Born April 12, 1947, in Indianapolis, IN; son of Joseph (a florist) and Dorothy (a church secretary) Letterman; married Michelle Cook, c. 1969 (divorced, 1977); children: (with Regina Lasko) Harry Joseph Letterman. Education: Ball State University, B.A., 1970.
Home—New Canaan, CT. Office—Late Show with David Letterman, Ed Sullivan Theater, 1697 Broadway, New York, NY 10019-5904. Agent—Lee Gabler, Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Television host, comedian, writer, and producer. Radio announcer in Muncie, IN, c. 1960s; television announcer, weather reporter, and host of programs Clover Power and Freeze-dried Movies for American Broadcasting Companies (ABC) affiliate in Indianapolis, IN, c. 1970s; radio talk show host in Indianapolis; appeared in television commercials. Stand-up comedy performer, including regular at the Comedy Store, Los Angeles, CA, beginning 1975. Appeared in television series, including announcer and regular performer, The Starland Vocal Band Show, Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS), 1977; regular, Mary, CBS, 1978; guest host, The Tonight Show, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. (NBC), 1979-80; host, The David Letterman Show, NBC, 1980; host and executive producer, Late Night with David Letterman, NBC, 1982-93; host and executive producer, Late Show with David Letterman, CBS, 1993—. Executive producer of television shows, including Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 1996—; The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, CBS, 1999—; and Ed, NBC, 2000-04.
Appeared in television specials, including Bob Hope Special: Bob Hope's Super Birthday Special, NBC, 1984; The Television Academy Hall of Fame, NBC, 1986; co-host, The 38th Annual Emmy Awards, NBC, 1986; The Comedy Store Fifteenth Class Reunion, NBC, 1988; host (and executive producer), Late Night with David Letterman: Tenth Anniversary, NBC, 1992; A Comedy Salute to Andy Kaufman, 1995; host, The 67th Annual Academy Awards Presentation, ABC, 1995; and CBS at 75, CBS, 2003. Appeared in television episodes, including Gong Show, NBC; Mork and Mindy, ABC; TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes, NBC; Murphy Brown, CBS; Cosby, NBC; Spin City, ABC; and The Larry Sanders Show, HBO. Appeared in films, including Cabin Boy, Buena Vista, 1994.
Jack Benny Award, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 1984; George Foster Peabody Award, 1992; two American Comedy Awards for funniest male performer in a television special; two Emmy Awards for The David Letterman Show; five Emmy Awards for Late Night with David Letterman; eight Emmy Awards for The Late Show with David Letterman, including six for outstanding variety, music, or comedy program; numerous Emmy nominations.
(With others) The Late Night with David Letterman Book of Top Ten Lists, edited by Leslie Wells, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1990.
(With others) An Altogether New Book of Top Ten Lists: From "Late Night with David Letterman," edited by Sally Peters, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Roman Numeral Two! Top Ten Lists from Late Night with David Letterman, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Steve O'Donnell) David Letterman's Book of Top Ten Lists and Zesty Local Chicken Recipes, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1995.
(With Steve O'Donnell) David Letterman's New Book of Top Ten Lists and Wedding Dress Patterns for the Husky Bride, Bantam (New York, NY), 1996.
(With mother, Dorothy Letterman) Home Cookin' with Dave's Mom, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1996.
SCRIPTS; TELEVISION SERIES; WITH OTHERS
The Starland Vocal Band, Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS), 1977.
Mary, CBS, 1978.
The David Letterman Show, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. (NBC), 1980.
Late Night with David Letterman, NBC, 1982-93.
The Late Night Morning Show, NBC, 1985.
Late Show with David Letterman, CBS, 1993—.
Author of episode of Good Times, CBS.
SCRIPTS; TELEVISION SPECIALS; WITH OTHERS
The John Denver Special, American Broadcast Companies, Inc. (ABC), 1974.
The Paul Lynde Comedy Hour, ABC, 1977.
Bob Hope's All-Star Comedy Special from Australia, NBC, 1978.
David Letterman's Second Annual Holiday Film Festival, NBC, 1986.
The Late Night with David Letterman Fifth Anniversary Show, NBC, 1987.
The Late Night with David Letterman Sixth Anniversary Show, NBC, 1988.
The Late Night with David Letterman Seventh Anniversary Show, NBC, 1989.
The Late Night with David Letterman Eighth Anniversary Show, NBC, 1990.
The Late Night with David Letterman Tenth Anniversary Show, NBC, 1992.
The Late Show with David Letterman Video Special, CBS, 1994.
The Late Show with David Letterman Video Special 2, CBS, 1996.
The Late Show with David Letterman Video Special 3, CBS, 1997.
The Late Show with David Letterman Fifth Anniversary Special, CBS, 1998.
David Letterman, host of the popular comedy-and-talk-show Late Show with David Letterman, has made a career out of making fun of television clichés and other quirky aspects of American culture, whether it be by mocking the verbal slips of politicians or devoting a portion of the show to a woman who dresses parrots to look like celebrities. The Indiana-born comedian enjoys taking the mundane and making it funny by exaggerating some aspect of an object or situation through the magic of television. Proudly displaying anomalies such as a giant doorknob or a custom-made suit covered in tortilla chips, Letterman has captured the imagination and late-night hours of millions of loyal viewers. The entertainer's creative humor inspired Time contributor Richard Zoglin to dub Letterman television's "most inventive and influential comic."
Letterman was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1947, and spent his childhood in the suburb of Broad Ripple, where his father owned a florist shop and his mother worked as a church secretary. It was a household Letterman himself described as "a solid Father Knows Best or Leave It to Beaver type of lower-middle-class family," as he was quoted by Caroline Latham in The David Letterman Story. Letterman fine tuned his middle-American sensibilities by watching the television programs that would later influence his own brand of comedy. As he observed in aTime interview with Zoglin: "When I was a kid I never really went to movies. In my house, going to movies was pretty much equated with as big a waste of time as you could come by as a human. When I got to an age where I could appreciate comedians, it was guys like Jonathan Winters; he used to really make me laugh hard. At about 16 or 17, on Friday nights I could stay up late and watch the Steve Allen Show. And sometimes after school I used to watch Who Do You Trust? with Johnny Carson." It was while watching Carson's early show that the young Letterman first developed an interest in a career in television. In a Time article, Letterman recalled his attraction to Carson's style of humor: "There was one guy who balanced a lawn mower on his chin—quite a booking coup—and Carson just made fun of him. I thought, 'What a great way to make a living!'"
Letterman's parents were not as enthusiastic about the medium that their son found so enthralling. "When I was growing up in Indianapolis, my parents, who regarded TV as the work of Satan, told me to go outside and do something real," Letterman told People contributor Jane Hall. Nevertheless, the young Letterman set his sights on a career in television. "I always wanted to be in radio or television," he admitted in Hall's article. "I had to be a talk show host—I can't sing or act." Letterman's ideal of his own talk show had unique characteristics even at these early stages, as is noted in The David Letterman Story: "At first it was just vague vision of me on television with a few friends, drinking a warm eight-pack of beer and chatting about the week's events."
Pursues Broadcasting Career
With this lofty goal, at the age of eighteen Letterman headed to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, to pursue a degree in radio and television. Letterman credits his classroom and extracurricular experience in broadcasting during his college years with providing a workable knowledge of the field. Latham quoted Letterman asserting that "radio and TV were perfect for me. . . . It was just practical experience, and I was able to turn it into a career." Letterman always found ways to make the practical interesting, however. During his stint on the official college radio station WBST, he often livened up the mostly classical music format with some rather unofficial observations. This spontaneous commentary did not endear him to the station's management, who finally fired Letterman after he introduced composer Claude Debussy's piano composition Clair de Lune with the helpful note: "You know Mrs. Lune and all the little loonies," as Bill Barol reported in Newsweek. Letterman, as quoted in The David Letterman Story, described his hours on the WBST airwaves as "my first outlet, my first place to just go and talk, and I loved it." Years later, after his graduation and success as a television personality, Letterman provided Ball State with a fund to upgrade their telecommunications department. He also endowed provide scholarships to students who are more adept at expressing their creativity than making perfect grades, much like his example. "What Ball State did was teach me that it is possible to make a living in broadcasting," he noted, as quoted by Latham.
While attending Ball State, Letterman met and married music major Michelle Cook. In order to support himself and his family he secured a job at a radio station in Muncie, Indiana, where he substituted for a radio show host. He then took a position as a fill-in announcer at an ABC affiliate in Indianapolis. His temporary assignment continued after his 1970 graduation and became a permanent job by default—the station couldn't find anyone they wanted to hire to replace him. Letterman and his wife moved back to Broad Ripple, and he worked in Indianapolis for the next five years. Letterman told Zoglin about these years in local television: "It was a great time. . . . I started as a voice-over announcer doing station identifications. Then gradually, through vacation schedules and attrition, I got to do morning news once; got to host a kids' show once; ended up doing the weather and a late-night movie show. You just do everything you can. It was great fun because there was no pressure. I could pretty much do whatever I wanted, and nobody cared because I was always the fill-in guy."
While his assignments at the Indianapolis station were the type traditionally given to rookies, Letterman applied the same unpredictable creativity to his work that he had to his college projects and revealed the same brand of humor that would later define his success as a television host. When assigned to host the Saturday morning show Clover Power, featuring 4-H Club members and their homegrown achievements, Letterman conducted his interviews with an ironic tone that he later admitted boiled down to making fun of the kids. Taking advantage of the little-watched time slot of his two o'clock-in-the-morning late-movie show, he retitled the program Freeze-dried Movies and signed off with a clip showing a miniature version of the station being blown up. Letterman discussed other unusual attractions of his movie show in The David Letterman Story: "In between movies, I'd goof around with a cast of regulars. We had a telethon to raise money for a washed-up fighter. We celebrated our tenth anniversary in the show's second week. One guy showed up at the station wearing a stupid suit, and we dragged him onto the show so people could see it."
Perhaps Letterman's most widely known role at the Indiana station was his job as the weekend weatherman. Many of his viewers may not have appreciated his reports of such meteorological whimsies as hailstones the size of canned hams, but Letterman did not let that deter him. He described his forecasting technique in The David Letterman Story: "I used to like to make up cities and circumstances that didn't exist and describe devastation that didn't occur. I thought that was a high form of entertainment. Looking back on it, it probably wasn't funny, but I enjoyed using television for the purpose of disseminating false data."
After four years in local television and a stint as a local radio talk-show host, Letterman realized that he needed a larger audience in order to find a place for his brand of comedy. With the support of his wife, Michelle, he headed to Los Angeles in 1975 in the hope of working on a network level. He took with him several scripts on which he had been working, but was unable to get anyone in California
to read them. He turned to stand-up comedy instead, a move about which he was not very confident. He recalled his first appearance at the Comedy Store, a prominent club for new performers, to Barol in Newsweek: "I got up and said from rote some stuff I had written that day. To dead silence." Fortunately, Letterman quickly found an approach that worked by observing another Comedy Store performer, Jay Leno. As he noted to Barol, after watching Leno's successful show he realized "It wasn't two guys go into a bar, and it wasn't bathroom jokes. It was all smart, shrewd observations, and it could be anything—politics, television, education. The dynamic of it was, you and I both understand that this is stupid." In a quote in The David Letterman Story, Leno asserted that Letterman's talent was apparent even in his first stage appearance in Los Angeles. After a number of unimpressive would-be comedians performed, according to Leno, "All of a sudden, this new guy from the Midwest gets up and he has this really clever, hip material. He knocked everybody out." Letterman continued to work on his act and soon became a regular performer at the Comedy Store.
One of Letterman's first real breaks came when Jimmie Walker, a star of CBS's popular sitcom Good Times, hired him to write fifteen jokes a week. Then in 1977, the talent agency of Rollins, Joffe, Morra & Brezna signed Letterman and began to arrange small writing and acting jobs for him with the major television networks. As well as writing for comedy specials for entertainment figures such as Paul Lynde, John Denver, and Bob Hope, Letterman appeared as a regular on short-lived series such as The Starland Vocal Band Show and Mary, a variety program starring Mary Tyler Moore. While Letterman was excited about working on a major network series with a well-known actress, he was less than enthusiastic about the type of work required of him on Mary. He stated to Barol: "I could talk to Mary Tyler Moore any time I wanted. I could do almost anything. I could share fruit with her if I wanted to. I, of course, wanted to. She never wanted any part of it. So that was great. But the hard part was that I had to sing and dance and dress up in costumes. That was tough. I knew my limitations, but this really brought 'em home."
Moves up to Tonight Show
While his appearances on Mary may have provided Letterman with a few embarrassing moments, his work did get him noticed. Agents for Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, who had also seen Letterman perform at the Comedy Club, invited the young comic to appear on the late-night talk show in November of 1978. This was the television opportunity for which Letterman had been waiting. Not only was his performance on the show well received, but after he finished his stand-up routine, Carson invited him to come over and talk with him and the other guests—a privilege rarely given to a first-time performer on the show. "It was the most fun I ever had. There I was holding my own with Johnny Carson. I knew then I could hit big league pitching," he noted in a People article. After only three Tonight Show appearances, Letterman was asked by the show's producer to serve as occasional guest host—a role Letterman would fill more than twenty times in the next year. His frequent spots on the show gave rise to speculation that he would be the next host when Carson retired and immediately catapulted Letterman to show-business prominence. Latham quoted the comic's reaction to these sudden and exciting changes: "In California, I was literally living in a one-room apartment on stilts in Laurel Canyon, and I had hosted The Tonight Show a couple of times, and then I went away. When I got back to my house in Laurel Canyon, I had mail from people all over the country, and they had all sent clippings carrying the same wire release saying I would be the next Johnny Carson."
NBC executives had much of the same confidence in Letterman's success that the comedian's agent, Jack Rollins, had felt when he signed a contract with the rising star in 1977. As Rollins told Barol, "The format was hard to guess, but the medium wasn't. David has a readiness to have things bubble out of him. That's an enormous strength in television where everything is quick and short." Television was obviously where Letterman belonged, and NBC was willing to help him find the right kind of show. In 1979, the company signed Letterman to a two-year contract. When it became apparent that Carson would not be leaving the Tonight Show early and Letterman would not be needed to fill his position, NBC attempted to devise a show for Letterman, first creating the doomed Leave It to Dave show, which never aired.
In 1980 Letterman was given his own daytime talk show, the David Letterman Show, which was envisioned by NBC executives as a family-oriented show filled with helpful household hints. What NBC and its audience got, however, was a comedy style that television had never before experienced. Letterman's show, broadcast live from New York City, featured techniques that would become standard style in his later and more successful late-night programs. Comedian Merrill Markoe, Letterman's girlfriend since his 1977 divorce from wife, Michelle, was hired as head writer for the show. Together Letterman and Markoe devised such memorable segments as "Stupid Pet Tricks," trips through the NBC halls in search of company president Fred Silverman or the nearest vending machine, and around-town reports on topics such as places that display signs for "The World's Best Coffee." Letterman utilized his audience as much as his small cast of regular performers for material in what Newsweek reviewer Harry F. Waters deemed "a laudable, if somewhat erratic, TV departure."
Reviews of the David Letterman Show were generally positive, but almost everyone agreed that the morning time slot of the program was inappropriate. Letterman acknowledged the problem of selling his brand of humor to mid-morning viewers in a quote in The David Letterman Story: "In truth, I'm not sure that this show is something you want to watch at ten in the morning. But I decided I would try to do the things I like to do. It was always my feeling that if you do a show as interesting as you can make it, and as funny as you can make it, you could put it up anytime and people will watch it." Due to poor ratings the show was canceled after only four months. But by its final episode on October 24, 1980, Letterman had gained a loyal following and a promising reputation. Not only did Letterman earn two Emmys (for best host and writing) for his first show, but NBC gave him a one-year holding contract, in which he promised not to sign with any other network.
Changing Face of Late-Night TV
In just over a year NBC offered Letterman the 12:30 to 1:30 morning time slot formerly held by Tom Snyder's The Tomorrow Show. Titled Late Night with David Letterman, the new show adapted the format and spirit of the David Letterman Show and added a few more elements of the traditional talk show, at least in appearances. Like talk-show king Carson, Letterman began his program with a short monologue, followed banter with band leader Paul Shaffer. Letterman then retired to his desk for a few regular routines such as presenting the evening's "Top Ten List," a list Steve O'Donnell characterized in a People article as "ten different punch lines" to an opening line or category such as "Top Ten Elf Complaints" or "Top Ten Summer Jobs in Hell." Once a week Letterman would also read viewer mail and present the responses that he and his staff of writers concocted. After preliminaries of this sort, the host welcomed a series of guests as well as a musical or comedy act. A basic outline of the show, however, reveals little of the energy that Letterman and his Late Night crew filled the show with four nights each week, causing amused, but somewhat baffled reviewers to consistently use terms such as "unpredictable" to describe the kind of comedy they witnessed there. Many critics shared the opinion of Jane Hall, who declared, "Late Night with David Letterman may be the hippest show on network television." Within a few years of its 1982 debut, the show was in fact drawing top ratings across the country.
Letterman used the talk-show model as a basic starting point, then took the program in any new direction he saw fit. Some evenings he came out for a special demonstration of one of his famous "suits," such as "The Suit of Suet," which he once wore while entering a pen of hungry barnyard animals, or "The Velcro Suit" in which he bounced off a trampoline and onto a Velcro wall (where he stuck). Other viewer favorites included the segment in which Letterman dropped an assortment of objects—a television or a watermelon, for example—off a five-story building and another where he crushed items in a hydraulic press to see what they would look like afterward. Letterman made no apologies for this type of primitive entertainment. As he liked to remind his audience, "It's only television, folks."
The people who have been caught most frequently in Letterman's attempt to undermine typical TV protocol have been his guests. Letterman is interested in combining elements that will lead to a spontaneous comic event. He once introduced former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to a bewildered stage technician, and he convinced actress Teri Garr to take a shower off-camera while Letterman continued their conversation. "Consider this Great Moment in Late Night history," offered Barol. "The guest was Don King, who is probably as well known for his mile-high electrified Afro as for his career in boxing promotion. As King launched into his usual bombastic spiel, Letterman listened politely. But the first time King paused for breath Letterman leaned over and said: 'Let me ask you something. What's the deal with your hair?'" That exchange "violated every single rule of talk-show politesse," Barol continued. "And it got a big laugh besides."
Letterman also cultivated such a strong reputation as an acerbic interviewer that some celebrities resisted invitations to Late Night for fear of being publicly skewered. As a contributor in the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture stated, "not everyone was enamored of Letterman's mischievous ways. To his detractors, some of his more lunatic antics are puerile and unfunny. . . . More seriously, he quickly developed a reputation as a difficult host. Prone to openly insulting his top-name guests, he has insisted he is not mean-spirited and his wisecracks often slip out spontaneously and without malice aforethought, but many stars have taken great offense and have refused to appear on the program. Others, however, appreciate that he can equally be self-deprecating, and take his barbs in stride." Indeed, some celebrities have noted that their secret to a successful appearance on Letterman's program has been to join in the spirit of the show, as actress Cybill Shepherd demonstrated by once wearing a towel on stage rather than the dress she had sent to the studios—because Letterman had been displaying it all week on the show to promote her visit. Barry Sand, former producer of Late Night, once told People that the best guests are people who "understand the show and come ready to play."
"Despite his stormy relationship with certain celebrities," wrote the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture essayist, "Letterman's iconoclastic style was a hit with viewers appreciative of his ironic take on the television genre and the commercialism of contemporary society." Letterman has frequently mocked television and its commercialism with jokes like presenting individually wrapped corn flakes as a great new consumer product or creating a list of the top ten soups that the Campbell's company opted against—"Cream of Gristle" and "Sideburns and Barley" were among these top contenders. These media and advertising parodies tap into the experiences of the generations of people that grew up watching television. Letterman's humor is so popular that his style and jokes have surfaced in a number of places in the media. Frequently his top ten-lists have appeared in newspapers and magazines; some of the lists have been compiled in best-selling books such as The Late Night with David Letterman Book of Top Ten Lists and David Letterman's New Book of Top Ten Lists and Wedding Dress Patterns for the Husky Bride.
Contract Dispute Forces Move to CBS
Much to his dismay, Letterman's goal of taking over Carson's Tonight Show was quashed when it was announced in 1992 that the position would go to comedian Leno. Soon, rival network CBS enticed Letterman with a generous salary. After some insider dealings, NBC finally offered Letterman the coveted position, but with a number of stipulations and with a less-attractive pay package than CBS had offered. Letterman ended up leaving NBC in 1993 and starting up the Late Show with David Letterman as a head-to-head competitor against Leno and the Tonight Show in the 11:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time slot. In spite of legal haggling with NBC over "intellectual property," the program carried over its same goofy personality and most of the old stalwart gags, such as the Top-Ten list and the pet tricks. Some of Letterman's most memorable events have occurred on the Late Show, including an infamous 1994 visit from a foul-mouthed Madonna, a 1995 striptease featuring Drew Barrymore, and a 1997 chat with a confused, disoriented Farrah Fawcett.
Letterman's move to CBS held other lesser-known but immensely profitable benefits. According to Forbes contributor Peter Kafka, "Included in his CBS contract were three points that seemed at first like an afterthought: Letterman, rather than the network, would own Late Show airing in the 11:30 p.m. slot; he also would have the opportunity to control and own a show in the time period that followed it; and he would have a development deal funded by CBS." Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants, has gone on to make its mark on the television landscape. "Using his leverage as a talk show icon, Letterman helps his pals and employees generate program ideas, gets third parties to pay for their
production, and sometimes gets them on the air," Kafka explained. Among the successes are the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, a talk show airing on CBS immediately after Letterman's; Everybody Loves Raymond, a hit sitcom on CBS; and Ed, a quirky comedy/drama on NBC.
On January 14, 2000, Letterman underwent cardiac testing to check for heart problems such as heart disease or clogged arteries. Such problems occur in Letterman's family, and his father died of a heart attack when in his fifties. Unfortunately, the results were not good; Letterman underwent an emergency quintuple bypass operation that same day. He returned to work on February 18, 2000, greeted by guests Jerry Seinfeld, Regis Philbin, and Robin Williams, who brought a cooler marked "Human Organs." The show aired three days later, and Letterman delivered a "herculean comic performance," remarked a contributor in People. According to Entertainment Weekly critic Brian M. Raftery, "after weeks of national nail-biting, the fifty-three-year-old host and his show experienced a blast of new life."
Perhaps Letterman's most important moment came in September of 2001. In the days following the unprecedented series of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., Letterman was credited by the media for helping to return the late-night venue back to a semblance of normalcy in the wake of the tragedy. On September 17, he went on the air and spoke without a script, altogether unsure of what might be appropriate to say to an audience suffering from the aftermath of the terrorist events. The result was a painfully subdued broadcast in which Letterman welcomed news anchor Dan Rather as a guest. The two wept openly over the attacks that had left thousands dead. "What we all saw was a Letterman shaken and stirred: rattled to his bones about the assault on the city his show inhabits, and moved to anger, grief, and bafflement," remarked a contributor in Entertainment Weekly. "After Sept. 17, the other talk shows returned in quick succession," the writer added, "but it was Letterman who'd set the pace, who'd shaped the form entertainment would take in late night."
Letterman has gained a reputation as a notoriously private individual, so it came as a surprise to many when, on September 12, 2003, he offered a glimpse into his personal life, telling a studio audience, "I have an announcement to make. I'm terribly excited about this. I'm scared silly about this. I'm going to be a father." Letterman and his girlfriend, Regina Lasko, announced the birth of their son, Harry Joseph Letterman, on November 5, 2003. "I can't do this forever, and it'd be nice to have the kid take over the family business," Letterman was quoted as saying in People.
In his third decade on late-night television, his Late Show with David Letterman continues to draw strong ratings. Letterman remains a force in the television industry, observed Entertainment Weekly contributor Lynette Rice. "In his . . . years on late-night TV," Rice observed, "he's weathered a network switch, open-heart surgery, [and] highly publicized contract negotiations." A reporter in Entertainment Weekly asserted that, "at this point, Letterman has conquered the showbiz version of what the lit crit Harold Bloom calls 'the anxiety of influence'—the pressure an artist or entertainer feels to emulate and then
transcend the style and achievements of his idol (in this case, King Carson). These days, Letterman is his own man, with his own legacy."
If you enjoy the works of David Letterman
If you enjoy the works of David Letterman, you may also want to check out the following television shows:
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central.
The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn, CBS.
Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Adler, Bill, The Letterman Wit: His Life and Humor, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1994.
Breckman, Andy, and others, Late Night with David Letterman: The Book, edited by Merrill Markoe, Villard Books (New York, NY), 1985.
Cader, Michael, and Fabrienne Marsh, Dave's World: The Unofficial Guide to the Late Show with David Letterman, photographs by Meg Hadler, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Carter, Bill, The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno, and the Network Battle for the Night, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1994.
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 48, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.
Keeney, Bradford, The Lunatic Guide to the David Letterman Show: 100 Wacky Ways to Go All the Way with Dave, cartoons by Mike Thompson, drawings by Charles Stein, Station Hill Press (Barrytown, NY), 1994.
Latham, Caroline, The David Letterman Story, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1987.
Lefkowitz, Frances, David Letterman, Chelsea House Publishers (New York, NY), 1997.
Lennon, Rosemary, David Letterman: On Stage and Off, Pinnacle Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Lewis, Jeff, The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi: David Letterman: The College Years, Guild Press of Indiana, 1997.
Markoe, Merrill, editor, Late Night with David Letterman: The Book, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
American Film, June, 1987.
Chicago Tribune Magazine, January 6, 1980.
Daily News (New York, NY), January 31, 1988.
Detroit Free Press, September 3, 1992, p. G5.
Economist, March 16, 2002,"Worth Every Penny."
Entertainment Weekly, December 31, 1993, Liza Schwarzbaum, "David Letterman," pp. 20-21; April 7, 1995, Ken Tucker, "Oscar '95: The Show," pp. 24-26; August 11, 1995, Bruce Fetts, review of Late Show with David Letterman, pp. 42-43, and Ken Tucker, review of Late Show with David Letterman, p. 43; December 1, 1995, Ken Tucker, "Waiting to Exhale," pp. 24-29; June 21, 1996, p. 52; July 25, 1997, Ken Tucker, "Night Moves," pp. 56-57; November 28, 1997, Ken Tucker, "Late Show with David Letterman," pp. 61-62; February 5, 1999, p. 84; November 1, 1999, Dan Snierson, "David Letterman: Staying up Late to Satisfy America's Irony Deficiency," p. 124; April 7, 2000, "Mad Dog Dave," p. 9; December 22, 2000, Brian M. Raftery, "His Heart Will Go On," p. 54; November 2, 2001, "The Importance of Being Dave," pp. 24-28; March 15, 2002, Brian M. Raftery, "A Dave New World," p. 6; April 18, 2003, Lynette Rice, "Rash Acts?," p. 6.
Esquire, December, 1981; November 11, 1986, pp. 144, 146, 148, 150-151; September, 1991, pp. 141-146; May, 2000, Bill Zehme, "Dave Heart," p. 106.
Forbes, July 8, 2002, Peter Kafka, "The Producer," p. 136.
Newsweek, July 7, 1980, p. 62; February 3, 1986, pp. 46-53; January 4, 2000, Alisha Davis, "Take Heart, Big Guy," p. 68; March 11, 2002, David Frank and Mark Hosenball, "Stupid Network Tricks," p. 59.
New York, May 30, 1983, pp. 69-70; January 19, 1987, pp. 36-45.
New York Times, September 17, 1980; July 27, 1986.
People, February 4, 1980, pp. 45-46; June 4, 1984, p. 11; July 14, 1986, pp. 88-92; December 22, 1986, p. 79; March 21, 1988; June 13, 1988; summer, 1989, p. 74; August 27, 1990, pp. 51-54; December 27, 1993; February 26, 1996, Dan Jewel, Lois Armstrong, and Tom Duffy, "Night Moves," pp. 98-100; January 31, 2000, "In a Heartbeat," p. 66; March 6, 2000, "All Pumped Up," p. 70; October 8, 2001, "It's No Laughing Matter," p. 23; December 31, 2001; February 11, 2002, "Dave of Our Lives," pp. 56-58; September 29, 2003, "It's Daddy Dave!" p. 25.
Rolling Stone, June 20, 1985, pp. 25-30, 82, 84; November 3, 1988; February 18, 1993, p. 34.
Television Week, June 23, 2003, Tom Shales, "Dave's No Angel, but He's Earned His Wings," p. 39.
Time, March 22, 1982, p. 69; February 26, 1986, p. 62; February 6, 1989, Richard Zoglin, "He's No Johnny Carson," pp. 66-68; February 26, 1996, Richard Zoglin, "Stupid Network Tricks," pp. 62-63; November 17, 1997, p. 97; March 18, 2002, Josh Tyrangiel, "News They Can't Use," p. 72; September 22, 2003, Rebecca Winters, "People," p. 83.
TV Guide, March 27, 1982, p. 46; August 1, 1992, pp. 8-11.
U.S. News & World Report, June 23, 1986.
Vanity Fair, February, 1989; June, 2002, pp. 192-195, 229-232.
Variety, May 1, 2000, Paula Bernstein, "Debunking Latenight Myths," p. 19; March 25, 2002, Michael Schneider, "Bedtime Be Damned," pp. A18-A19.
Washington Post Magazine, April 21, 1980.
David Letterman Official Web site,http://www.cbs.com/latenight/lateshow/ (October 1, 2004).*