When Letterman Began Sounding 'Less Like Dada, More Like Dad'

Letterman’s departure is 15 years too late,” Kyle Smith writes in the New York Post, tracing Letterman’s shift over the years from midwestern anti-comic like his doppelganger Bill Murray to hack showbiz insider:

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When Letterman got a new job at CBS in 1993, it was even better. Now he was on at 11:30 p.m. instead of 12:30 a.m. I’d miss fewer shows, plus my new job (I started at The Post the day after he launched “Late Show”) meant I didn’t have to get up until noon. I saw practically every episode, for years.

But, somewhere around the turn of the century, I lost interest. The show became less and less surreal. Real celebrities started showing up, and I winced as Dave would suck up to them. Suddenly, everyone had a perfectly polished, self-deprecating anecdote — invariably meant to prove the utter fiction that Celebrities Are Just Like Us — that sounded suspiciously crafted by a team of writers. Suddenly, each episode had as many as three celebrities, with Letterman being unctuous and insufferable and fake-laughing his way through every minute.

At times Dave would turn depressingly earnest, particularly when he thought he had a Deep Political Point to make. He had George W. Bush on during the 2000 campaign and started grilling him about capital punishment. It was crushingly wrong for Dave to turn into a finger-wagger, especially since he seemed woefully out of his depth on any issue. His comedy started to sound like everybody else’s, with the same potshots at the same easy targets. His act sounded less like dada, more like Dad.

Letterman was the barking dog who caught the car, was invited in, and curled up delightedly on the seat. He was the outsider who joined the very club on whose doorstep he used to leave a flaming sack of dog poop. He was the cool guy who became Mr. Big-Time Showbiz Personality. Letterman shouldn’t retire. He should just continue doing his shtick. In Vegas.

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Shortly thereafter, just as Vietnam and other events of the late 1960s cleaved American pop culture in two, 9/11 had a similar effect, alienating much of show business from its potential audience, including (especially) Letterman, who was far less adapt than Jay Leno at bridging the gap between the worldview of his fellow leftwing show business elites and Red State America.

CBS’s response to Letterman’s finale? They’re literally kicking his show to the curb, another article at the Post notes:

​Just hours after Letterman said farewell after 33 years on late-night TV, Ed Sullivan Theater crews hauled off blocks of blue stage and hacked up pieces of the iconic New York City bridges that made up the set of the “Late Show​.”

Fans and passers-by gathered around a police barricade cordoning off the Ed Sullivan to watch workers unceremoniously chuck red theater chairs into an overflowing Dumpster and ​take reciprocating saws to his miniature Brooklyn Bridge.

“It’s an end of an era,” commented onlooker Alex Lafreniere, 24, a fan visiting from Oklahoma.

The complete breakdown of the set is expected to take about a week.

No word yet if Cosmo Kramer will discover the remains of the set moulting away in a garbage skip and launch his own talk show from his Upper West Side apartment:

[jwplayer player=”1″ mediaid=”80691″]

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And as John Nolte adds at Big Hollywood, that’s not the only element of Letterman’s show that CBS is tossing into a dumpster:

Despite all the hype and hoopla and nostalgia around Letterman’s finale, CBS will not be filling his old timeslot with “Late Show” reruns.

Until Stephen Colbert arrives in September, CBS believes reruns of the CBS drama “The Mentalist” will attract more viewers than reruns of Letterman.

Ouch.

Did the door hit Letterman on the way out?

Probably not, it was already in the dumpster.

Sounds like the brass at CBS is as eager to be rid of Letterman as the rest of us.

Update: “One Final Insult: Leno Beats Letterman In Finale Ratings” — Leno’s last Tonight Show attracted “almost a million more [viewers] than Mr. Letterman’s [finale] did.”

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