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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Dave

Full disclosure:  I'm a Letterman fan.  Always have been.

The title says it all.  David Letterman was the last giant of late night.  Can you imagine any of today's hosts lasting that long and making a huge impact?  Jimmy Fallon has his silly games and no interviewing skills.   Stephen Colbert bombed when he went mainstream, so he had to go back to his old political character to build an audience, proving he is a one trick pony.  Conan O'Brien has evolved into a strong talent, who no longer tries to be funnier than his guests.  He seems to be the most Carson-esque of the current bunch.  Jimmy Kimmel produces solid laughs night after night.

Now, Dave.  Having been a follower since the morning show days, there wasn't much I didn't know.  The book spends most of its pages on the NBC years.

It did provide perspective on a lot of things, including the Leno vs Letterman controversy.  I've always felt Letterman was the superior talent, but I now have a better idea of why NBC gave the Tonight Show to Jay Leno, and I've already read "The Late Shift."  NBC had concerns Letterman couldn't attract a wide audience.  He was difficult to work with, and his relationship with NBC executives was strained, to say the least.  NBC was right.

Letterman evolved from quirky and a bad interviewer to a solid late night host.  His show lost something when he parked his butt behind the desk and did fewer remote segments.  Cranky, angry Dave came out way too many nights, and that didn't wear well.

There was a serious disconnect in the later years.  No rehearsals.  Limited contact with staff.  A serious writer churn.  An unhappy office.  Miserable working conditions.

I read other material that indicated the move to CBS and the Ed Sullivan Theater was good for Letterman and good for the show.  This book contradicts that.

But, when it came to sitting behind the desk and communicating with the audience, talking, opening up, bantering...  None better.  The stuff is available on You Tube.  Watch Letterman after 9/11, after Johnny Carson's death, after Robin Williams' passing, during the O'Brien/Leno controversy, when he got caught messing around with female staffers.  It was outstanding stuff.

The book does get bogged down with some trivial stuff, like writers' squabbles.

I'll give it a qualified "thumbs up."  If you like Letterman and have an interest in TV, you'll love the book.    Middle of the roaders should like it too.  For the rest, it might be a little too "inside" to be entertaining.