Sunday, May 10, 2015
They're Not Booing, They're Saying "DAAAAVE"
People have been writing for a long time that Dave is just a shadow of his former self, and that he no longer really cares about putting on a high quality show night after night. What people have forgotten is that there were more than a few critics who started writing things like that about Johnny Carson sometime around 1980, and he still had over a decade left. Those critics are mostly forgotten, and Carson's historic legacy lives on. And such will, I suspect, be the case with David Letterman.
This isn't an argument that Letterman's show has been as good in recent years as it was when he first came to CBS in 1993, or in the halcyon days of his insanity on NBC in the mid-1980s. There are nights when it doesn't seem as if Dave is having a whole lot of fun, but overall the show remains strong and its biggest problem is that it's being compared to nearly three decades of classic moments. No one can win under that scenario - not Tom Hanks, not Bruce Springsteen, not even Bob Dylan.
David Letterman's place in TV history is secure - he's going to be remembered as the second greatest late night host of all time, because no one is ever going to dislodge Johnny Carson from the pinnacle. He's probably never make that claim himself, but it's true. Were there times when I wish he had tried something a little different, tried to stretch himself with different types of guests and interviews, much in the same way that Johnny did back when his show was 90 minutes long? Sure. But those are minor quibbles - and heck, I also wish that Bruce Springsteen had left four songs off of "The Rising."
I stuck Warren Zevon in the corner of this picture because my all-time favorite Letterman moment was back in 2002, the night that he dedicated his entire program to a celebration of Zevon's music and life. Zevon was always one of Letterman's favorite musical artists, and YouTube is rife with great clips of Zevon appearances. On this particular night in the fall of 2002, Zevon knew that he was dying, and he would in fact die 10 months after the show aired. But it was not a maudlin night; it was a night to enjoy Warren's macabre sense of humor and listen to him sing some of his best songs. It was also a night that proved that David Letterman was more than just the guy who made funny videos and the auteur of such bits as "Stupid Pet Tricks" and "Stupid Human Tricks."
I remember the first time I saw Letterman guest host the Tonight Show, sometime in early 1979. Not even knowing who he was, I told my mom that this guy was going to be a big star. And this time, I was right.
Farewell, David Letterman. And thank you.