Back when I used to more regularly add stuff to RW370, one of my favorite things to add was YouTube clips of Letterman in the ’80s, under a category named “NBC Letterman”. Tonight is Dave’s last show, so I feel practically obligated: here’s a pointer to the category.
Letterman’s show was the first of a kind of self-aware TV presentation that highlighted the absurdity of the TV medium, producing great laughs – and great tension. Unlike his talk show hero Johnny Carson, little more than a square showbiz MC with a few dumb affectations, Dave could and would drive the show to places that invited equal parts delight and terror. Like Ernie Kovacs, he used everything at his disposal: cameras, remotes, stage play, stunts, animals, as well as a booking and musical sensibility that nobody in network TV could touch. Watching in its earliest days, as a Chicago high school student and punk rocker, a nightly show that managed to confound and bewilder my own sensibilities was something very rare, and treasured more greatly as the years go on.
John Hoolihan, a guy who talks into a microphone, speaking of Dave nicely summed up the show’s genius as “putting a guy who hated talking to people in the role of talk show host”. Ding.