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Late Night with David Letterman is 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 The Late Show on CBS. Late Night with Conan O'Brien then filled the time slot. As of March 2, 2009, the slot has been filled by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Production companies

In 1991, the show's three production companies — Carson Productions, Worldwide Pants, and NBC Productions — were awarded a Peabody Award, which cited the following:


The show replaced The Tomorrow Show, hosted by Tom Snyder. After the battle for The Tonight Show, when NBC gave it to comedian Jay Leno, Letterman 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, 1993, 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 (an episode on January 16, 1991 went unaired due to pre-emption for coverage the beginning of the Gulf War; the program had already been shot before word came out of Baghdad that United States airstrikes were beginning).

Production and scheduling

Late Night originated from NBC Studio 6A at the RCA Buildingmarker at 30 Rockefeller Plazamarker in New York Citymarker. The program ran four nights a week, Monday to Thursday, from the show's premiere in February 1982 until May 1987. 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.


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 mid-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 (owned by NBC) picked up reruns and showed them from 2002 until the channel went off the air in 2005.

A number of programs were sold by GoodTimes Entertainment in 1992–93. These episodes were stripped of the series theme, open and close. No DVD release is currently scheduled (GoodTimes went bankrupt in 2005).

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. This was done against the wishes of Carson who had always seen Letterman as his rightful successor, according to CBS senior vice president Peter Lassally, a onetime producer for both men.. On April 25, 1993, Lorne Michaels chose Conan O'Brien, who was a writer for The Simpsons at the time and a former writer for Michaels at Saturday Night Live, to fill Letterman's old seat, directly after the Tonight Show. Conan O'Brien began hosting a new show in Letterman's old timeslot, taking over the Late Night name.

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. Similarly, the in-house band was unable to use the name "The World's Most Dangerous Band" so they instead called them the CBS Orchestra.


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.

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 Panicky Guy : Elliot would pretend to be an audience member who panics and runs from the studio at the slightest threat of danger (similar to doomed characters in Disaster Movies). Once in the hallway he would be run over and crushed by an advancing floor waxer, with his hands raised in terror. In one variation, he played a German Panicky Guy in Lederhosen, who was run over by a hand dolly full of cheese wheels.
    • The Conspiracy Guy: Elliott would again pretend to be an audience member, this time asking Dave a question. Things would quickly devolve into his character shouting and making crazy accusations about Dave and the show before running from the studio.
    • The Guy Under the Seats: a short character-comedy bit by Elliott who emerges from a hatchway underneath the seats in the studio audience. Immediately followed thereafter by Elliott as himself (portraying himself as living under the seats, that is) chatting amiably with Letterman. At some point Letterman would make an innocuous comment or innocent joke causing Elliott to overreact, threaten Letterman with some metaphorically articulated future comeuppance and withdraw back under the seats with the admonition "But until that day, I'm gonna be right here, making your life ..a living hell."
    • The Fugitive Guy: Every so often, Letterman would introduce "Roger Thompson" (Elliott, wearing an extremely bad toupée), 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 amiably 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 Terminator-like action character aired on "Late Night" over a period of several months, with Elliott playing the super-cool half-human, half-mechanical "Regulator Guy", even speaking with a bad Schwarzenegger-esque accent. Repeatedly promoted during "Late Night" as "Coming soon to NBC!" the "Regulator Guy" appeared only once in a sketch on the show, but this appearance was a (deliberately) cheap and poorly-done affair, which ended with Letterman interviewing the new sidekick character, Ajax, while completely ignoring Elliott (much to his faux-chagrin).
    • 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
  • Charlie the Bubble-Eating Dog (who never actually ate bubbles)
  • 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
  • Peaboy
  • Visits with Dave's Mom (Dorothy Mengering via remote from Carmel, Indianamarker)
  • 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
  • What's Hal Wearing?
  • Various 'cam' shots: Late Night Thrill Cam, Late Night Monkey Cam
  • Darlene Love's performance of "Christmas ". Darlene has performed the song on the final new episode before Christmas every year, from 1986 to 2008 (after 1993, the performances were on CBS).

Memorable shows

  • February 1, 1982 - Dave's first show with guest Bill Murray.
  • July 28, 1982 - Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler are guests. The two appear to get in a fight on the show with Lawler knocking Andy out of his chair. It is later revealed to be a planned hoax.
  • May 22, 1986 - Singer Cher made her legendary appearance where she got into a verbal sparring match with Letterman. At one point she called Letterman a name that had to be bleeped.
  • July 28, 1987 - Actor Crispin Glover appeared as a guest and gave one of the most bizarre interviews in the history of the show. At one point, the actor kicked at Letterman's head while wearing giant platform shoes, after which Letterman ended the segment, walking off the stage and saying "I'm going to go check on the Top Ten." Crispin later admitted to being in a character during the interview.
  • November 13, 1987 - Sonny & Cher reunite and sing, for the last time together, "I Got You Babe"
  • June 25, 1993 - Dave's last show with special musical guest Bruce Springsteen performing Glory Days.


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

See also


  2. [1]
  3. "Sonny & Cher Boost Ratings". The New Mexican. Santa Fe, New Mexico. November 29, 1987, p. 35, accessed through on March 13, 2009.
  4. "Sonny and Cher Reunited on David Letterman Show." Aiken Standard. Aiken, South Carolina. November 15, 1987. p. 3. accessed through on March 13, 2009.

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