Monday, April 21, 2014


Some of my earliest childhood memories of television involve David Letterman. And I mean earliest. I recently announce my Top 100 Greatest Films of All-Time, and have talked about my list obsessions over the years, but I realize in many that that started with David Letterman. As far as I'm concerned, he was making Top Ten Lists before Moses, and that among hundreds of others should pay him royalties. I once did a Top Ten list, Letterman style, for a school presentation. I was in G.A.T.E. in 3rd or 4th grade, and-, what was it...- oh, I remember now, I was doing a ten-piece report on a mystery of some kind, and for some reason I chose literature, and it really should've been just Sherlock Holmes 'cause about 9 of the ten things were about Sherlock Holmes, but none of that mattered anyway to me, 'cause all I ever cared about with the project was being inventive with the presentations. One of them, I did my Monty Hall impersonations, another time I made the audience search for a piece of paper that was literally right sitting in plain sight in front of them, (That was in reference to Edgar Allen Poe's "The Purloined Letter"), but one of the required reports was a Top Ten, so I did sat down with index cards, named ten random Sherlock Holmes short stories, and after I named each one I threw the card behind me, and imitated the sound of a window breaking as it went through the glass, a stupid joke I laughed at when I was one-year-old and I still laugh at. I don't even think I got a decent grade or anything, my objective as possible from everybody else, and that was my influence. (Oh, in case you're wondering, I didn't go to sleep as a young kid, and when Letterman went on, even after almost falling asleep while watching Carson, I would then hear them announce "...Paul Shaffer and The World's Most Dangerous Band", and boom, I was up and watching Letterman)

Come to think of it,  Letterman's claim-to-fame was the same thing, being as different as Carson and all the other late night (And for a brief moment, daytime) as possible. He's literally been a presence on TV, my entire life. You know, when I remember Carson ending, I thought about how he's been a constant presence my whole life too , and I was only eight. I'm almost thirty now, and he outlasted Carson' replacement, and Carson, if you count both shows. He was one of the first absurdist of television. Re-imagining the late night talk show in ways that hadn't been done before. Stupid pet tricks, and the guy living under the stage, and "Will It Float", "Hairpiece, Not a Hairpiece", these weird, almost non-nonsensical pieces that really redefined comedy. Toyed with the concept of television, pushed the genre forward for the rock'n'roll era. Re-imagined the interview style, in ways that are still copied. You can't help but be influenced by him in some way, even Stephen Colbert said so, on his show, hours before it was announced that he was the one named to take over.

Of course, the big concerns about Colbert taking over is that, he himself has created such a huge legacy reinventing a talk show structure, by creating his character and parodying the conservative talk show hosts on Fox News and such, something that, didn't exist when Letterman started. Hell, it didn't exist 'til Letterman was on CBS really. And frankly, I would've thought at this point, that, with Colbert's fame coming from the coattails on Jon Stewart's, frankly considering how Stewart's broken all the new ground that, perhaps outshines even Letterman's achievement,  I would've imagined that for Colbert, it might've been a step down to suddenly go to the graveyard of network TV. Plus, it's telling that, CBS, for some reason didn't go with Craig Ferguson, who I have been saying for years now is the most underrated host on the talk show landscape, not only for the symbolism of the infamous late shift incident, but also because Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants produces Ferguson's show as well. Letterman put a lot into Ferguson getting that slot after Craig Kilborn left, (Yeah, Kilborn wasn't fired, he decided to pursue other avenues, little known fact.) and I would've simply imagined that Letterman has hand-picked him to be a successor, but then again, Colbert's the bigger name, and let's face it, it is a legendary slot. And to those who think that, Colbert won't be as funny or able to reinvent himself in Letterman's slot without the persona he's created, that's just, stupid. That's the biggest piece of dumbass thinking ever. Anybody who can create a character that well for that long, can also turn it off in a heartbeat, (and with Colbert's Second City acting technique, he can easily take it off, as he often does on his show, by turning down the persona when needed or turning it up full blast as needed) Truly. He'll be amazing he'll be fine, I expect the Fallon vs. Colbert friendly battle to last decades, and for Jimmy Kimmel to be ignored completely for longer than that. (Alright, I know that was mean, sorry Jimmy, but I'm sorry you're second tier.)

Actually, come to think of it, in terms of replacing a legendary television persona, there was a third option for CBS, that I don't think anybody thought about, because, technically, they don't have the legacy that they needed to replace. Not the way that "The Tonight Show" had a legacy that needed to be replaced. I know that seems strange, but when Pat Weaver created "The Tonight Show" at NBC, back in the fifties, first, he found Steve Allen, who had accidentally invented the talk show format we know now, back in the days of radio, when he needed to fill time, he started performing strange skits and coming up with absurd bits of comedy and sometimes, talking to the audience or crew. When he became successful, they moved him to his Primetime variety show to compete with Ed Sullivan, and then Jack Paar hosted, and really perfected the celebrity interview aspects of the show, and and even the monologue is credited to him then, Carson took over in the fall of '62 after he had a couple flop series on other networks and had taken a job hosting a game show, and most of us know the rest of that story. With "The Late Show..." however, there's just Letterman. There were a few random occasions when other networks were competitive with Carson, Dick Cavett and Joey Bishop and Merv Griffin's talk shows come to mind, but those we're years earlier. When Carson retired, I don't think there was a network talk show against him that year, none that were even worth discussing, and even Arsenio who was syndicated, he was after a different audience completely, so he wouldn't even be in the discussion. We're talking; midnight movies, informercials, reruns of soap operas maybe, Pat Sajak was chugging along at his failed talk show attempt, but that slot, is just David Letterman right now. Hypothetically, CBS didn't even have to replace Letterman, at all. Just saying, they could've used that slot for something completely different and let the show's legacy just be Letterman, and that's it. ABC was nothing but "Nightline" forever, CBS could've put a late night drama series on to compete with cable networks or something, or shown reruns, or one of many numerous things. "The Tonight Show" was legacy even before Carson, and dates back to the beginning of TV and the beginning of the genre in fact, but "The Late Show..." dates back to Bill Clinton's presidency. By putting Colbert in that slot, CBS is now trying to create a legacy for "The Late Show" that is, if not equivalent to "The Tonight Show", it's at least, gonna try to set it's own legacy and it's own place in television history. In some ways, that's actually a bigger gamble that picking one host over another, 'cause if Colbert, is a flop, he could tarnish Letterman's legacy, and if that happens, then, what would be CBS's next move?

Now, that said, I'd probably make the same choice as Les Moonves did, especially since Colbert, it turns out, was a viable option. I imagine that CBS figures that, Ferguson can either stay on as long as he's viable, and/or that he's relatively dispensable in much the same way the Kilborn was and figure that , even if he were to get a better deal somewhere else, or just decide to quit, both possibilities I imagine are probable for him in the near future actually, that they can find some other new name to replace him if they needed. (Or not, since, while "The Late Late Show", has it's own legacy, Tom Snyder, Kilborn and now Ferguson, although none of those names rank with Letterman's legacy and that means that show itself is also hypothetically entirely dispensable.) Plus, if they change their mind on Colbert, Ferguson would then be the next logical choice fill-in, at least on a temporary basis. Either way, it's not gonna the same, ever again. With Letterman's upcoming departure, so does the last vestige of what we think of as the legendary and golden era in late night talk. The last remaining pillar from the old era, is at least metaphorically coming down. He'll stand forever on that Mt. Rushmore of the greats, alongside Johnny as the standard that all late night talk will be compared to, and that will indeed annoy the shit out of the Fallon, Stewarts, Colberts, O'Briens, Kimmels, Arsenio's and all other so-called pretenders,- well, at least in enough peoples' minds anyway that it'll still be discussed that way by some.

And who can blame them considering all that Letterman's done. And here now, from the home office in Omaha, Nebraska, tonight's Top Ten List! Top Ten things that made David Letterman so special. Top Ten things, and there's a lot of them, but the Top Ten things that made David Letterman so special.

10. Cause Letterman knew that while the tricks may have been stupid, the pets we're of above average intelligence.

Yeah, a very crucial distinction there. Very crucial. Subtle, very subtle. But crucial. Some people, still don't get that subtlety.

9. That all food is funnier when being thrown off the roof.

Very true.

8. That no matter how little comedic performing skills someone had, that everyone always get laughs being a guest Top Ten list presenter.

Hey?! Just because I'm doing, doesn't mean that I couldn't get laughs elsewise. That was mean.

7. That when Carson had a new joke, he called Dave.

6. That he never got a new phone at his desk.

Yeah, that was always strange. He must have the very last of those old phones. Old microphone that he doesn't even need, that's peculiar too. I guess you can chalk that up to tradition.

5. He was gap-toothed, before gap-toothed was sexy!

What? That-that's just weird. I don't know what to make of that one.

4. Cause you never knew what would happen, especially when (INSERT Andy Kaufman, Madonna, Sandra Bernhard, Kathy Griffin, Bill Murray and/or about 30 or 40 other NAMES HERE) was on.

3. Knows that when stuck, call Regis, he's always available for a quick laugh.

Yep. Good comic advice there.

2. Let's face it, you know Drew Barrymore would never have flashed Leno.

Yeah, that's-eh.Yep! By the way, for you younger readers, if you want to know what the '90s were about, that clip I posted above there, eh, that's a good metaphor for them. Pretty much, wouldn't you say? Yeah, that happened, and-eh, we were all fine with it. That was the nineties folks.


And, the #1 thing that makes David Letterman so special.

1. Let's face, these Top Ten Lists are friggin' awesome!

(Drumroll ends, music plays off into commercial)

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