It's difficult to say goodbye to a legend. Especially one that is still alive, but has voluntarily decided to no longer be a part of yours. Over 33 years, two networks, and 6028 shows, he's been there. Entertaining you the way few people have, but now at 68, is riding off into the sunset. David Letterman has called it a career.
Letterman hosted his final Late Show Wednesday night, and it figures that it would be different from some of the other farewells over the years. Bette Midler sang to Johnny Carson, and Billy Crystal led a parade of surprises to Jay Leno, but Dave's finale had no final guest—except for an all-star Top Ten list, featuring Alec Baldwin, Jerry Seinfeld, Barbara Walters, Tina Fey, and others.
If you recorded Letterman's finale on your DVR, though, you will be disappointed. The show ran 20 minutes long, and that was not advertised. His thank yous included those who transformed the Ed Sullivan Theater from a “dump” to what it is today. He also thanked his staff, writers, long time stage manager Biff Henderson, announcer Alan Kalter, and of course, musical director Paul Shaffer. “Here's what I will miss most about the show”, Letterman said, and then named and thanked all the band members. His wife Regina and son Harry were in the audience, and we got to see a shot of them. “I love you both and that's all that matters”, Letterman said.
In his always self-deprecating style, his finale opened with tape of the late President Gerald Ford saying “Our long national nightmare is over”, followed by both President Bushes saying the same thing, and then President Obama, standing next to Dave, with that same line (cut to Dave looking all disappointed). He opened his final monologue saying “Well, it's beginning to look like I'm not going to get the Tonight Show.”
Letterman, of course, didn't get The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson retired in 1992. But he moved his late night show from NBC to CBS, took Shaffer and most of his staff with him, and continued his snarky attitude-style comedy. NBC claimed intellectual property to some bits like 'viewer mail', but Dave's Top Ten list and others shifted over to the new network.
As Letterman mentioned, moving to a new theater meant they could go outside, so they started dropping stuff of the roof, and closed 53rd Street for diving dogs, human cannonballs, and to see how many footballs Peyton Manning could throw into a moving cab. One of his first bits on CBS was when we got to 'Meet the Neighbors', including deli owner Rupert Jee. We got to see how many people dressed in a bunny suit would fit in a Kinko's (I think it was two before they got kicked out), and back in the day when people still had film in their cameras, we'd get a trip to a photomat for a round of 'May We See Your Photos Please'.
Those clips and more famous ones, such as Drew Barrymore dancing on Dave's desk and flashing him on his birthday, and Letterman turning a fire extinguisher on Richard Simmons, were not shown Wednesday night, but I'm sure aired on the prime time special last week (I haven't watched it yet).
33 years is a long time. Letterman's first Late Night show at NBC was February 1, 1982. That also just happened to be the eve of my 18th birthday. I don't remember if I actually saw it, but it means that David Letterman has been on late night television my entire adult life. While guests didn't get to say goodbye on his final show, many who made their last appearance in recent weeks did, including comedian Norm MacDonald, who actually burst into tears, and said to Dave, “I love you.” Ray Romano said in a recent show that his leaving was like American Pie—the day that late night comedy died.
There were several recent tributes from Martin Short, Steve Martin, Bill Murray and others, but no one to embarrass him on his final night. The show concluded with a rapid-fire montage of clips during a live Foo Fighters performance of Everlong—a song Dave said was very meaningful to him during his heart surgery. Prior to introducing that final piece, Letterman wrapped up his final show. “That's pretty much all I got. The only thing I have left to do for the last time on a television program. Thank you, and good night.”
Thank you, Dave.