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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dave

David Letterman did his last show last night, and television will never be the same.

I first remember Letterman from some late 70's game show appearances.  Witty chap.  Nothing really blew me away.

Then, several appearances on Johnny Carson's Tonight show, and I realized there was more than what we saw on the $ 20,000 Pyramid.

More guest appearances.  Guest hosting.  It was some fresh and funny stuff.

A daytime show followed in June 1980.  It was a 90 minute show (shortened to 60), and it became must see tv.  I remember some college classmates tried to arrange their fall schedules to see it.

The morning show was inventive and funny, and something really different for daytime tv.  It was cancelled in October because it was inventive and funny and really different for daytime tv.  I was sorry to see it go.  However, one of the replacement game shows, Blockbusters, became one of my favorites.

Late Night followed in 1982.  Again, more fresh and funny.  It really took off.  Unfortunately, our friends down the street dumped Dave for Thicke of the Night in 1983.  Alan Thicke started awful and it got worse from there.  After several months, our friends realized their horrible error and returned Dave to 12:30 AM.

I'll have to admit Letterman had some rough spots.  The early interviews weren't very good.  He was way too smart alecky.  Eventually, Letterman settled in to a nice groove.  He should have been Carson's replacement.  There was a great line in this morning's New York Times:  Leno won the ratings, but Letterman won the legacy.

Letterman rocked when he moved to CBS.  The show stayed in New York, and he made best use of his Broadway neighborhood.  Letterman kept the edge, and was a nice alternative to the smarmy, showbizzy Leno.

Eventually, Letterman morphed into the cranky old man mode.  For a long time, the show wasn't a lot of fun to watch, but it was still better than Leno.  Not to mention, Letterman had a better house band and attracted better musical guests.

I noticed it after Letterman announced his retirement last year, and Rolling Stone said the same thing in a cover story this week.  Letterman became more relaxed after he announced he was quitting.  Relaxed equals fun.  The last few months of shows, especially the last few weeks of shows have been simply a joy to watch.  Good laughs.  Good memories.  Great music.  Letterman kept his wit and sarcasm, but it mellowed.  The nasty edge was gone, and it was an absolute delight to watch.

As for the last show, I have to level with you.  I wasn't blown away.  CBS wisely gave Letterman an extra 20 minutes.  The show had all the requisite elements, big on flashbacks.  I loved the "behind the scenes" piece, even though Letterman looked very old and tired in it.

Here's where I found fault.  Letterman held his emotions in check.  You could tell he was holding back.  Letterman is outstanding when he's emotional, whether it's angry or sad.  It looked like he was just trying to make it to the end, like the last tenth of a mile by a marathon runner.

The Foo Fighters provided the last musical number.  Not a fan.  Yes, I'm in the minority.

Television is better now because David Letterman made it better.  With Letterman and Craig Ferguson out of the picture, late night TV has lost a lot of its bite.