Late Show with David Letterman

Late Show with David Letterman
Late Show with David Letterman
Late Show with David Letterman-Logo.jpg
Format Talk show
Variety show
Created by David Letterman
Presented by David Letterman
Starring Paul Shaffer
and the CBS Orchestra
Narrated by Bill Wendell (1993–1995)
Alan Kalter (1995–present)
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 18
No. of episodes 3,492 (as of May 13, 2011)[1] (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Robert Morton
Rob Burnett
Barbara Gaines
Maria Pope
Jude Brennan
Location(s) Ed Sullivan Theater
New York, New York
Running time 62 min. (with commercials)
Production company(s) Worldwide Pants Incorporated
Original channel CBS
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
1080i (HDTV)
Original run August 30, 1993 [2] – present
Preceded by Silk Stalkings (1991–1993)
Followed by The Late Show with Craig Ferguson
Related shows Late Night with David Letterman
(NBC, 1982–1993)
External links

Late Show with David Letterman is a U.S. late-night talk show hosted by David Letterman on CBS. The show debuted on August 30, 1993,[3] 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 writers are brothers Justin Stangel and Eric Stangel. The announcer is Alan Kalter, who replaced Bill Wendell in 1995. 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.[citation needed]

In most U.S. markets the show airs at 11:35 p.m. Eastern/Pacific time, but is recorded Mondays at 4:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m., and Thursdays at 4:30 p.m. The second Monday episode usually airs on Friday of that week.[4]

In 2002, Late Show with David Letterman was ranked #7 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.[5]

In June 2009 Worldwide Pants committed to continuing the show until at least August 2012.[6] Letterman was previously the host of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC from 1982 to 1993.



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",[3] 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 not-so-subtle 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"[7] 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).[8]

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.[9] Leno also benefitted 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. At times Late Show even came in third in its timeslot (behind Nightline, most recently in November 2008), once prompting Letterman to arrange for a Manhattan billboard proudly declaring himself and his show to be "#3 in Late Night," aping an older, nearby billboard which promoted Leno and The Tonight Show as #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. In a "What Things Cost" sketch in 2000, Letterman explained that it cost $10,000 to keep an open phone line with actor Leonard Nimoy. Upon thanking Nimoy for his help, Nimoy tersely admitted that he was unable to talk because "I'm watching Leno".

When John McCain announced he was running for president, he said that the "official" announcement would come later. Shaffer then remarked that he was "saving it for Leno".

From November 11, 2002 to February 14, 2003, the show was simulcast on several CBS-owned radio stations.[10] The show's Top Ten List continues to be syndicated as a short-form feature by Westwood One.

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.[11] Letterman said on competing with O'Brien, "I still find it hard to believe that Jay won’t be there."[11] The interview was held prior to Leno announcing his return to NBC for The Jay Leno Show.[11] The Letterman/Leno feud was revived in the wake of the 2010 Tonight Show conflict, which saw Letterman side with O'Brien.[12] However, Leno would appear in a Late Show promo with Letterman and Oprah Winfrey aired on CBS during Super Bowl XLIV.

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,[11][13] a fact pointed out by Letterman's guests on air (Howard Stern and Julia Roberts).[13][14] Letterman quickly tried to change subject in the interviews and tried to avert a new rivalry.[13][14] 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.[13][15]

In June 2009, Worldwide Pants and CBS reached agreement to continue Late Show until at least August 2012. The previous contract had been set to expire in 2010, and the two-year extension is shorter than the typical three-year contract period negotiated in the past; the expiration of the contract will come at the same time Letterman reaches the milestone of 30 years hosting a late-night talk show, matching Johnny Carson.[6] Worldwide Pants agreed to lower its fee for the show, though it had remained a "solid moneymaker for CBS" under the prevision contract.[6]


Studio and set design

The show has taped at the Ed Sullivan Theater at the corner of Broadway and fifty-third 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 Sirajul and Mujibur, 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[16]), he and his crew work four days per week, taping Friday's show earlier in the week.[4] From October 2001 until May 2004, Friday's show was taped on Thursdays, but since 2004 Friday's show has been taped on Mondays.[4] For Friday's show, the Late Show monologue topics, sketches, and other segments are 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.

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.

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

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.[17] He was replaced by Alan Kalter on the show's next episode 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.[18]

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.[19]

High-definition broadcasts

The show began broadcasting in high-definition television (HDTV) on August 29, 2005.[20] 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 pulling 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

Julia Roberts is very, very loyal to Dave. We love her.

Sheila Rogers, the show's talent executive, talking about the show's competition for guests with The Tonight Show[19]

Among the show's highlights—according to CBS:[21]

  • 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 and Regis Philbin—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-depreciating joke targeted at the city itself.

A notable, more recent episode was his October 1, 2009 revelation that he had been the target of an extortion attempt.


Physical comedy

Letterman himself is known for his quirky physical comedy, which he has used in varied degrees throughout the years. Examples are throwing his blue note cards through the prop window behind him or throwing pencils at the camera (always followed with a sound effect of shattering glass), slapping the camera, pausing to take a long drink of his coffee, exaggeratedly loud coughing and clearing his throat, showing the inside lining of his suit, showing his receding hairline, long awkward moments to organize his note cards on his desk, flipping pencils upward and trying to catch them one-handed (à la Johnny Carson), wiggling his tie, adjusting the height of his chair, stirring his guests' coffee with a pencil before they arrive, and pausing to clean his glasses. In earlier episodes he would often throw objects into the audience.

Though Letterman is typically well-attired and neat, a common gag is his pretending to eat or drink excessive amounts of both edible and non-edible items, for instance, eating mayonnaise straight from the jar, allowing it to slop onto his face and onto the front of his suit. During a cooking segment with Martha Stewart there was a table set up with ingredients to demonstrate how to prepare some sort of meal. Letterman feigned clumsy disinterest, measuring the wrong amounts, throwing raw eggs at the band, gulping down bottles of wine, eating half a stick of butter, and generally wreaking havoc. Stewart tried to continue her cooking presentation, until finally, succumbing to the fun, took a big bite of butter herself. A similar situation occurred during a cooking segment featuring British chef Jamie Oliver, beginning with Letterman eating raw onions and resulting in Oliver, the episode's first guest Tom Cruise, and later Paul Shaffer, and him all drinking from a bottle of olive oil.


Another Letterman trademark is his penchant for odd, non-sequitur one-liners. Often they come from obscure sources with little to no explanation and appear to be mostly used for Letterman's own amusement. One of these is "I bet that guy makes his own gravy," often referring to overweight people who perspire. Whenever venturing into dangerous territory, Dave often rescues himself with a one-liner, "and I don't even know what that means" or "I wouldn't give his troubles to a monkey on a rock!" Shaffer will often laugh at the jokes, although this is usually due to the repetition and familiarity of them, rather than the nature of the jokes themselves.


Letterman will often poke fun at himself, ranging from the content of his show (such as admitting when a joke is not particularly funny), his personal life (portraying himself as a reclusive loner), his physical appearance (his hair or "advanced age"), and his staff's supposed frustration with him (being forced to work on holidays). Such jokes will be made through impromptu remarks made by Letterman, or even in scripted material presented by Letterman or various staff members. In one episode, foreigners would appear on stage one by one, hurling a flurry of insults at Letterman in their native languages. Another more common gag consists of audience members finding ways to leave the show to Letterman's embarrassment.

Guest hosts

Occasionally, Letterman will use guest hosts; in the past, he has done so when he has taken an extended medical leave. Elvis Costello, Adam Sandler and Bonnie Hunt are among the many substitute hosts that have been used on Late Show.

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.[22]

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 and Regis Philbin (his former Live co-host Kathie Lee Gifford would later guest-host as well[23]) filled in on the first week.[24]

In the summer of 2003, Letterman had guest hosts for a month. They were Tom Green, Tom Arnold, Kelsey Grammer, and Jimmy Fallon[25] (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.[26]

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, a show that lasted less than 150 episodes, had received a nomination that year.[26]

Late Show with David Letterman won the award six times:

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.

See also


  1. ^ "Friday, May 13, 2011, Show #3492: Joan Rivers, Nick Griffin, and Okkervil River". CBS. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  2. ^ "Late Night with David Letterman / Late Show with David Letterman". Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  3. ^ a b Late Night with David Letterman / Late Show with David Letterman from the Museum of Broadcast Communications
  4. ^ a b c "When the hell does Letterman tape his shows?". TV Squad. April 3, 2006. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  5. ^ TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows
  6. ^ a b c Carter, Bill (June 6, 2009). "Letterman Reaches a Deal With CBS to Extend ‘Late Show’". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  7. ^ "Review/Television; New Time, New Place, Same Humor at, originally published Aug. 31, 1993". New York Times. 1993-08-31. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  8. ^ "AUG. 29-Sept. 4; Mega-Mouths: Jay and Dave Head-to-Head, originally published Sept. 5, 1993". New York Times. 1993-09-05. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  9. ^ Finn, Natalie (May 24, 2007). "Tonight Show Turns 15". E! News. Retrieved 2007-08-28. 
  10. ^ "David Letterman Comes to Radio". CBS press release. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  11. ^ a b c d Stelter, Brian (2008-09-02). "Letterman baffled by NBC's replacing of Leno". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  12. ^ Ryan, Mike (2010-01-27). "Why Jay Leno and David Letterman Hate Each Other". PopEater. Retrieved 2010-02-02. 
  13. ^ a b c d Fisher, Luchina (2009-06-10). "Who's loyal to Leno, O'Brien, and Letterman?". ABC News. Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  14. ^ a b Access Hollywood (2009-06-10). "Roberts sides with Letterman". Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  15. ^ "David Letterman: Julia Roberts helps him beat Conan O'Brien for first time; Denzel Washington, Jonas Brothers visit Thursday". Orlando Sentinel. 2009-06-10. Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  16. ^ "A Dave New World". 2002-03-15.,,251464_2,00.html. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  17. ^ New York Times obituary for Bill Wendell
  18. ^ Jude Brennan at IMDb
  19. ^ a b Guthrie, Marisa (April 25, 2011). "12 Talent Bookers Who Keep New York Talking". Back Stage. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  20. ^ "The Late Show Wahoo Gazette". August 29, 2005. Retrieved April 9, 2011. 
  21. ^ "Letterman Marks A Milestone". CBS News. February 2, 2007. Retrieved 2009-09-23. 
  22. ^ "Dave Pals To Cover For Him While He Heals". Daily News (New York). February 5, 2000. 
  23. ^ "Gifford To Leave". 1998-10-21.,26334,617380,00.html. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  24. ^ Posted on February 16, 2000 at 12:00 AM (2000-02-16). "Guest-host concept will ease Letterman's work load | TV Barn". Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  25. ^ "David Letterman ending his Friday summer breaks". USA Today. June 27, 2003. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  26. ^ a b O'Neil, Tom (July 8, 2010). "Conan O'Brien ousts Jay Leno and David Letterman from Emmys". THe Envelope (blog). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 

External links

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