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Remembering Letterman

May 12, 2015
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Everyone has a favorite Letterman memory.

For some, it's that very first episode of 'Late Night,' when an intoxicated Bill Murray sang 'Let's Get Physical' by Olivia Newton John while doing jumping jacks across NBC's Studio 6A.

Maybe it's the time that Andy Kaufman threw hot coffee on professional wrestler Jerry Lawlor's lap.

For others, it was the time Cher called Dave an a**-hole.

How about the 'Late Night Monkey Cam'?

Or delivering a fruit basket to NBC's new owners (GE) only to be denied access to the building?

Or when Drew Barrymore flashed Dave on his birthday?

Or when Madonna wouldn't stop swearing at him?

Or his first show after open heart surgery?

Or his first show after 9/11?

Or Top Ten lists

Or Darlene Love

You get the point.

On Wednesday, May 20, it's the final chance to witness a Letterman memory.

It's been 33 years of memories, the longest tenure of any late night talk show host in history. And with David Letterman, you never knew exactly what would happen during his hour on television.

What set Dave apart from his competitors? It was partially that spontaneity, but it was more. It was a style that some might consider cranky, although I would consider it real. In a time when national late night talk shows are primarily used to promote the latest movie by another Hollywood celebrity, Dave didn't fake enthusiasm. When Paris Hilton was on his show in 2007 to promote a new fragrance and movie, Letterman was more interested in talking about her time in prison. She pushed back, but Dave stayed the course, resulting in the impossible: a telling and entertaining interview with Paris Hilton. Justin Bieber came on the show to promote a new album, and Dave told him not to get the Sistine Chapel tattooed on himself. Bieber responded by saying that he wouldn't get 'the 16th chapel' tattooed on his arm, clearly not knowing what The Sistine Chapel is. Letterman's response? 'Canadian high school.'

Letterman's ability to be real rather than spend his hour simply helping to sell movies and CDs created a dynamic where we viewers felt that we were part of an inside joke. We knew what was going on and what was funny even if the guest did not.

But then there were the guests who did get it. Regis, Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Tina Fey, Drew Barrymore, Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Oprah the list goes on and on. They saw the genius of Letterman and they always brought more to the table when appearing on Dave's show. Those moments will be missed.

And then there is the band. There is none greater. Just watch the CBS Orchestra back up Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, Darlene Love or any Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame inductee to get a sense of what we're about to lose.

Dave is a broadcaster and a comedian. That is rare in late night these days. There are a lot of funny people filling the airwaves, but Dave played the medium of television with his sense of comedy better than anyone ever has. As great as Johnny Carson was at perfecting the late night format, David Letterman reinvented it.

Dave has been on television since I was old enough to watch anything other than Mr. Rogers. When I was younger, every time I was up late, I'd watch Dave. As I got a little older, every time I had a rough day, I'd watch Dave. Today, thanks to a combination of occasional late nights and modern technology, I watch every single one of Dave's broadcasts. The late night world is going to feel very hollow without him.

Enjoy the few hours we have left with him. Guests are bringing their A game, because they see it too: after May 20, there will be no more Letterman memories to be made.

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