Late Night with David Letterman

From Academic Kids

Late Night with David Letterman was the name of NBC's nightly hour long comedy talk show, which premiered in 1982 and went off the air in 1993. (See also the current "The Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS.)

The show starred David Letterman.

Like other talk shows, the show featured at least two or three guests each night, usually including a comedian or musical guest. Letterman's show quickly established a reputation for being dangerous and unpredictable. A number of celebrities had even stated that they were afraid of appearing on the show. This reputation was born out of moments like Letterman's verbal sparring matches with Cher, Madonna (described by comedian Robin Williams as a "battle of wits with an unarmed woman"), and Shirley MacLaine. The show often featured quirky regular features, such as "Stupid Pet Tricks" and a facetious letter-answering segment on Fridays. Other memorable moments include Letterman using a bullhorn to interrupt the "Today Show" TV program (which was conducting a live interview at the time) to announce that he was not wearing any pants; interrupting the local news by walking into their studio; and the outrageous appearances by comedian Andy Kaufman. In one highly publicized appearance, Kaufman was slapped and knocked to the ground by professional wrestler Jerry Lawler. This performance was staged but appeared quite real. Another frequent guest was the cantankerous comic book creator Harvey Pekar, writer of American Splendor who got into frequent arguments with Letterman.

Letterman frequently used crew members in his comedy bits, so viewers got to know stage hands and writers as well as they did the host. Common contributors included bandleader Paul Shaffer, Chris Elliott, Calvert DeForest as Larry "Bud" Melman, announcer Bill Wendell, writer Adam Resnick, scenic designer Kathleen Ankers, stage manager Biff Henderson, producer Robert Morton, director Hal Gurnee, associate director Peter Fatovich, stage hand Al Maher, camera operator Baily Stortz and Jude Brennan.

The show had fun with television technology itself. There were visits to the control room, mounting of mini-cams in unexpected places (such as the "monkey cam"), and the "thrill cam" which flew across the audience every night.

WNBC-TV's Live at Five (which broadcast live from across the hall) and its impressive guest lineup, from Jimmy Carter to Orson Welles to Little Richard, was fodder for a running joke. Letterman quite often complained that Live at Five got better guests than he did.

In 1993, Letterman left NBC for a better deal with CBS, where he started "The Late Show with David Letterman". NBC had angered Letterman by breaking an alleged promise from years earlier to give him the "Tonight Show" once Johnny Carson had retired. When Carson did retire, the NBC executives gave the show to Jay Leno. (Ironically, Leno had gained in popularity due to frequent appearances on Letterman's show.) The "Late Night" time slot was taken over by the show Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Technically speaking, O'Brien's show is a continuation of Letterman's program (just as Jay Leno's version of the Tonight Show is a continuation of the show hosted by Carson, and others before him), not a new series, however most sources tend to treat the two programs as separate entities since Late Show is similar in many respects to Letterman's old show.

When Letterman left, NBC claimed intellectual property rights to many of the most popular Late Night segments. After a period of negotiations, the two sides agreed that Letterman would be able to take certain segments with him, including the Top Ten List and Stupid Pet/Human Tricks, while NBC would retain rights to certain other segments, including Viewer Mail and the character of Larry "Bud" Melman. Letterman easily adapted to these restrictions: the Viewer Mail segment was continued on the new show under the name CBS Mailbag, and the actor playing Melman continued his antics under his real name, Calvert DeForest.

Recurring Late Night segments

  • The Top Ten List
  • Stupid Pet Tricks
  • Stupid Human Tricks
  • Viewer Mail
  • Supermarket Finds
  • Velcro Suit
  • Suit of Rice Crispies
  • Dumb Ads
  • Small Town News
  • Ask Mr. Melman
  • Dave's Record Collection
  • Crushing Things With A Steamroller
  • Throwing Things Off A Five-Story Building
  • Crushing Things With An 80-Ton Hydraulic Press
  • Dog Poetry
  • Visits with Meg in the Simon and Schuster Building
  • Elevator Races
  • NBC Bookmobile

See also


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