A ‘Thank You’ to Letterman From the Perspective of a Millennial

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One week ago on Wednesday, David Letterman said ‘good night’ to his audience one last time when he officially stepped down as the host of The Late Show With David Letterman. It is still hard to grasp the immense influence he had not only on late night comedy, but television as a whole.

That’s why our entertainment correspondent, Eric Forthun, took a look at Letterman’s legacy to say ‘Thank You’ from the perspective of a Millennial.

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My generation, full of twenty-somethings in a digital age, often connect most with late-night hosts whose names start with Jimmy or Conan. Jimmy Fallon’s segments always seem to go viral, Jimmy Kimmel always has major celebrities come onto his show after sporting events or awards shows, and their taped segments become Internet sensations. Even Conan O’Brien, who moved through NBC’s carousel of late-night programs to arrive at TBS, has notable Internet popularity.

One thing all of these comedians have in common? They would be nowhere without David Letterman.

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Dave, as he is affectionately called by fans and friends, was on late-night television for 33 years. 33 years! That’s twelve years longer than I’ve been alive. That’s hard to process but undeniable in its power. He’s a man that formed the late night minds that came after the unforgettable Johnny Carson, and one that has often been tied to Jay Leno due to their behind-the-scenes battle for The Tonight Show.

He may not have received the staple of late-night television from Johnny (which some believe was his rightful inheritance), but he did settle into his own groove on The Late Show. Jay Leno was in Los Angeles, Dave was in New York; Jay was a people’s man, Dave was a grumpy old curmudgeon even when he was in his 40s (which is how he liked it). Most importantly, though, Dave molded the comedians that are considered essential pieces of the late-night puzzle today.

Jimmy Kimmel (see video above) and Conan O’Brien (see video below and a recent tribute in Entertainment Weekly here) both gave him heartfelt farewells on his last night, with Conan noting that Dave’s appearance on his struggling Late Night program in 1993 effectively made him succeed. After all, Dave had established himself on that same program and saw Conan’s potential, and the red-haired entertainer remains enormously grateful to this day. Kimmel remarked on the same notion, tearing up while discussing Dave’s gracious staff and writers for letting him perform on the show before he got his job at ABC.

Dave never seemed to love the spotlight, nor did he ever seem particularly pleased with the world around him. But he had his moments and his people that he particularly admired: Bill Murray was both Dave’s first and last guest, and never spared the opportunity to dress up as ridiculously as possible when he was given the chance.

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Dave’s favorite band is the Foo Fighters, and his favorite song “Everlong.” They performed that hit a while back after Dave had overcome heart surgery, even canceling some of their tour dates to make an appearance on Letterman’s first show back from his sick leave.

Dave had an eclectic batch of interviews, most notably the ones involving famous women going a little crazy. Drew Barrymore flashed everyone in the audience (and on television) while standing on top of Dave’s desk, and Madonna went through a series of expletives that the censors had to have disliked. He’s had presidents visit, celebrities issue public apologies, Oprah… And how can we forget his infamous Top Ten lists?

Dave’s specialty, however, was his interviewing style. It was blunt, often repellent to some, but never unengaging. He always made the guests feel like they were having a conversation at the dinner table catching up, and the crowd surrounding them was lucky enough to be there.

No one knows what Dave will do next. Him and Paul Shaffer, his long-time house musician, haven’t revealed what their plans are, which is all the more exciting. I don’t see Letterman making many more public appearances or showing up in films or Broadway shows. Instead, Letterman told the Rolling Stone in one of his last interviews, that he loves spending time with family and friends at his Deep Creek Ranch in the Rocky Mountains, Montana.

No matter how far away he plans to move or go, Dave will always be essential and vital to late-night television.

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Image Credit: “110613-N-TT977-230” (cropped) by 
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / CC License 2.0 via Flickr

 

 

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About the author: Eric Forthun

 

Eric Forthun recently graduated from Film/Media Studies at Arizona State and writes for Cinematic Shadows and the Phoenix Film Festival. He plans to attend graduate school at Boston University.

Website: http://cinematicshadows.com/

 

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