrated on the middle Dave and finished our chat. I went back to my hotel room thinking this was not my finest hour. And it wasn't.

The next time I talked to David was in New York, at an office in the Ed Sullivan Theater. Because of my earlier experience, I knew, just knew, he wasn't going to be warm and cuddly. I was just waiting for him to verbally pop me one.

But he never did.

We did the interview and then he sat afterwards and talked about all kinds of things. David was charming. David was friendly. David was an entirely different person. As he left I did everything but promise to write.

There is an addendum to that story.

Bill Scheft is a long time writer for Letterman. He also did stand up comedy. I did stand up when he did. Rumor has it that he told David that, and because of that, David considered me in the same fraternity, the same club. That's why this time was different. Keep in mind no one told me that but that's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Over time he's mellowed.

But his interviewing skills have gotten better and better. People don't talk about that as much as I think they should. From President Obama to Bill O'Reilly to Paris Hilton. Smart, informative AND funny. You can tell I watch him all the time.

So now he leaves.

Seinfeld said, "This whole quitting idea is the stupidest thing I've ever heard." David agreed and then said, "It's my wife's fault." She wants him to spend more time with his family.

Still funny.

David Letterman is retiring.

A big fish is leaving the pond.

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