David Letterman bids farewell to Late-Night Television


Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shares a laugh with David Letterman during an interview on the Late Show in New York City on June 13, 2011. DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released)

By Emma Espey, Staff Writer

Wednesday night, after 33 years on late-night television, David Letterman signed off of The Late Show for the last time. Since announcing his impending retirement on April 3rd of last year, The Late Show with David Letterman has been filled with celebrity stars such as George Clooney, Julia Roberts, and Tom Hanks, all stopping by for one last time to pay their respects to the man that forever changed the face of comedy and late-night television.

When Late Night with David Letterman premiered on February 1st, 1982 on NBC right after The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, it received widespread enthusiasm, especially from a growing fan-base of college students who appreciated the edgy and unpredictable comedian. Letterman’s comedic style developed along with his show, as it often featured controversial skits segments, and spars with celebrities like Cher. When Johnny Carson retired from The Tonight Show in 1992, many avid fans thought that Letterman would be the perfect man to take his place, however, NBC offered the hosting position to Jay Leno instead. Afterwards, Letterman departed NBC to host his own late-night show on CBS, and on August 30th, 1993, Late Show with David Letterman premiered right after the Tonight Show at 11:30 pm. While Letterman stayed true to his unmatched comedic style and unpredictability, the Late Show recognized its more formal audience and studio, as Letterman went from wearing khakis and blazers to nicer shoes and tailored suits.

In the taping for his April 3rd, 2014 show, Letterman announced that he had spoken to the CBS president about retiring from late-night television, and soon after, it was announced that Stephen Colbert would succeed Letterman as host of The Late Show. In the month leading up to Letterman’s last show, the chair opposite his desk was filled with star after star wishing to thank Letterman personally for his contributions to comedy and television. His departure also saw to social media exploding with fellow comedians and long-time viewers paying their respects to Letterman, as well as hosts of other late-night shows like Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon who gave heartfelt tributes to Letterman and the Late Show on their own programs. When his final show aired Wednesday night on May 20th, 2015, it featured some of his favorite skits, cameos from The Simpsons and Wheel of Fortune, and the final Top Ten List of “Things I Wish I Could Have Said to David Letterman” performed by a parade of long-time friends and frequent guests of the show like Bill Murray (who was his first guest on Late Night with David Letterman), Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Peyton Manning, and Barbara Walters. The show ended with a montage of clips from both his CBS and NBC series’ set to a live performance of “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters.

In 2012, Letterman received the Kennedy Center Honors, where he was called “one of the most influential personalities in the history of television, entertaining an entire generation of late-night viewers with his unconventional wit and charm”. As a writer, producer, and performer, Letterman has been nominated for 52 Emmy Awards, and in 2013 he surpassed his friend and mentor Johnny Carson as the longest serving late-night talk show host in American TV History, at 31 years.

When David Letterman came to late-night television in 1982, he came in swinging. His presence as a comedian and a performer forever changed the way people watched late-night TV, and his influence on an originally college aged fan-base defined a generation of people. His contributions to the world of comedy have influenced people like Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien, and his shows have brought laughter to people all over the world.

So to Mr. David Letterman, thank you, and goodnight.