Tuesday, June 16, 2015

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — Number One: When Things Got Real!

A Little Counting Music, Please ...
Ten ... Nine ... Eight ... Seven ... Six ... Five ... Four ... Three ... Two ... One ... and Good Night

Photo by Susan Wood.  via
Letterman is never more memorable than when his show stops being a show (or even an anti-show) entirely.  In these moments, the veil drops, and audiences glimpse the David Letterman behind the ironic TV persona.  Sometimes slack-jawed, sometimes annoyed, sometimes unexpectedly sincere, this is the Letterman who breathes life into the TV host façade.

This is the Letterman Drew Barrymore flashed and Crispin Glover nearly kicked in the face.

More significantly, he's the one who brought Bill Hicks's mother onto the show in 2009 to apologize for cutting her son's appearance on the show back in 1993.  (The Late Show was new to both CBS and 11:30 at the time, and Letterman found Hicks's material, violent and rife with political incorrectness, problematic.  In 2009, he acknowledges that as a mistake brought on by his own insecurity.)

He's the one who devoted an episode to Warren Zevon following the musician's death.  (Zevon had been a regular guest on Late Night and had subbed in for Paul Shaffer.)

He later did the same to commemorate the passing of his comedic mentor Johnny Carson, the guests for that episode being Tonight Show alums Peter Lassally and Doc Severinsen.

Most humanly of all, this is the Letterman who admitted to having affairs with members of his own staff in order to cut short an extortion attempt.  The details were deliciously seedy, but Letterman managed to blend his on-air and off-air personas in a funny, defiant, and penitent on-air confession.

It was simultaneously his finest hour and his lowest ebb.  No matter what you thought of the man behind the curtain during that segment, you had to admit you were watching riveting television.  Which, when all is said and done, is what Letterman always delivered.

Thanks for indulging my Top Ten reflections on David Letterman.  Come back at the top of the hour for a few closing thoughts and a round-up of links to the individual posts.  (In case you've been playing along on social media, we'll make sure these links that actually work.)

— Scott

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