Late Night with David Letterman was a nightly hour-long comedy talk show on NBC hosted by David Letterman. It premiered in 1982 and went off the air in 1993, after Letterman left NBC and moved to Late Show on CBS. Late Night with Conan O'Brien then filled the time slot.
, the show's three production companies — Carson Productions
, Worldwide Pants
, and NBC Productions — were awarded a Peabody Award
, which cited the following:
Replacing The Tomorrow Show
and host Tom Snyder
, David Letterman's first show was on February 1
, with the final show on June 25
. After the battle for The Tonight Show
, when NBC gave it to comedian Jay Leno
, Letterman was angry and decided to take an offer from CBS for a late night talk show to compete with The Tonight Show
. So in 1993, Letterman and his crew moved to CBS
and Late Show with David Letterman
was born, beginning on August 30
, although NBC
would air repeats of Late Night
until September 10
, 1993. Up until this, all the major television networks tried to create talk shows to compete with the success of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
, but all failed. A total of 1,810 shows were broadcast during its eleven and a half year run (there was one show that went unaired due to Gulf War coverage).
The program ran four nights a week, Monday to Thursday, from the show's premiere in February 1982
until May 1987
from 12:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday shows were added in June 1987
(NBC previously aired Friday Night Videos
in the 12:30 a.m. slot with occasional Late Night specials and reruns). Starting in September 1991
, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
was pushed back from 11:30 p.m. to 11:35 p.m., with Letterman starting at 12:35 a.m., at the request of NBC affiliates who wanted more advertising time for their profitable late newscasts (though Letterman had a different reason for the delay: "With the extra five minutes, I will make certain that my make-up is absolutely perfect!"
In September 1991
, the A&E Network
began airing reruns. The reruns lasted only until the summer of 1992
. This first syndication deal was done against Letterman's wishes and he frequently made his displeasure known on-air (he felt having reruns air five nights a week, earlier in the evening and on another network, diluted the value of the first-run shows). Because of this the syndication run was ended early and not attempted again until he had left NBC.
In the summer of 1993, E! Entertainment Television purchased broadcast rights to Late Night. The network aired complete shows from various years five days per week from 1993 until 1996. Then Trio picked up reruns and showed them from 2002 until the channel went off the air in 2005.
A select number of programs were sold by "Goodtimes" Home Video in 1992–93. These episodes were stripped of the series theme, open and close. No DVD release is currently scheduled.
Letterman moves to CBS
Letterman, who had hoped to get the hosting job of The Tonight Show
following Johnny Carson's retirement, moved to CBS in 1993
, when the job was given to Jay Leno
. On April 25, 1993, Lorne Michaels
chose Conan O'Brien
, who was a writer for The Simpsons
at the time, began hosting a new show in Letterman's old timeslot, taking over the Late Night
When Letterman left, NBC asserted their intellectual property rights to many of the most popular Late Night segments. 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 Larry "Bud" Melman continued his antics under his real name, Calvert DeForest.
Like other talk shows, the show featured at least two or three guests each night, usually including a comedian or musical guest.
Letterman frequently used crew members in his comedy bits, so viewers got to know the writers and crew members of the show. 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 the "production twins", Barbara Gaines and Jude Brennan.
Letterman's show established a reputation for being 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 and Shirley MacLaine.
- June 1982, Andy Kaufman and Jerry "The King" Lawler's memorable confrontation as part of an ongoing feud between them. The entertainers yelled at each other, trading curses until Kaufman threw a cup of coffee at Lawler and left the stage. Letterman said, as the audience cheered: "I'm sure you can't say SOME of those things on television, but you CAN NOT throw coffee!" The stunt was later revealed as having been planned beforehand. The ordeal was recreated for the 1999 Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon with Lawler, Letterman, and Jim Carrey as Kaufman.
- On August 19, 1985, Letterman used a bullhorn to interrupt NBC's The Today Show outdoor primetime taping in the Rockefeller Center's lower plaza. Yelling from the RCA Building, he introduced himself as "the president of NBC News" and announced, among other things, that he was not wearing any pants. This incident became the cause of a long-time feud between Letterman and Today Show host Bryant Gumbel.
- Letterman regularly interrupted WNBC-TV's newscasts by walking into their studio which was across the hall from his. Letterman often complained that Live at Five got better guests than he did.
- Cher had two memorable moments on the show. In one segment, she called Letterman an "asshole" on air. They patched up differences for a November 13, 1987 show that had Cher and former husband Sonny Bono reuniting to sing "I Got You, Babe."
- "The 360-Degree Episode," in which the television image was gradually rotated in a full circle. By the midpoint of the show, guest Peter Ustinov was broadcast upside down.
- Letterman would often perform stunts such as donning a suit covered in Alka-Seltzer tablets and being lowered in water, or wearing a suit of velcro and jumping up onto a velcro wall. Various other "suit" gags were employed over the years.
- "The Audience Participation Episode", in which the audience was given the opportunity to make several key decisions, such as the opening theme song, the background behind Letterman's desk, whether to have the guests sit in dentist chairs (instead of the regular ones), and whether to have everybody on stage sound "as if [they] inhaled helium." After the latter decision, guest Jane Pauley refused to say anything until the very end of her interview segment.
- Another recurring gag was Letterman destroying items, from throwing watermelons off the roof of a five story building in New Rochelle, NY, to crushing dozens of hot dogs with a hydraulic press, to demolishing the Energizer Bunny with a baseball bat.
- Sandra Bernhard's appearance in a leotard. After sitting on Letterman's lap, both reacted as if Letterman had goosed her.
- Fish-Cleaning Night, when Mariel Hemingway appeared on the show to clean and gut fish from a fish market while the show went on behind her.
- The 'It's just too hot to do a show' show, where they sent the audience home and did the show in Dave's office.
- Pee Wee Herman's many appearances with his bag of props/toys.
- Teri Garr being harassed by Dave to take a shower in an office bathroom at the end of one appearance.
- Ted Koppel's appearance which featured him balancing a dog biscuit on his nose.
- Arguments between Letterman and the cantankerous comic book creator Harvey Pekar.
- The American rock group R.E.M. made its first national television appearance on Late Night on October 6, 1983. The band performed a new unnamed song that eventually was titled "So. Central Rain", and became the first single from the band's second album, Reckoning. After their performance, singer Michael Stipe sat down on the drum riser, forcing Letterman to interview the other band members.
- Eccentric actor Crispin Glover's bizarre behavior, including kicking the air close to Letterman's head.
- Composer Marvin Hamlisch performing the "Theme Song for Peaboy" while Peaboy pelts the studio audience with frozen peas.
- Actor Tom Selleck performing an on-air motorboat impression by dunking his head into a washtub and making bubbling sounds.
- Various technology experiments, including 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 on an overhead track.
- Sam Kinison's introductory appearance on November 14, 1985. Letterman warned the audience, "Brace yourselves. I'm not kidding. Please welcome Sam Kinison."
- Bruce Springsteen appeared as a surprise musical guest on the final NBC show. He performed "Glory Days."
- April 1986: A visit by Letterman with camera crew to the GE Building shortly after General Electric purchased RCA with a fruit basket results in the "G.E. Handshake", in which shortly before shaking hands with Letterman, a G.E. Security officer has his hand stretched for a handshake, but pulls it away before Letterman can grasp his hand while telling Letterman and the crew to get out of the building. The same officer repeats the move on Letterman's director, Hal Gurnee.
- Letterman harassing a monkey in a dress saying, "Maybe you'll get some and maybe you won't." The monkey became quite angered and scratched and hissed in Letterman's general direction, causing him to proclaim, "She tried to rip a vein out of my neck and kill me."
- Vince McMahon made his only appearance on Letterman co-hosting the 3rd Anniversary Show in character (kayfabe), covering the attempts at a nearby hospital to deliver a baby during the show's airing, with the victor being declared the official "late night baby". At one point Letterman caught McMahon off guard with the question "Is that your tuxedo?"
- Actress Nastassja Kinski appeared sporting a rather outlandish hairdo and got visibly upset when Dave pointed it out (he later referred to it as "Looking like she had a Barn Owl on her head"). On the same show, the next guest John Candy came out with his hair mockingly done in a similar fashion.
- Brother Theodore's incomprehensible rants.
Recurring Late Night segments
- The Top Ten List, from various "home offices"
- Stupid Pet Tricks
- Stupid Human Tricks
- Viewer Mail
- Supermarket Finds
- Velcro Suit
- Suit of Rice Krispies
- Dumb Ads
- "Lucky Numbers"
- Small Town News
- Ask Mr. Melman (Larry "Bud" Melman)
- Dave's Record Collection
- Short plays presented by the Peace Through Dramatization Players (featuring Chris Ellott, Gerard Mulligan and other Late Night writers)
- A series of "Guy" characters portrayed by Chris Elliott. Each of these characters made numerous appearances over the course of a year or two before being retired, amidst much mock fanfare. Then Elliott would appear a few episodes later playing the next in his series of "Guy" characters.
- The Guy Under The Seats: The show would be interrupted by a creepy, aggressive, paranoid guy (Elliott) who would peer out from a hatchway underneath the seats in the studio audience. (Apparently, he lived there). This "guy" would make insulting remarks about Letterman, while pleading with Dave and the audience to "stop looking at me".
- The Fugitive Guy: Every so often, Letterman would introduce "Roger Thompson" (Elliott), a new member of the Late Night crew. In each appearance, "Thompson" would have a different low-level job (e.g., cue card holder, tambourine player for the band), and would grow increasingly nervous as Letterman aimiably asked Thompson innocuous questions about his job and his life. Fairly quickly, Thompson would break down under the "grilling", and would then hear the approach of "the one-legged man" and flee. This sketch was a parody of The Fugitive, and eventually included a title sequence that parodied the original Quinn Martin TV series theme. The Fugitive Guy sketches concluded with a final episode where Thompson confronted the one-legged man on a water tower.
- The Regulator Guy: A series of expensive-looking promos for a RoboCop-like action character aired on "Late Night" over a period of a several months, with Elliott incongrously playing the super-cool half-human, half-mechanical "Regulator Guy." ("Coming soon to NBC!") The "Regulator Guy" then appeared once and only once in an actual sketch on the show, but this appearance was a (deliberately) cheap and poorly-done travesty.
- The New Regulator Guy: Shortly after "The Regulator Guy" was retired, Elliott came back with a re-tooled version called "The New Regulator Guy". This character similarly did not last long.
- Crushing Things With A Steamroller
- Throwing Things Off A Five-Story Building
- Crushing Things With An 80-Ton Hydraulic Press
- Poetry with My Dog Stan
- Visits with Meg Parsont in the Simon and Schuster Building
- A camera would zoom in on the office of Parsont, an employee in the nearby Simon and Schuster Building, while Letterman spoke with her on the phone. Parsont also made an appearance on Letterman's CBS show in 1993.
- Elevator Races
- NBC Bookmobile
- Visits with Dave's Mom (Dorothy Mengering via remote from Carmel, Indiana)
- Young Inventors
- Marv Albert with The Wild and the Wacky from the World of Sports
- Visits with Jack Hanna
- Hal Gurnee's Network Time Killer
- Darlene Love's performance of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), annual from 1986-
Primetime Emmy Awards
- 1982-83 Outstanding Writing in a Variety, Comedy or Music Program
- 1983-84 Outstanding Writing in a Variety, Comedy or Music Program
- 1984-85 Outstanding Writing in a Variety, Comedy or Music Program
- 1985-86 Outstanding Writing in a Variety, Comedy or Music Program
- 1989-90 Outstanding Directing in a Variety, Comedy or Music Program