This week, two shows will be ending this week that is getting a lot of hype: Mad Men and The Late Show with David Letterman.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a Mad Men fan, but I understand why people think it’s great show. While I think it’s a great show as well, Mad Men doesn’t have the emotional attachment that wants me to watch every week. I will say it is interesting to see how the characters developed in the seven seasons. In the 60s, men were the dominant force of the workplace and at homes, while the women played second fiddle. Now, the men are scrambling to get a foothold of the new world, while the women are quickly adapting and chaos ensues for each individual. Although Don Draper was the main character in the first few seasons, it has turned to Peggy and Joan in the last few seasons as years gone by. I will be watching the finale and I hope it’s good, but I hope Mad Men fans are satisfied.
The first time I heard about David Letterman, it was him jumping ship from NBC to CBS. I have no recollection of Late Night because I was born in 1983 and really had no idea who the guy was. Looking at old shows from E! in the mid-90s, I get why people why called him a genius. His sardonic, deadpan, self-deprecating humor helped revolutionize comedy and his style has been copied by many. His innovations were ahead of its time in every facet:
Dropping stuff from the roof:
The Alka Seltzer Suit:
When Letterman moved to CBS, people were worried that he’ll be mainstream with a bigger stage, more popular guests, and on Broadway and that was true, but the one constant throughout the 33 years was Letterman. Yes, he can still be an a**hole at times, as Cher mentions, but as Julia Roberts bought it up last week, “stupid people annoy him.”
That’s another aspect I’m going to miss about Letterman; the current crop of late-night hosts are more friendly towards celebrities and are in the joke. Letterman has his own barometer who he likes and doesn’t like.
Look at Paris Hilton:
And now look at my two favorite Julia Roberts appearances on The Late Show (videos via AboutJulia.com):
The difference is day and night. Letterman love guests who come prepared and are willing to be open and try not to be a pr machine. This is why Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Tina Fey, Tom Hanks, and others have double-digit appearances (Regis has the most appearances and Dave is wondering why).
I’ve discuss how Dave was an innovator. His innovation comes from his curiosity. In the Late Night years, his curiosity was about how much anarchy he can cause. That’s why he was beloved by college frat kids and the younger generation at that time. To this day, he is still curious, but in a global sense. His curiosity intensified when he had heart surgery in 2000, 9/11 in 2001, his birth of his son, Harry, in 2003, and even the sex scandal in 2009. He was caring about health, global, parental, and even conservation issues. I think this is where people are still miffed about Letterman. For some, Late Night was their gospel and when he became mainstream, he left the group without saying goodbye, but in reality, he didn’t. He still tosses stuff from the roof, still breaking glasses somewhere in New York City, and is still an a**hole to guests, but he was self-aware that he needed to mature and do other things that interest him. He admitted when the Late Show started, it went, “a million miles per hour,” but didn’t know how to stop until several years later. If it wasn’t for Letterman’s curiosity, his shows wouldn’t exist.
I was questioning for years of how Jay Leno, who got the Tonight Show hosting gig in 1992, got higher ratings than Letterman. There were theories of networks and their affiliates, the NFL moving out of CBS, Hugh Grant on Leno, Letterman Oscars “debacle,” Regis. The best answer that I know of came from Brad Wetherell‘s article that the reason Leno was popular and getting higher ratings was he told predictable jokes so people knew about the joke and laugh at it because they got right. For the Letterman audience, it was about unpredictability and being challenged. Basically, watching Letterman takes a lot of work, but you get rewarded if the joke is good.
This is very typical, but here are my Top 10 moments of Letterman (Of note: The 9/11 monologue, his return to his after heart surgery, and his sex scandal will be in the Top Ten general moments, but I want to share other clips that deserve recognition.:
10. Will It Float – It’s the Pet Rock of Gags. It is so stupid, it’s brilliant. The simplicity made this a long running gag.
9. The Christmas Episodes – It was the best holiday tradition on TV. You get Paul Shaffer impersonating Cher, Jay Thomas re-telling the “Lone Ranger” story, Jay and Dave doing the QB challenge where they tried to hit the meatball on top of the Christmas tree.
And don’t forget Darlene Love:
8. Howard Stern in the Top Ten – This was random, gross, and funny.
7. Teri Garr taking a shower. – In this day in age, this would be considered insensitive and misogynstic. Luckily, this is an 80s clip.
6. Foo Fighters – Here’s the ironic thing about Letterman and Dave Grohl’s career paths: They were both legends with the young crowd. Letterman with Late Night and Grohl with Nirvana. When both left for their second act, their fans thought they were selling out. Dave was going mainstream and Grohl started Foo Fighters and sounded “corporate.” If Foo Fighters went corporate, how is Letterman, the rebel of CBS, a big fan? This is why I’m pro-Foo Fighters because who is ever going to question Letterman’s taste in music?
5. Letterman appearing on the last Jon Stewart Show – This is not from the the Late Show, but now knowing their career paths, but Jon and Dave took nearly the same path. Both were struggling comedians/actors, both had their first shows cancelled very quickly, and in their second acts, they became legends. Now, they both leave this year and going to future endeavors.
4. John Malkovich doing the Top Ten – This was, to me, the best Top Ten list Letterman did and it was all Malkovich.
3. The 4 AM Show – This was a gimmick show where everyone is up at 4AM. What’s unique was there was no one seating in the guest seat except Stage Manager, Biff Henderson. Guest Amy Sedaris gave a tour of her neighborhood; there was a rat expert (although he might be fake), Modest Mouse playing, and free Egg McMuffins for everyone.
2. Dave visits GE – Before there was Bill Simmons blasting the NFL and getting suspended by ESPN, and eventually releasing him, there was David Letterman being friendly with NBC and their parent companies, like GE.
1. Warren Zevon’s last public appearance – If I ever do a play on stage, it would be the last 24 hours before Zevon’s last appearance on the Late Show. I wonder what was the conversation between Zevon, Letterman, and Shaffer? This was a watershed moment and this was truly get the new Letterman.
Honorable Mention: Pat and Kenny’s Read Oprah Transcripts
There will be other talk shows to fill-in, but you have definitely see the last true talk show in America. A man who can do monologues, bits, interviews, and an eye for comedic and musical talent. This is why David Letterman is a national treasure and why comedians and actors are paying respect to him these past few weeks. In his terms, he deserves a victory lap.