Monday, May 18, 2015

The end of an era. Really.

 Only three more days left for watching a truly iconic television star. For those of you in Russia, Ukraine,Germany, France, Greece, Australia and South Korea on this blog, David Letterman is the biggest talk show host in America.

And he's retiring Wednesday.
America's TV talk show began as a radio show back in the 1950's, with Steve Allen (1954-57), a comedian and musician. When he went to TV he was the first late-night talk show host. Allen was a truly gifted personality, and Letterman is closer to Allen than any of the other talk show hosts that followed. Allen would come swinging down in a bird costume over the audience or play his piano while a TV camera outside the studio would show people walking by with his comments. Allen was my favorite of all the hosts.

After Allen left, a very different host followed, Jack Paar (1957-1962) who was notorious for not listening to the network, in fact he walked off once right in the middle of a show. But the biggest one was yet to come.

Johnny Carson (1962-1992) who had a game-show on TV took over the Tonite show. Carson was interestingly close to Letterman in that both came from the midwest and weren't that much into the movie star thing. Carson was perfect for his time and he put his brand on the show. He was truly the best in that there weren't really a lot of competitors and none of the competition never lasted.

But when Carson decided to leave in 1992, a battle ensued as to who would be heir to the Carson seat. In fact a movie was made about how Jay Leno (1992-2009) did some backstabbing in order to get the job even though Johnny Carson wanted David Letterman to take over.  

Letterman never forgot that and jokes about Jay on Letterman's CBS show often showed up. Instead of Carson's show, Letterman went to CBS where he stayed until Wednesday, May 20, 2015. Making him the longest talk show host of any late night show.

Leno had the show for 10 years but NBC decided he was too old and took Leno off and installed Conan O'Brian, who unfortunately lasted a year before the NBC people decided to put Leno back.

Conan was kicked out but resurfaced on TBS, a cable network.

So that's the history.

And why is Letterman different.

As with Johnny Carson, Letterman wasn't a Hollywood insider and a lot of his humor related to those audiences in the mid-west. He was just a guy who would get actors on his show but also a zoo guy who would bring animals to the show or kids who did bird songs. He brought ordinary people into his shows, the crew and other employees, guys who were fired out of rockets, dogs that jumped water, almost every type of person was on his show. Not in the audience but on stage. He'd give a jacket to someone in the audience. And the Hello Deli operator who had a deli under his studio and who featured Letterman sandwiches and sold Letterman gear as well. You don't see that on the glossy, loud night-time shows elsewhere. And he always referred to someone in the audience who probably asked him something in the warm-up before the show went on.

That touch is what people liked him, he was ordinary, like all of us. A little more money of course, but he never really mentioned it.

But my favorite Letterman bits was at Christmas where he had two people on, one was Jay Thomas, a minor comedian but who repeated his story about the Lone Ranger every year for at least ten years. And to top it off, Darlene Love would sing Merry Christmas Baby also. 

Christmas won't be Christmas anymore for me, although I have youtube. Friday's show had comedian Norm MacDonald on who barely make it to the end of his routine.

There's only two shows left, tomorrow Tom Hanks is on and the final show Wednesday on CBS is a collection of surprises.

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