This story first appeared in Jewish Business news. Re-posted with permission.
Goodbye David Letterman. We love you and we will miss you. The brilliant, original, hysterical and greatest talk show host in history makes his farewell tonight on CBS after more than 33 years on the air.
No David Letterman is not Jewish. But we wish he were. And besides, what difference does it make? We report on major news that has no Jewish connection all the time and we would be amiss if we did not do something to honor Mr. Letterman.
Speaking personally now, I grew up watching Letterman. I was only 11 years old when his show “Late Night” premiered on NBC back in February 1982. Everyone in my class immediately fell in love.
What were 11 year olds doing staying up until 1:30 at night, you might ask. Well we watched him when on vacations from school and we also had VCRs back then.
I remember my older brother – he was a junior in high school at the time – yelling at me to go to bed already when I insisted on joining him and his friends in the living room to watch Letterman. Late Night would become the most important fixture in the entertainment world for my generation, and his, and many after us, through high school, college and beyond.
Both in high school and in college, mornings would always begin with, “did you catch Letterman last night.” And yes we did stay up to watch him on school nights.
Some of his best bits came when he would wander the NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan and harass the local news personalities and the Today Show cast. The most memorable of these, for me, came in 1983 after the New York Islanders won their last Stanley Cup.
Sorry to spoil things for you but these shows are never live. They are taped at 5 P.M. In the 80’s while on Late Night Letterman taped his show concurrent to the live broadcast of the local NBC channel’s Live at Five news show. The great Marv Albert did the sports for them back then.
He was interviewed two of the victorious Islanders, and they had brought the vaunted Stanley Cup trophy with them. Letterman heard this and proceeded to storm the Live at Five studio and ”steal” the cup, all in front of a live television audience.
Letterman then went back to his studio and triumphantly held the cup up in the air before his audience. A visibly amused and annoyed Albert watched from the side.
He was our Johnny Carson. But if Carson gets the credit for having solidified the late night talk show format in Americana in his 30 years as host of The Tonight Show – he was letterman’s personal hero – then David Letterman perfected the genre and showed the world what comedy could truly be.
He was so great that, as host of the Tonight Show, Jay Leno shamelessly ripped off many of the routines that Letterman had done first on Late Night. This included – but certainly not limited to — giving the various crew members of the show who work behind the scenes a chance to appear on camera and making them part of the show.
Then in 1992 the unthinkable happened. NBC chose Jay Leno to succeed Letterman to replace Johnny Carson as host of the Tonight Show when Carson stepped down that year. The world was outraged. If the millions of television fans, and Carson himself, had made the choice it would have gone to Letterman. But Leno was the safe pick for the network.
Yes he was affable. But he was also boring. He did nothing new nor anything to ever rock the boat. Yes he continuously won the ratings wars, but as a wise man once said, “never confuse being popular with being good.”
Case and point: Since Letterman announced his retirement, everyone, everywhere has been mourning his departure. His rival talk show hosts have been tipping their hats to him and citing Letterman as their role model, not Leno. On rival NBC, host Louie C.K. closed last Saturday’s Saturday Night Live with a few words for Letterman.
Also at that network, current Tonight Show Host and direct competitor Jimmy Fallen took ten minutes out of his show to wish Letterman goodbye. And on ABC, David Letterman’s other head to head network competitor, Jimmy Kimmel will not be airing a new show tonight opposite Letterman’s farewell.
What happened when Leno stepped down as the host of the Tonight Show? Nothing. Both times.
Fortunately for all of us, in 1993 Letterman packed his bags, moved to rival CBS and the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway and continued to give the world another wonderful 22 years.
Top Ten lists, Stupid Pet Tricks, Stupid Human Tricks, Jumping into a humongous bowl of cereal, dropping watermelons off of the studio’s roof, jumping onto a Velcro wall while wearing a Velcro suit, Larry Bud Mellmon, Chris Elliot, Biff, Paul Schaffer……
I could go on but then this article would never end, like we always hoped Letterman would never end.
So goodbye Dave. We love you and we will miss you.