Sunday, May 17, 2015

David Letterman (1980-2015)

The parenthetical years above are obviously not David Letterman's life span but rather the span of his extraordinary and legendary television career.

On May 20, 2015, Letterman will sign off for the last time, concluding 35 years as a television host, 33 of those years in late night. I have been an ardent fan for 24 years.

Letterman is truly the king of late night, having lasted longer than anyone else in that position, even Johnny Carson. In fact, Letterman is Carson's real successor. Sure, Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon took over as successive hosts of The Tonight Show after Carson, but they are not his successors. They are merely followers in his footsteps.

Letterman, on the other hand, was personally groomed by Carson to be his successor, and even though NBC pushed Carson out and stiffed Letterman in favor of Leno, it was clear that Carson favored Letterman, as evidenced by Carson's many appearances on Letterman's show. Carson even sent many jokes to Letterman to use on TV.

One of my favorite Letterman skits over the years was “Pat and Kenny Read Oprah Transcripts,” after which viewers were given an address where they could write to request “Transcripts of Pat and Kenny Reading Oprah Transcripts.”

What set Letterman apart from his competitors was that unlike them, he wasn't about himself. He was about his guests, his cast of “characters,” and, most importantly, the comedy. Whenever he focused on himself, it was to poke fun at himself. Letterman was the undisputed master of self-deprecating humor.

Letterman's longevity will never be surpassed in our lifetime, especially in this era of transitional media technology, restless network executives, and fickle audiences. But, even if it were, perhaps sometime in the distant future, Letterman's like will never be seen again.

--Raj Manoharan

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