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Why David Letterman Has (Almost) Always Creeped Me Out

The host of The Late Show: not a morning person.

by
Kathy Shaidle

Bio

April 2, 2012 - 12:00 am

At the beginning of the 1980s, the former TV weatherman and favored Carson Tonight Show fill-in was being groomed by NBC for something big.

Alas, The David Letterman Show wasn’t that something. Sure, it won a couple of Emmys, but it was cancelled after five months.

Most observers note in retrospect that Letterman’s glib, ironic sarcasm and cool indifference guaranteed that the program wouldn’t last long. After all, the show’s time slot is better suited to the likes of Regis & Kathy Lee. Especially 32 years ago, viewers at 10am were overwhelmingly housewives and seniors, accustomed to morning TV staples like cooking segments and easily digestible interviews with B- and C-list celebs.

Letterman and the show’s developers envisioned something edgier (even though “edgy” wasn’t really a word then). So The David Letterman Show was an uneasy compromise that was doomed from the start.

Everyone involved seems to know it.

One of Letterman’s promos serves as less of an enticement to tune in than a dare — or a warning not to bother:

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And clearly Letterman doesn’t look all that comfortable on the show itself:

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But the studio audience doesn’t seem to mind. I know I didn’t, and all these years later, I retain a certain affection for the program.

Video clips from Letterman’s morning show are hard to find.  I hoped to track down some man-on-the-street segments — the show really came alive when Letterman stepped outside the studio.

Over at Splitsider, Ramsey Ess confirms my recollections of what made the short-lived show enjoyable, and Letterman’s later style so grating. He writes:

The most obvious difference between the morning show and the later programs is Dave’s interview style. While there have been many excellent interviews throughout the years, there are just as many where it is clear that Letterman has no interest in talking to his guest. Sometimes he makes no effort to hide this; when CBS made him have each newly kicked off Survivor castaway on his show, he made them stand on the opposite side of the studio. There’s none of that on the morning show. Whether he’s interviewing 80-year-old blues legend Sippie Wallace or or Dr. Howard Cotton, head of Mt. Sinai’s headache clinic, David seems engaged and interested in everything they have to say. Perhaps this could simply be chalked up to the greenness of his interviewing; he’s new to the game and hasn’t become jaded towards guests that no hold no interest for him.

Actually, I’d chalk it up to the absolute opposite of “greenness.” I’d call it “professionalism.”

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