Late Show with David Letterman

Late Show with David Letterman Information

Late Show with David Letterman is an American late-night talk show hosted by David Letterman on CBS. The show debuted on August 30, 1993, and is produced by Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants Incorporated. The show's music director and band-leader of the house band, the CBS Orchestra, is Paul Shaffer. The head writer is Matt Roberts and the announcer is Alan Kalter. Of the major U.S. late-night programs, Late Show ranks second in cumulative average viewers over time and third in number of episodes over time. The show leads other late night shows in ad revenue with $271 million in 2009.

In most U.S. markets the show airs at 11:35 p.m. Eastern/Pacific time, but is recorded Monday through Wednesday at 4:30 p.m., and Thursdays at 3:30 p.m and 6:00 p.m. The second Thursday episode usually airs on Friday of that week.

In 2002, Late Show with David Letterman was ranked No. 7 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. CBS has a contract with Worldwide Pants to continue the show through 2014; by then, Letterman will surpass Johnny Carson as the longest tenured late-night talk show host.


When Letterman moved to CBS and began Late Show, several of Late Night's long-running comedy bits made the move with him. Letterman renamed a few of his regular bits to avoid legal problems over trademark infringement (NBC cited that what he did on Late Night was "intellectual property" of the network). "Viewer Mail" on NBC became the "CBS Mailbag", and Larry "Bud" Melman began to use his real name, Calvert DeForest. Paul Shaffer's "World's Most Dangerous Band" became "The CBS Orchestra", a jab at NBC regarding the show's new home, and a play on the NBC Orchestra of the long running The Tonight Show. Letterman's signature bit, the Top Ten List, was perfunctorily renamed the "Late Show Top Ten List" (over time it was simply referred to again by its original name).

After Letterman was introduced on Late Show's very first episode, NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw accompanied him on stage and wished him "reasonably well". As part of a pre-arranged act, Brokaw then proceeded to retrieve a pair of cue cards while stating that "These last two jokes are the intellectual property of NBC!" After he carried them off stage, Letterman responded, "Who would have thought you would ever hear the words 'intellectual property' and 'NBC' in the same sentence?" In his opening monologue, Letterman said "Legally, I can continue to call myself Dave" but joked that he woke up that morning and next to him in bed was the head of a peacock (while the orchestra played the theme from The Godfather).

In ratings, Letterman's Late Show initially dominated Leno's Tonight Show for its first two years. However, Letterman was more reluctant than Leno's Los Angeles-based show to capitalize on the 1994"1995 O. J. Simpson murder case. Finally, Leno pulled ahead on July 10, 1995, starting with a Hugh Grant interview, after Grant's much-publicized arrest for picking up an LA prostitute. Leno also benefited from the lead-in provided by NBC's popular Must See TV prime time programs of the mid-to-late 1990s. Likewise the CBS network was hurt by affiliation switches in late 1994 relating to Fox picking up CBS's National Football League rights, stunting the Late Show just as it was beginning to gain traction.

Announcer Bill Wendell was replaced by Alan Kalter in 1995.; in 1998, Justin Stangel and Eric Stangel become the show's head writers.

At times Late Show even came in third in its time slot (behind Nightline, most recently in November 2008), once prompting Letterman to arrange for a Manhattan Billboard proudly declaring himself and his show to be No. 3 in Late Night, aping an older, nearby billboard which promoted Leno and The Tonight Show as No. 1.

In recent years, Letterman and Late Show have openly made jokes in reference to Leno, although it is often done in a self-deprecating manner. Such jokes usually refer to The Tonight Show's consistent lead in the ratings, a common example being where a guest presenter of the Top Ten List will use one of the entries to declare his or her preference for Leno, resulting in Letterman feigning humiliation or surprise.

On June 1, 2009, Conan O'Brien (who had succeeded Letterman as host of Late Night in 1993) took over as host of The Tonight Show "? an event Letterman referenced in his own show's Top Ten List on that night "? and Letterman's "feud" with Leno temporarily ceased. In 2008 Letterman told Rolling Stone that he would welcome Leno on his show once Leno's tenure ended. Letterman said on competing with O'Brien, "I still find it hard to believe that Jay won't be there." The interview was held prior to Leno announcing his return to NBC for The Jay Leno Show. In the second week after Letterman and O'Brien began their opposing broadcasts, viewer ratings for Tonight began to slip and Late Show was poised to beat Tonight for the first time in over ten years, a fact pointed out by Letterman's guests on air (Howard Stern and Julia Roberts). Letterman quickly tried to change subject in the interviews and tried to avert a new rivalry. In fact, the June 9, 2009 episode of Late Show featuring Roberts rated better than Tonight with a 3.4 household rating nationally to O'Brien's 2.9. The Letterman/Leno feud was revived in the wake of the 2010 Tonight Show conflict, which saw Letterman side with O'Brien. However, Leno would appear in a Late Show promo with Letterman and Oprah Winfrey aired on CBS during Super Bowl XLIV.

On April 3, 2012 CBS reached an agreement with Worldwide Pants to continue the show through 2014. At the end of the deal, Letterman will surpass Johnny Carson and become the longest tenured late-night talk show host. Matt Roberts, a long-time writer and producer for the show, became the show's head writer in January 2013, replacing brothers and co-head writers Justin Stangel and Eric Stangel.


Studio and set design

The show has taped at the Ed Sullivan Theater at the corner of Broadway and 53rd Street in midtown Manhattan since its inception. Formerly called CBS Studio 50, it had been home to several TV programs over the years, most notably The Ed Sullivan Show. Letterman has made use of the immediate neighborhood surrounding the theater for his show, closing off the portion of 53rd Street that goes past his studio for various stunts on occasion. Nearby merchants gained fame after making frequent appearances on the program, including Rupert Jee, owner of the Hello Deli at 213 W. 53rd St., and Mujibur and Sirajul, Bengali immigrants who worked at a souvenir shop close to the studio.

The stage layout has followed the same basic structure Letterman employed at 30 Rock: the house band appears on the far left, followed by the performance area and then the interview set.

Same-day tapings

When Letterman is not on vacation (which he takes roughly ten weeks per year), he and his crew work four days per week, taping Friday's show earlier in the week. From October 2001 until May 2004, Friday's show was taped on Thursdays. From 2004 to 2010, Friday's show was taped on Mondays. During this time, the Friday's show's monologue topics, sketches, and other segments were chosen for their lack of topicality, with few if any references to current events or any subject which would run the risk of seeming dated. However, in late 2011 the Late Show reverted to the practice of taping the Friday show on Thursdays, helping the Friday shows become more topical and relevant.

Episode structure

On rare episodes, the show begins with a cold open with Letterman in a baseball cap interacting with a celebrity. The show's opening credits feature a series of shots of New York City as the CBS Orchestra performs the Late Show theme (a livelier variation of the more jazzy Late Night theme). The announcer presents the names of that night's guests, as well as Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra, then introduces Letterman.

Letterman then walks out on the show stage to perform his stand-up monologue, which may begin with a reference to something an audience member said to him during the pre-show question-and-answer session. The jokes are based on pop culture, current events, and politics. He then introduces one or two video jokes such as a running gag or fake commercial/public service announcement. The monologue is followed by Letterman's introduction of Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra. Beginning in 2009, a commercial break replaces Letterman's trademark 'crossing to the desk' which he had done since the early years. Letterman then chats with the audience and Shaffer, sometimes relating an anecdote from his personal life, sometimes discussing his anticipation of a particular guest; a running gag may be featured.

In 2005, after the death of Johnny Carson, it was revealed that Carson had made a habit of sometimes sending jokes to Letterman which Letterman would then incorporate into his monologues. The January 31, 2005, episode of the Late Show, which featured a tribute to Carson, began with a monologue made up entirely of jokes written by Carson since his retirement.

Letterman reads the Top Ten List at this point before turning to guest interviews with a celebrity, politician, or other public figure. On most episodes, the first guest stays on through the commercial break and continues the interview.

Following the first guest is a short segment to bridge two commercial breaks sequentially. In earlier episodes, Letterman would return to his running gag during this break, or retry a failed stunt from earlier in the show. Later episodes include a brief comedy announcement from announcer Alan Kalter while showing the audience cheering.

The final segment consists of a live musical performance, a comedian performing a stand-up routine, or another guest interview. The CBS Orchestra frequently accompanies musical guests in performing their songs. Episodes occasionally conclude with Letterman recommending viewers stay tuned for 'Craig Ferguson', but usually he simply waves to the camera, saying, "Good night everybody!" Of late, the admonishment to watch Craig Ferguson has been delivered by Alan Kalter, via voiceover.

Regular sketches

Main article: List of David Letterman sketches
Late Show has various repeated absurdist segments, including those involving cast members' and audience participation. The show will also take a camera crew into the Hello Deli to show games such as "What's on the iPod?" and "Beat the Clock," or onto 53rd Street or the roof to record various stunts there.


Announcer Bill Wendell retired and left the show on August 18, 1995. He was replaced by Alan Kalter on the show's next episode, September 5, 1995, which came after a two-week hiatus.

In 1996, long-time producer Robert Morton left and head writer Rob Burnett was promoted to executive producer.

Director Hal Gurnee and producer Peter Lassally left the show soon after to pursue other interests. Gurnee was replaced by Jerry Foley. Burnett was absent from the day-to-day operations from 2000 to 2004, and was replaced by Barbara Gaines and Maria Pope, both of whom continue to serve as executive producers, with Gaines currently acting as on-air producer. In 2003, producer Jude Brennan was added to the team of executive producers.

Lassally, who had served as an executive producer for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, was invited back to Late Show in January 2005 as a guest to discuss the recent death of Carson. Lassally currently serves as executive producer for Worldwide Pants' The Late Late Show (dating back to its years under original host Tom Snyder) as well as the Tony Mendez Show, an online webcast featuring Late Show''s "cue card boy".

Sheila Rogers, the producer responsible for booking guests on the show, has worked for Letterman since before Late Show began.

High-definition broadcasts

The show began broadcasting in high-definition television (HDTV) on August 29, 2005. About two weeks later, Tim Kennedy, the show's Technical Director, commented on the transition in the show's official newsletter:

The biggest challenge in the HD conversion was to renovate and upgrade our old control room, audio room, videotape room, and edit room while still doing five shows a week... This entailed putting a remote production truck on 53rd Street running somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 feet of video and audio cable just to tie the truck to the existing technical plant...
The coolest piece of equipment is our new control room Virtual Wall. We have done away with the conventional monitor for every video source and replaced it with four 70-inch rear projection screens and within those screens we can "virtually" place as many video images as we want, anywhere we want them, and when we want it.
Kennedy and his crew won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video for a Series" during the nearly-four-month-long transition to HDTV.

Notable episodes

See List of David Letterman episodes for more information

Among the show's highlights—according to CBS:

  • the premiere, which attracted 23 million viewers;
  • the March 1994 episode featuring Madonna;
  • a visit from Drew Barrymore during which she "jump[ed] on his desk and flash[ed] her breasts" in a "birthday gift he'll never forget";
  • his return to the airwaves on September 17, 2001 following the September 11 attacks in a show that featured Dan Rather, Regis Philbin, The Boys' Choir of Harlem, and Odetta—it was "hailed by the New York Daily News as 'one of the purest, most honest and important moments in TV history'."
    • Since this episode, Kalter's announcement at the start of the show that it was coming "From New York..." has been followed by "...the greatest city in the world!", rather than a self-deprecating joke targeted at the city itself. However, in 2013, Kalter's announcement was changed to start, "From the heart of Broadway, broadcasting across the nation and around the world..."'
  • In 2008 John McCain was originally scheduled to be the guest on the show but cancelled at the last minute supposedly to deal with the economic crisis. However, it was revealed during the show that while the show was being taped McCain was actually doing an interview with Katie Couric for CBS news.
  • On October 1, 2009 he revealed that he had been the target of an extortion attempt.
  • On October 29, 2012 the show was filmed without an audience due to Hurricane Sandy, which prompted the Late Show staff to send its audience home to safety.

Guest hosts

In 2000, after Letterman had quintuple bypass surgery, the Late Show Backstage was aired. This featured many celebrities reminiscing about their experiences as guests on his show. Bandleader Paul Shaffer was among those who hosted, when he interviewed Jerry Seinfeld. These interviews were interspersed with past footage. Previously, only reruns without any special introductions had been aired since Letterman's temporary leave from the show.

Letterman returned on a limited basis on February 18, in a show which premiered three days later. To help ease the transition, guests hosts were temporarily installed. Bill Cosby, Nathan Lane and Regis Philbin (his former Live co-host Kathie Lee Gifford would later guest-host as well) filled in on the first week.

In the summer of 2003, Letterman had guest hosts for a month. They were Tom Green, Tom Arnold, Kelsey Grammer, and Jimmy Fallon (who later went on to become the host of Letterman's old show, Late Night). The rating separating Letterman and Leno increased and Letterman ended this experiment a month after it began.


Primetime Emmy

Late Show with David Letterman has been nominated as Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series for its entire 16 season run from the 1993-94 season through the 2008-09 season. Including the nominations for the NBC Late Night variant, the Letterman cast and crew has been nominated 26 consecutive times in this category.

In what Tom O'Neil called a "jaw-dropper", the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards were the first since Late Show began in which the show was not nominated; O'Neil attributed the omission to the fact that The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien had received a nomination that year.

Late Show with David Letterman won the award six times:

  • 1993-94 winner Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
  • 1997"98 winner Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
  • 1998"99 winner Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
  • 1999"00 winner Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
  • 2000"01 winner Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
  • 2001"02 winner Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
David Letterman also received the first Johnny Carson Award at the First Annual Comedy Awards, where a clip show was shown showing his achievements, funny moments, sketches, and memorable guests.

TV Ratings

The show's highest rated episode was on February 23, 1994 after the Winter Olympics (78.8 million) with 15 million viewers. It's second highest rated show aired on February 25, 1994 and got 11.1 million viewers.

During the 2012-2013 season, it averages about 4 million per show in live+7.

See also

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Late_Show_with_David_Letterman" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



Page generated in 0.29607486724854 seconds