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I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

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I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Old 05-16-16, 12:46 AM
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I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

I've only seen him during the Late Show years (and not much at that), but I always hear that he was highly original, man on the street stuff, etc. I do know that Paul Schaffer was the one to start doing custom walk on music for guests, so that's one thing at least in terms of the band.
Old 05-16-16, 01:11 AM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Conan said it better than any of us could

http://www.ew.com/article/2015/05/01...avid-letterman
Old 05-16-16, 01:12 AM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

The model for everyone had been Johnny Carson before Letterman. Johnny was the gold standard unless you wanted to go in a different talk direction with a more serious, journalist tone. It wasn't just the format but tone of Letterman's NBC show. The networks didn't think people wanted to watch a sarcastic, mean-spirited host every night before Letterman proved it could work.

It sounds simple in practice but represented a vastly new style of talk show hosting.
Old 05-16-16, 01:41 PM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

1) One Letterman innovation was putting regular people who worked behind the scenes on camera, and using them as comic foils.

This key to Kimmel's show. Leno started doing it (but in a totally contrived way with people like Ross the flamboyantly gay intern). Conan does this now on TBS. Colbert has started doing it.



2) But of course the biggest thing is the hardest to explain. Letterman brought a whole new philosophy of humor to late night.
Obviously someone could write a book or PhD thesis about this subject, but Letterman showed that the "new comedy spirit" that came to TV with SNL could work in monologues, interviews, comedy pieces.
He was a huge force in letting a new generation communicate with itself about what it found funny, and what it wanted comedy to be in the 80s.
Old 05-16-16, 01:52 PM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Originally Posted by PhantomStranger View Post
The model for everyone had been Johnny Carson before Letterman. Johnny was the gold standard unless you wanted to go in a different talk direction with a more serious, journalist tone. It wasn't just the format but tone of Letterman's NBC show. The networks didn't think people wanted to watch a sarcastic, mean-spirited host every night before Letterman proved it could work.

It sounds simple in practice but represented a vastly new style of talk show hosting.
Letterman seemed to do it with finesse.

Others failed at doing this and became a parody of themselves, such as Morton Downey Jr or Wally George.
Old 05-16-16, 01:58 PM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

This kind of sums up why I loved Letterman when he was at NBC as he was the first real Anti-Establishment guy on TV (Howard Stern mastered this on Radio too):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECz945gq33s
Old 05-16-16, 03:11 PM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

As others have said, Letterman had this odd, quirky, downright goofy sense of humor that a lot of people just didn't get. Some of his stunts - like putting on an Alka Seltzer suit and being lowered into a giant glass or water - were hilarious... but I'm convinced that many were designed to fail, and the resulting silence was the joke. Read Conan's piece or watch Jimmy Kimmel's tribute to Letterman if you want more about this kind of thing.

For me, though, Letterman was a generational thing. I loved Carson, and had the upmost respect for him as a showman. NO ONE has ever owned late night like Johnny did, and no one ever will. But Carson often had old farts on his show like George Gobel and Slappy White, and lame musicians like Barry Manilow. Letterman, on the other hand, had cutting-edge comedians like Steven Wright and Sam Kinison, and cool bands like R.E.M. Carson was for my parents and grandparents, but Letterman was for me. Carson might have been The Beatles of late night, but David Letterman was The Clash. It might seem hard to believe today, with the Internet and Netflix and a dozen late night shows, but back in the early 80s, a lot of college campuses would come to a complete halt when Letterman would come on.
Old 05-16-16, 05:37 PM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

He was good when he was on NBC but was boring on CBS.
Old 05-16-16, 06:20 PM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Letterman and SCTV were the only funny things on TV. Most comedy television was like Three's Company, shows which had only one idea and ran it into the ground.

Carson had the old and sleepy demographic sewn up, but Letterman didn't mind jolting people awake after midnight.
Old 05-16-16, 07:21 PM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

The key to Letterman's influence was his irreverence.

It was stuff like hosting the show without a suit, the frequently bizarre sense of humor, putting guys like Bif on camera, the weird cast of characters like Larry "Bud" Melman and Chris Elliot, the juvenile stunts like throwing stuff off of the roof, and offbeat guests.

Johnny Carson was vaudville. Letterman was improv. To be invited to appear on "The Tonight Show" was an honor; to be invited to appear on "Late Night" was like being let into to the cool kids party.
Old 05-17-16, 01:02 AM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Originally Posted by Rex Fenestrarum View Post
...back in the early 80s, a lot of college campuses would come to a complete halt when Letterman would come on.
That ain't no lie.
Old 05-17-16, 01:24 AM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

I was about to quote the exact same line from Rex. Late night talk shows were for old people until Letterman came along. He definitely got the college crowd, and ever since, all the shows aim for that 18-35 range instead of the 50+ that they had been previously.
Old 05-17-16, 07:48 AM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Originally Posted by coli View Post
This kind of sums up why I loved Letterman when he was at NBC as he was the first real Anti-Establishment guy on TV (Howard Stern mastered this on Radio too):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECz945gq33s


I knew someone would post this. I'll link it properly so everyone can watch. Best video spot Letterman ever did.
Old 05-17-16, 08:20 AM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Originally Posted by JeffTheAlpaca View Post
He was good when he was on NBC but was boring on CBS.
I felt this way the first night Letterman was on CBS, as I noticed a drastic shift in his comedy. I LOVED him on NBC, and was so looking forward to his show on CBS and I still can't put my finger on what went wrong?

-Once he made the big money at CBS, he essentially checked out and lost that edge?

-He was neutered at the 11:30 time slot because it is a somewhat difference audience, and maybe his humor was always tailored made for 12:30?

-He bought into himself as The greatest after Johnny Carson retired, and thought anything he did would be funny and never really tried at CBS?
Old 05-17-16, 08:33 AM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Letterman brought the same spirit to late night that Steve Allen had a decade or so before, -a sense of "Nobody's really watching, so let's just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks" kind of thing. I think when he went to CBS, I think he brought to it a degree of responsibility, a sense of this has to be a different type of show, -a bigger, more traditional show. In a sense he went from emulating Steve Allen to Johnny Carson (though doing it far better than Leno). I grew away from it very quickly.
Old 05-17-16, 11:30 AM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?


-Once he made the big money at CBS, he essentially checked out and lost that edge?
That's how I pretty much feel about it. His goal on NBC was to get The Tonight Show, and once that was lost forever, there really wasn't a goal anymore. Not to mention angry Letterman was 100x funnier than content Letterman.

One of the most biting SNL sketches ever was Norm MacDonald doing a Letterman impression around 1996 or 97 where the premise was how lazy Dave had become and would just resort to the same four or five jokes throughout the sketch.
Old 05-17-16, 10:26 PM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Originally Posted by sydonesia View Post
One of the most biting SNL sketches ever was Norm MacDonald doing a Letterman impression around 1996 or 97 where the premise was how lazy Dave had become and would just resort to the same four or five jokes throughout the sketch.
Uh, ya got any gum?
Old 05-17-16, 10:44 PM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Damn, it is very hard for me to imagine Letterman as "The Clash" (as mentioned in an earlier post) in any respect. Like I said in my first post, I only saw him on CBS, and in particular, the later years, where he was lethargic at best. They did run clips of the old days which seemed kind of fun, and of course I'd seen the Andy Kaufman/Lawler bit repeatedly (but he seemed pissed about that). Wish they actually reran his older stuff.
Old 05-17-16, 10:55 PM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Letterman was pretty great the first few years on CBS but he lost a ton of energy after that point. The show became very predictable and seemingly tired, for lack of a better word.
Old 05-17-16, 10:58 PM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Did he do the Top Ten on NBC as well? Though I thought that was pretty corny most of the time (and he admitted as much).
Old 05-18-16, 12:17 AM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Originally Posted by bluetoast View Post
Did he do the Top Ten on NBC as well? Though I thought that was pretty corny most of the time (and he admitted as much).
Yes, it started on the NBC show. It originally wasn't supposed to be forever thing, but it got so popular that he basically had to continue it. There was a big to-do at the time about whether the top ten was the "intellectual property" of NBC when he left. I believe the whole top ten graphic that preceded the bit on the Late Show was initially a screw you to NBC.
Old 05-18-16, 12:45 AM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Oh yeah, somehow the title/wording of the top 10 was changed....starting to remember now.
Old 05-18-16, 02:31 AM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Intellectual property is the reason Larry Bud Melman became known by his real name, Calvert DeForest, on the Late Show.
Old 05-18-16, 05:03 AM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

I thought on the CBS show he was one of the best interviewers, especially when he had someone important or someone he really liked on.

I think he could have done straight news journalism well.
Old 05-18-16, 06:45 AM
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Re: I didn't grow up with Letterman in the 80's- how did he change late night?

Originally Posted by bluetoast View Post
Did he do the Top Ten on NBC as well? Though I thought that was pretty corny most of the time (and he admitted as much).
The Top 10 was one of the things I looked forward to during the NBC days, but by the time he got to CBS it sort of run its course. It's almost like a burden when he did it at CBS as it just became painfully unfunny by then.

I always thought he should done the Top 10 list maybe once a week, so it stayed fresh and unique. Kind of when Carson did Carnac as you never knew he would do it, but when he came out for the bit it seemed fresh.

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