The Late Show With David Letterman
EVERYONE'S 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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