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November 22, 2014

Letterman tragedy fouls grand memories of Late Nights past

by John Scott Lewinski, posted Oct 23rd 2009 1:02PM
David Letterman once brought you Larry What happened to David Letterman?

I don't mean the endlessly publicized sex scandal or the Sarah Palin controversy. I don't mean the ham-fisted and unfunny political commentary -- or even the strange tales of stalkers around every corner. I mean what happened to the guy from the mid-late 1980s who seemed so above and beyond any such tired showbiz cliches?

When Letterman followed Carson during the Golden Age of NBC late night TV, his show was admittedly quirky. But it was one of the best examples of post-modern comedy in the medium's history. Late Night with David Letterman not only mocked TV entertainment while being a part of it, but the show made fun of the very idea that people get paid to gab or act silly in front of millions of people.

To highlight the absurd mindlessness of showbiz, Letterman trotted out a collection of bizarre acts. We met Larry "Bud" Melman, Brother Theodore and Harvey Pekar. We saw in-house bits like Stupid Pet Tricks, Flunky: The Late Night Viewer Mail Clown and The Book Mobile Lady with Gruff, But Lovable Gus. Chris Elliott trotted out an endless line of running characters like The Guy Under the Seats, The Fugitive Guy and Marlon Brando with his Banana Dance.

No other show had the brass ones to unveil a circus of freaks like that because nobody else had the guts to say, "What we do for a living is ridiculous." What other television concept had the audacity to get laughs by throwing blue cards through a non-existent window and playing a "crashing sound?"

Now, Letterman is a tired cog of the showbiz engine he used to mock. He was above it all -- too cool to trot out tired jokes and lazy sketches every night like Chevy Chase or Arsenio Hall once did. Somewhere along the way, Letterman got lazy and became enamored with being David Letterman. The day that happened, a classic TV concept died.

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Beinta

A show that doesn't grow and change with the times would be a sorry show indeed. Letterman with NBC was a show that was in a small studio, on at a time when it was watched primarily by college students and insomniacs, he had the chance to experiment. I miss many of his old skits but I understand that changes had to be made to suit his timeslot and the fact that he is in a large theater.

He's now a man in his sixties, there are things that change in a person as he ages and some of those changes have been reflected in his show. I used to find him the flat out funniest guy in late night, now I find him to be the classiest and that's not a bad thing at all.

October 23 2009 at 8:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gottacook

Agreed that some sort of transformation has taken place (would be surprising if he'd stayed the same for 27 years), but how much of this had to do with switching network, studio, and timeslot in '93? You'd think a blog post like this one would address that little factor.

October 23 2009 at 8:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
stewartwallace

Still love Dave, but things were never the same after he stopped wearing khakis and sneakers with his suitcoat and tie.

October 23 2009 at 4:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shammy

Why am I not surprised that a blog that posts daily reviews about Leno's tired, old, unfunny show would attack Letterman?

October 23 2009 at 4:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Shammy's comment
Joel Keller

Oh, wait, I thought we *hated* Leno. Oh, that's right, those were the posts you *didn't* read because it wouldn't support your comment.

October 23 2009 at 4:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Peter Lynn

The question is: What happened to TV Squad?

October 23 2009 at 4:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Peter Lynn's comment
MJL

Haha...exactly.

October 23 2009 at 4:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Alex

Agreed. Dave still does more quirky, off-the-wall stuff on his show than any other host.

October 23 2009 at 5:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Pingles

Well, I agree with the post. Letterman has gone from wacky to mundane.

And he seems to deliver his punchlines with some sort of weird distaste.

I used to tape his shows because I didn't want to miss a moment. Now it doesn't matter which channel I put on, it's all the same stuff.

October 23 2009 at 3:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Pingles's comment
MJL

I also agree with the post - Letterman is a shell of his former genius. But Lewinski did a terrible job of supporting that argument, by not naming one reason why the show today is so lacking.

October 23 2009 at 3:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Matthew Golem

OK, good idea for a post - now go write it.

October 23 2009 at 2:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MJL

So you give several examples of why "Late Night" was so good, and zero examples of why he's now "a tired cog of the showbiz engine he used to mock." Great post!

October 23 2009 at 1:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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