The Late Show With David
favorite wise-ass began his career as a weekend weather caster at an Indianapolis
TV station; he eventually lost his job after several on-air stunts (including
congratulating a tropical storm when it was upgraded to a hurricane.) Moving
to L.A. in 1975, Letterman worked the standup comedy circuit and wrote material
for sitcoms such as Good Times and The Paul Lynde Comedy Hour. Stints as a regular
on The Starland Vocal Band and Mary Tyler Moore's variety series, Mary, did
not help his career, but appearances on the Tonight show did. Johnny Carson
made him a regular guest host, and in 1980, Letterman was given his own daytime
show, which-although it lasted only three months-convinced the executives at
NBC to let him try with a different audience with a show at 12:30 a.m.
Late Night With David
Letterman, with its Stupid Pet and Human
Tricks, Top Ten lists, canned hams, and visits from Chris Elliott and Larry
"Bud" Melman, became a favorite of the college crowd.
Letterman's sometimes cutting humor doesn't work with all guests-he almost
reduced guest Nastassja Kinski to tears when he made fun of her hair, and
Cher called him an asshole on the show-but has proved a saving grace with
some guests--a psychotic Crispin Glover or a foul-mouthed Madonna.
When Carson announced his retirement, in 1992, Letterman hoped to assume his
11:30 p.m. slot, but in a late night war that inspired a book and a movie,
Jay Leno was chosen instead. Letterman, feeling the network under appreciated
his contribution, grabbed a $14 million dollar offer from rival CBS (a deal
negotiated by Mike Ovitz).
It was not a smooth transition, with NBC claiming that many of Letterman's
most popular routines were their "intellectual property" and could
not be used on a different network. Letterman used them anyway, and his Late
Show was a huge success when it debuted opposite Leno, consistently winning
in the ratings, though he has been hurt badly by CBS's inability to provide
a strong lead-in for his show. Whether he decides to make another network
move is anybody's guess.
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