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The Charlie Rose Show
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|February 16th 1996|
|Charlie Rose Interviewing David Letterman
ROSE: David Letterman is here. He is a broadcaster's broadcaster, and I am very pleased to have him for this hour. Welcome.
LETTERMAN: Thank you very much, Charlie. Pleasure to be here.
ROSE: Tell me about what you seem to know a little bit about, this love of broadcasting.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, yeah.
ROSE: Where is that from?
LETTERMAN: I guess when I was a kid, because when I was a kid, broadcasting -- television, at least -- I guess strictly speaking broadcasting is radio -- but television as a kid also, it was a big day in our house when the delivery boys, about an
eight-man crew, unloaded something roughly the size of this room, and it turned out to be, I think, an Admiral TV.
ROSE: Black and white.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, and we plugged it in and turned it on, and of course in those days, you turn it on and you wait two or
three days, and then the picture comes up. You could see -- at night when you went to bed you could sense the glow
developing, and then, you know, you'd get the TV on Monday, by Thursday it was ready to watch. And I can remember -- and
I don't know why I was home from school, because I should have been in school -- but I can remember seeing these shows coming out of New York, Arthur Godfrey, and then I think for a long time he was simulcasting his radio show with his
television show, and there was something very fascinating about that, because Arthur Godfrey used to sit there with these
giant old headphones and had a giant Dx77 or 44 RCA microphone, and there was something just captivating about having a strange man in your house, although, you know, with mom we had plenty of strange men in our house. Well, that's not true. Strike that from the record.
ROSE: Now, now.
LETTERMAN: But, you know, there was this guy, and here I was, I don't know, seven or eight years old, and for some
reason, Arthur Godfrey was talking to me, and for the life of me, I don't know what Arthur Godfrey and I then or even now
or ever would have had in common, but there was a guy talking to you. And then after that show, I think we went into a
show, like the Garry Moore show, and it was just a different version of Arthur Godfrey. Garry Moore was really great. I am
not certain how he was regarded in his day, but my feeling is he was underrated, because I think he had a very, very long
successful career in broadcasting. I think from what people tell me -- our old director, Hal Gurnee, actually worked with Garry Moore, said he was a decent guy, a nice, nice decent guy, and he was also very good, but it was just that sense of somebody's talking to me, and there is something fascinating and captivating about it, and that for me was, I don't know, I can't overromanticize this and say that, boom, that was the moment, but it had an impact on me and I think everybody else who was new to television and vice versa.
ROSE: How about people like Kovacs?
LETTERMAN: I didn't know much about him, actually. I saw him a little bit here and there, but honestly didn't know much
about his -- I know he had several shows, and I know he was regarded as being very inventive, and there was a time, I guess,
when we were doing a morning show at NBC that people made some comparisons between what we were doing and what he was doing, and I can only say that I was flattered by that, but it was purely accidental.
ROSE: And there was even a story that you and your staff went over to the Museum of Broadcasting --
ROSE: -- and watched all the old Kovacs shows just to get a feeling for what it was that he was about.
LETTERMAN: No. We went over there because, I think, they had a free buffet one day.
ROSE: Why not?
LETTERMAN: Yeah. We actually went over there and looked at some old Steve Allen shows, because when I was a little bit older, like 12 or 13, on Friday night my family would let me stay up. Well, let me, you know, what the hell did they care? So
I would stay up and I would watch the Steve Allen show that I remembered later in my life as being just wild and
uncontrollable and unpredictable and silly and goofy. So those are the shows that we actually went over to dig up out of the museum, and we looked at those, and I think also along the way, because our announcer in those days, Bill Wendell, had been
the announcer on the Ernie Kovacs show, so we looked at some of those as well, but the ones we were really looking for
were the Steve Allen Westinghouse shows.
ROSE: How about Paar?
LETTERMAN: Well, Paar was an influence in my life early on, and I can remember occasionally getting to stay up and watch
him, and for me, you know, Jack Paar was like, for a kid in Indianapolis, that was like the New Yorker magazine.
ROSE: Yeah, me too.
LETTERMAN: Everything was very sophisticated, very witty, crackling.
ROSE: Everybody stopped by to say "Hi."
LETTERMAN: That's right, dropping in. The air was electric with fascinating conversation, and then later again through Hal,
our director, I was lucky enough to meet Jack Paar, and it was amazing. When I met Jack, I think he was in his 70's, and I
was invited to his house a couple of times, and it was like Jack was still doing the show. I mean, I don't mean to suggest that
he was nuts and had the set and everything in the living room.
LETTERMAN: You know, it wasn't like that, but he was bright and alive and full of curiosity, and it was like he had not
missed a beat from the time he was -- he really was the king of late night. This guy, back then, that's when you would get
like a 50, 60 share night in and night out, and the country hung on this man's every word.
ROSE: He left it all. Can you imagine walking away from it?
LETTERMAN: Well, you know, it's nice to think that you could. He left it. He left it all. He walked away. He did it for five
years, which that's not even spit in a bucket now, and then he did some prime time things, and then he walked away
completely, but he came back, he came back later and --
ROSE: Yeah, and it didn't work as well.
LETTERMAN: -- and it did not work as well, and it's a lesson that one should learn, because nobody did it as well as he did,
and then to have his return to television -- it was ignominy. He was badly handled, badly treated, and I think he recognized that
it was a mistake, but imagining walking away from it, I would love to say, "Oh, yeah, I'm the kind of guy, I'm full of native curiosity and joie de vivre."
ROSE: "I want to go to Africa."
LETTERMAN: Yeah, exactly.
ROSE: "I want to make a tour of the world."
LETTERMAN: But I don't know, you know.
ROSE: "There are books I want to write, paintings I want to paint."
LETTERMAN: I don't know. It would be a challenge, but maybe a challenge worth meeting. I don't know.
ROSE: I don't know, because I think of what you do, which is different than what I do, but we are all broadcasters. I can't imagine wanting to do anything that would be as much of a turn-on as this, you know, can you?
LETTERMAN: No. When it works, it's great fun and this is the only thing -- I was talking to somebody earlier, and they said,
"Do you want to be in a situation comedy? Do you want to be in a movie?" And good Lord no, no, and when this thing
explodes -- and I hope when it does, it doesn't hurt too many people -- I'm done. I would like to stay in television in some way,
but I don't want to then, you know, "It's Dave. He's the goofy dentist. Too much laughing gas. Look out. Thursdays at 9:00
on CBS." That ain't gonna happen, you know.
ROSE: It makes Carson all that more remarkable that he could do it that long and that good.
LETTERMAN: Well, you know, I tell 'ya, it makes me sick. Occasionally -- I was flying somewhere, and they had some kind
of thing where they were showing clips from the old Tonight Show, and it just makes you sick, it just makes you sick,
because I know what it takes for me to get through a 60-minute effort each night, and then you look at Carson, and it's so
easy, it's so smooth, it's so measured. He's not breaking a sweat. He's not running around screaming. They don't have
fireworks. They don't have monkeys jumping up and down on lithium. It's just Johnny, and he's so comfortable and so -- and here was a guy that understood his limitations and stayed within them and exploited that part of his personality to perfection,
and I think that was the appeal of the man. Night in and night out, it was always gonna be Johnny. Johnny, you could tell if Johnny would raise an eyebrow, oh, Johnny's upset. Johnny laughs, oh, Johnny's happy, but it was never much more than
that, and he was very, very good at that.
ROSE: What was the genius though? What made him -- he could do that night in and night out?
LETTERMAN: I think it was that part of his personality where he never overplayed, he never tried to get out of what he was good at, and he was so comfortable you never got tired of watching it, and, you know, you could watch him on Tuesday.
He'd be the same on Friday. It was just like, oh, here's Johnny, literally, Here's Johnny, and there was something very
comforting about that, and I think a cultural phenomenon. I can't imagine another single personality attaining that status now.
ROSE: Is that why you so badly wanted to assume that mantle?
LETTERMAN: It was a pretty good job, it was a pretty good job, and when I was a kid, I remember watching the Tonight
Show, and I'm thinking to myself, well, hell, I could do that. Now, it's interesting that I would have that impression, because
I think that that's a testament to how easy he made it look where a goofball kid like me would think, hell, I could do that, and
for me it's not as easy as it was for Johnny, but, you know, I did want it. I mean, it was a great job, and at the time there
were not many other jobs open. There were no other jobs open. So when I left my 12:30 show, there was nowhere else to go.
So if I wanted to stay in broadcasting, which I did, doing the kind of thing I wanted, it had to be the Tonight Show.
ROSE: Let me just go back to leaving Indianapolis, though, and going to LA Were you set on being a talk show host or were
you just going out there to get into television and to do comedy?
LETTERMAN: Well, when I left Indianapolis, I had worked at a television station. I actually started working in TV like in
1969 when I was 19 or 20, and I had worked at the station for five years, worked at a radio station, and I knew something
else was going on. I had the sense that there's something else out there, and I didn't think I was going to be satisfied or
fulfilled doing a 4-H half-hour kid show once a week, and I would see these guys come on the Tonight Show, these
comedians, and I would think, oh, man, I just wonder if maybe I could do that a little bit. So I told my family I was going out
to be a writer, you know, because the idea of me actually being in show business, that would have horrified and sickened everyone, and now, come to think of it, the fact of me being in show business actually horrifies and sickens millions.
ROSE: Yeah, but then you brought your mother into show business.
LETTERMAN: Oh, Lord. So I said, no, I'm going to go out to be a writer, because I really felt like that's my calling. I'm a
goofy looking guy. Nobody is really gonna want me on the screen, but I knew in the back of my mind what I would try is to
get into comedy, do stand-up comedy, and in those days you knew how to do that, and that was to go right to the Comedy
Store and start doing it. Before that I wouldn't have known how to get into comedy.
ROSE: Did it come natural for you?
LETTERMAN: More or less, yeah. Like anything else, there are some -- you have an affinity for something, but there are still many, many things to learn. I can remember the first night I was on stage at the Comedy Store, and my first reaction was this bright white light, and I thought it was one of those near death tales, and I thought, "Oh, there's the white light. I guess I'm coming home, Uncle Eddie." And I can just remember, you can kind of just -- there's something visceral. You can sort of
smell the people out there 'cause they're all just loaded up on watered-down drinks, and all of a sudden it was an out-of-body experience, because I just could see myself standing there saying words that I had memorized to the silence, but still smelling
the people, and it was an exhilarating experience, but also a complete failure.
ROSE: And then when you got the laughs --
LETTERMAN: Well, that night I got no laughs, got no laughs, but I was happy that I had done it, I was happy that, OK, I've
tried it, and now maybe I'll try it again, and like anything else you just make a little progress here and you slip back a little and
you continue to make progress. And I knew pretty soon that I was not cut out to be a stand-up comedian, the kind of guy that will take 250 gigs a year, he's on the road all the time, he goes to Las Vegas, then he goes to Jupiter, then he goes to Neptune, then he goes to Buffalo and just -- there are guys like that, and God bless 'em, because these are the guys that can do it. They have an iron constitution.
ROSE: Jerry Seinfeld was like that.
LETTERMAN: Jerry Seinfeld, absolutely, and many, many -- I think there are fewer younger guys doing it now. At one time
I think it was more the domain of an earlier generation. I knew I didn't have that, so I felt like I'm just gonna use this to kind
of get into television.
ROSE: And then you did Johnny.
LETTERMAN: I did the Johnny Carson show a couple of times, yeah.
ROSE: And he instantly liked you.
LETTERMAN: Well, it went pretty well, but it was no real surprise, because I had about four or five years and I had 20
minutes of material, 20 minutes of material, and I had it divided up roughly into four Tonight Show shots, and you've
memorized it, every comma, every semicolon.
ROSE: Every inflection.
LETTERMAN: Every pause, everything, so it's rote. So I knew the first one would go pretty well, and it did go pretty well,
and to me that was and I think still is the biggest thrill I've had since I've been doing television.
ROSE: That night.
LETTERMAN: That night, yeah.
ROSE: What did he say to you when you sat down?
LETTERMAN: I have no idea. I have no idea. I can remember at the time I was sitting there -- and this happened -- I left Indianapolis in '75, and I think like '78, three years later, I'm sitting next to Johnny Carson. It wasn't Rich Little. Johnny was there that night. It wasn't Hugh Downs filling in for Johnny. It was Johnny. And I can remember -- and this is a -- forgive me
if this is clumsily articulated, but my reaction to it was like all your life you see a five-dollar bill, all your life you see
a five-dollar bill, and then suddenly you see Lincoln. It's like, "Oh, my God, it's Honest Abe, the guy on the five-dollar bill."
And that was the reaction, and I was just completely wired for days and days and days after that, and still and all, that was, I think, for me the single most important, but also the single most thrilling experience in my life.
ROSE: And how long was it before they asked you to come in and guest host?
LETTERMAN: This was, I think, November of '78 and I think in March or April of '79 I did my first guest host there.
ROSE: And you put together the morning show.
LETTERMAN: I put together the morning show, which was pitifully misguided.
ROSE: Yeah, but the essence of what you do now was there, wasn't it?
LETTERMAN: Same thing, yeah, but I think in many ways -- the show was to go live, I think, from 9:00 to 10:30, I think
that's what it was, or 10:00 to 11:30. I don't remember. It was a live 90-minute show. Well, that's just suicide, and it's in the morning, and we just wanted to do -- we thought this might be our only opportunity at television, so, boom, we just wanted
to do everything. So we just did everything silly and stupid, and the first six weeks we didn't have a producer, and then we
didn't have a director, and the host they had was me, so you're in the hole there, and it was just chaos. It was like a really
bad television workshop at a community college. It was like, what do you want to do today, kids?
ROSE: Yeah, but did somebody come and say, "This is great, it's just on at the wrong time, and so we'll give you a lot of
money just to go away and take care of yourself for a year until you figure out what to do"?
LETTERMAN: Well, I think somebody looked at it and, giving us the benefit of the doubt, said yes, it was on at the wrong
time, and it very well could prove to be that there is no proper time for me on television, but it was a giddy experience and
also horrible, but we knew early on we were done. We just knew.
ROSE: That's not gonna work.
LETTERMAN: Six weeks into it we knew we were gone, and then we ended up being on 18 weeks, so once we knew we
were gone, we were done, we just said, you know, it was bunker mentality. We don't care. We just, you know, we just
couldn't care less, and it was so much fun.
ROSE: And when you went to do, finally, after that year -- was it that year off when they paid you --
ROSE: -- a bunch of money and said, "Just come back later" --
LETTERMAN: Yeah, right.
ROSE: -- "and start at 12:30"?
ROSE: What was the idea behind The Late Show? What was it that -- I mean, because what you saw at Late Night was you
saw an attitude, you saw an irreverence, you saw a sense of having fun, you saw something that was not on television at the
LETTERMAN: Right, and I think it was dictated by, one, we knew we wanted to continue the essence of what we tried in
the morning, and then also there were some logical constraints and definitions caused by the fact that we were coming after
The Tonight Show, and what I really wanted to do was The Tonight Show even then. That's what I was comfortable with.
I had hosted that show. I had watched that show. That's really what I wanted to do, but it doesn't make any sense, and
Johnny wanted to make sure, "Now, you're not just gonna be doing my show." So for those two modifying factors, we tried
to make it --
ROSE: Johnny said, "You do a different show. You can't do my show, because we've got one of mine, and that's enough."
LETTERMAN: Yeah, yeah, exactly, and I'm not pretending that ours would have been the same quality of his had it been --
ROSE: Now, he owned it? Did he own it?
LETTERMAN: He did not own it, no. NBC owned it. He had some protection money. Johnny had a little taste. "You want to
open a candy store? We'll help out here with a little something."
ROSE: Kind of a little gatekeeper there. If you want to do that, you've got to pass Johnny.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, I don't think it was -- I don't think it made him a wealthy man, of course. He was -- how long is a
piece of string? But there was a little activity there, and I was always very deferential, because I didn't -- I felt like -- I knew
they had to go to Johnny to say, "Is it okay if we put this kid in there?" And he said, "yes." He could have said "no," and who knows where I'd be now? I still have a feeling I'd be talking to you somehow on a Friday night. Oh, God.
ROSE: One way or the other you would have gotten here.
LETTERMAN: Yes, sir. These tag sales are great.
ROSE: Yeah, I like them.
LETTERMAN: What'd you spend on this one?
ROSE: But that show, and then you went through this whole process, and now this book Late Shift and this movie on HBO,
and you've talked about that enough. When you were thinking about going to 11:30 and all of that, do you have any regrets
now that you went to CBS rather than NBC?
LETTERMAN: No, no. I'll tell you, looking back on it and trying to remember the events and the feelings and the
circumstances of the day, I knew Johnny was leaving. We all knew Johnny was leaving, if not when exactly, generally we
knew that it was unlikely that Johnny would be there celebrating his hundredth birthday, although he probably could have.
So I did what I felt comfortable doing by way of making it known that I would like to be considered for that show, just to be considered. I never went to anybody and said, "Give me the damn show." I was approached in those days by Johnny's
attorney, Henry Bushkin, and Henry had some plan, and also the strangest-looking hairpiece I had ever laid eyes on.
ROSE: I think they parted company, didn't they?
LETTERMAN: Henry and his hairpiece? I would hope.
ROSE: No. Henry and Johnny.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, they did. They had some kind of plan that smelled to me like a palace coup, and I just -- I can remember going to breakfast with these guys and thinking, "You know, boys, ah, you know, ah, I'll stay on the bus while you hop the fence." It just didn't make any sense to me, but I just, you know, they were going to place me in Johnny's chair, and I can remember saying to them, "You've had this chat with Johnny, right?" "Well, not yet," and that's when I just thought, well, no,
you know, that's okay, I'll get my merit badge some other way.
ROSE: Could you pick up the phone and call Johnny and say --
LETTERMAN: I called, I think, after this meeting I called Peter Lassally, and I said, "I've just had this very peculiar meeting,
and I'm not altogether comfortable with it," and I was not altogether comfortable with the notion -- Johnny Carson gave me a career. I was not altogether comfortable -- not altogether -- completely not comfortable with the notion of "Oh, by the way, Johnny, you know, when you're ready to fly, OK, I'll just -- you don't mind if I have the boys come in and measure your
office?" I just couldn't do that. I'm not that kind of person, and he had been so generous and genuine to me. So this
was where I found myself in all of the strategy and the posturing and the jockeying for that position.
ROSE: If Ovitz had come into your life earlier, say, a few years before Johnny decided to hang it up, do you think
you would have ended up at NBC?
LETTERMAN: Yes, and I know that for a fact because Michael told me so.
ROSE: Did he?
LETTERMAN: Yeah. Whenever we would have these meetings, he'd say, "Look, if I had been handling this, you'd be there
ROSE: "You'd be Mr. NBC."
LETTERMAN: "All right, okay, Michael," and I believe he's probably right, because in those days I was concerned with two things, doing our show and not upsetting Johnny. I just felt like, I'm here, they know I'm here, and I've told them I would like
to be considered for the job. Beyond that I wasn't going to do anything, because I just didn't want -- I was so uncomfortable
with the notion that I would be the one that was trying to leverage Johnny out of that chair.
ROSE: And so in awe of him.
LETTERMAN: Absolutely, absolutely.
ROSE: But Ovitz could have made the deal for you, because he would have introduced you to some sense of a way to make
LETTERMAN: Yes, yes, I believe so, absolutely. On the other hand, it never occurred to me that I needed Michael Ovitz in
my life, because I just thought, as with any other job I've been lucky enough to get in my life, if you're good enough, they'll
give you the job, and they can make that choice.
ROSE: There was an implicit sense when you were doing the 12:30 show, "I'm doing well. It's attracting a lot of attention."
The implicit bargain here is when Johnny steps down, you move up.
LETTERMAN: Yes. It was also discussed contractually, and Brandon Tartikoff and I had kind of a casual discussion toward
that end, so it was in the air, we knew of it, NBC knew of it, I certainly knew of it, but I just always felt like it will come
down to, "Okay, we want you for the job," or, "No, we don't want you for the job." The notion that you could politic for that
job, especially a job of that consequence, was radical to me.
ROSE: When you made the decision to go to CBS, what went through your mind in terms of what you would have to do at
11:30 that would be different than what you were doing at 12:30?
LETTERMAN: Well, at the time that was a big, big issue, and I don't know why, but people view 12:30 and 11:30 as being
two completely different almost polarized spots on the clock, and they're not, really. The people that are watching at 12:30
are people that have been up at 11:30 and continue to watch. The people that watch at 11:30, it's not that different, it's the
same deal, but we imposed on ourselves kind of a strict scrutiny, and we decided, okay, it's got to look like more money it's
got to -- I remember talking to Hal Gurnee, "Make the opening, make New York city look like a post card. Make everybody salivate when they see New York city," and, as you know, many of the citizens here, that's all they do is salivate. "Make it
look like Las Vegas. Make people want to get on the first damn bus and come to New York," and I think that was the first kind
of thing we discussed, and then the rest of it was minor, you know, like we added some guys to the band, we looked at the wardrobe, we had a bigger theater, and beyond that it wasn't much different.
ROSE: What makes a good show?
LETTERMAN: For me, my personal criteria, as we were discussing earlier -- we have an audience of about 500 people. They come from wherever they come from. They write in for tickets six months, three months, a year in advance. They get plane tickets. They get baby-sitters. They get rental cars. They go to hotels. They have to park their car. They have to walk. They
have to wait in line. So we get these people in there, and at the end of the evening, if I get the sense that these people are
disappointed, I realize I've failed, and what makes a good show for me is any single element or any combination of elements
by design or accident that pleases these people and makes them satisfied with the difficulties they have had to endure to get
there. I feel like, great, that's it, stop the clock, no more calls, this show will be fine, because I think that that sense of
enjoyment, you know, breaks through the glass.
ROSE: But do you think you are the best judge of that?
LETTERMAN: Yes, Yes.
ROSE: Do you really? Because I know people have said to me they come to you and say, "Great show," and you turn to them
LETTERMAN: Well, they're suck-up weasels. You've got a lobby full of them here yourself, Charlie, for heaven's sakes.
ROSE: Everybody needs them.
LETTERMAN: Yes, of course.
ROSE: But you are convinced you know what's a good show?
LETTERMAN: Yes, yes, I do know, because I'm sitting right there. I feel it.
ROSE: And how many times a week do you have a good show on the average?
LETTERMAN: Not as many as we would like. I think --
ROSE: Three out of five?
LETTERMAN: Three out of five would be great. Man, I'm telling you, I'd sell my soul for three out of five, and sometimes
we get there. Sometimes we get five out of five. Some weeks you get a good show one out of five and you think, well, OK.
ROSE: How different is the show that you're doing and the show that Carson did for all those years?
LETTERMAN: Well, we're doing circus time, you know, we've got people swinging on things, we're setting fire to stuff,
we've got folks running around naked, and Johnny would come out and do his monologue, the favorite part of everyone's
evening, and then maybe he'd do Aunt Blabby, and that would be it, and maybe he'd do Aunt Blabby once a month, maybe
he'd do Carnac, maybe he'd do Stump-The-Band, and that was it, and then he'd sit down and Florence Henderson would
come out and Johnny would say silly things to Florence Henderson. So, I mean, I don't mean to suggest that he was loafing.
He was doing a lot of work, but it was not this barrage of stuff where, "Okay, let's see what Party Boy is doing tonight.
Come on. Let's go. Do something. Light something up. Scare somebody."
ROSE: But my point is, do you think you've got to do that because that's where the audience is in 1996 or do you think it is simply a reflection of your sense of humor, of your comedy?
LETTERMAN: I wish I could say it was a reflection of my sense of humor and my comedy. Mostly at the core, I think it is. I don't know whether we have to do that to attract and keep an audience. I just don't know.
ROSE: Then why do you do it?
LETTERMAN: Because of the competitive nature of the current marketplace of television, which now seems like infinite.
You feel -- you feel that that's required, and Lord knows, I don't know if it is required, but that's the feeling. That's the sense.
It's gotta be lively, it's gotta be --
ROSE: Is that you or the feeling of your staff?
LETTERMAN: Everybody, and I think we have contributed to this, sadly. I think we have bit on our own bait here, because when we first came on the air, I mean, every night we had hot air balloons going up in the audience. We had people jumping
out of blimps. It was just nuts, but we thought, you know, this is our one chance. We've got to load it up and go here. And I think that then The Tonight Show, from that experience, I think they also decided, well, look what these guys are doing.
ROSE: We've got to do that plus.
ROSE: It reminds me a little bit of like what happened in daytime television, though.
ROSE: I mean, Donahue started doing it.
LETTERMAN: Right, right, right.
ROSE: And then everybody took it a little further --
LETTERMAN: That's right.
ROSE: -- Until it collapsed --
LETTERMAN: I think it's the same dynamic.
ROSE: -- of its own weight.
LETTERMAN: And I wish I could tell you I was confident that that's the right way to do it, and I don't know. I watch, every Friday night I get a chance to watch Tom Snyder, who is on just after us, and when I see Tom, and when I see shows like
this and some other shows, I am reminded, you know, that maybe what you really need here, maybe all you really need is
legitimate communication between two people chatting and people watching, and I don't know, it's --
ROSE: But you don't trust that for --
LETTERMAN: No, no, no, I don't, I don't, because I've read too many things about our show, you know, it's dull, it's old, it's tired, and you think, well, yeah, that's me. I'm here, yes, present. I'll dull, I'm old, I'm tired. Tonight at 11:30.
ROSE: But what do all of those writers do? You've got what, 15 writers?
LETTERMAN: I guess. I don't know. Good heavens.
ROSE: Do you know them? What is it they do?
LETTERMAN: I've met most of them. At the Christmas party a lot of them come up and introduce themselves.
ROSE: "Hi, Dave."
LETTERMAN: "Oh, yeah, I've seen you stealing supplies. Nice to have you here."
ROSE: What is it they do? Do they write the skits? Do they write the monologue? Do they write --
LETTERMAN: Well, Yes, Yes.
ROSE: All of the above?
LETTERMAN: In answer to your question, yes.
ROSE: What do you do?
LETTERMAN: I do -- I actually do very little. I actually do very little.
ROSE: Is that true?
LETTERMAN: And it's just as well.
ROSE: No, come on. You come in there -- this show is your life.
LETTERMAN: Yes, it is.
ROSE: As this is for me.
ROSE: I mean, there's nothing you'd rather do.
LETTERMAN: That's right.
ROSE: And you are driven, obsessed to make it as good as you think it can be.
LETTERMAN: That's right, that's right, and my influence on this production is, as it has been for a long, long time now,
the ultimate yes or no, and when you have really good people you're gonna get more yeses than noes. So that's my only
contribution to this is, you know, hopefully saying yes more often than I say no.
ROSE: What do you enjoy the most about it? Is it the monologue? Is it the skit? Is it the interview?
LETTERMAN: For me, if something goes crazy, one of two things can happen. If something breaks down, if something is
not planned, if something untoward occurs, it can go one of two ways. It can go up or it can go down, and when something
happens, something tiny, something from the audience, something from Paul, something from a guest, something -- just a
speck on somebody's coat, and when that turns into something huge, and then it will, that little tiny thing, dominate the rest of
the show, for me that's the best. That's like cold fusion. It's like, you know, "Come in here." What's the guy, Alexander Bell?
"Come in here," you know, it's that kind of thing. What's the guy's name?
ROSE: Fermi, I don't know, the guy who discovered --
LETTERMAN: Yeah, Fermi, the guy who invented the atomic telephone.
ROSE: No, no, Einstein, Albert Einstein.
LETTERMAN: No, no. Alexander Graham Bell, "Watson, come in here."
LETTERMAN: You feel like, "Look what we've created."
ROSE: The monologue, is it important to you?
LETTERMAN: It's not so -- it's not important to me.
ROSE: Like it is to Jay, say?
LETTERMAN: I think certainly it's significant because it's the beginning of the show, and you want to do the best you can
right at the beginning of the show. When we did the 12:30 show, Johnny said, you know, "Don't do a monologue," so we
never had to worry about it.
ROSE: Why did he say that?
LETTERMAN: He just, again, he didn't want the shows to be similar.
LETTERMAN: And I've always -- I'm not -- there's nothing better than a great joke, nothing better than a great joke, nothing harder to write than a great joke, so I have a great deal of respect for that skill, and I wish I could say that you could write 20 great jokes five nights a week. I don't think it can be done. So you end up writing things that you think need to be addressed.
You end up writing things that have kind of a knee-jerk reaction. I mean, for months the punch line to every joke we told was "Joey Buttafuocco." Kaboom.
ROSE: You knew.
LETTERMAN: Yeah. So it becomes a bit of a manipulation, and it's never been my favorite pursuit in comedy, but I recognize
it's valuable, and like I say, there's nothing better than a great joke.
ROSE: When you hit at CBS and everybody said, "This is as good as it's gonna be," did you enjoy it? Did you enjoy it when
you were on top, when Tom Shales was saying you were the greatest thing ever in the history of broadcasting? Did you love that?
LETTERMAN: No. I must say, it was enjoyable, but I did not -- it wasn't like a blood transfusion. It didn't bring me false
pride, no. It was like it was nice, it was nice, but for me -- and I said this when we left NBC -- the best part about this is we
just continue to do the work, and that was always the best part and still is the best part, but all of that other stuff -- you
know, I'm not a kid. I know when that inflates, you know, the same valve that inflated that can also deflate that.
ROSE: When you went from one to two, could you see it coming?
LETTERMAN: Yes, yes, clearly. It was about a year and a half ago in September, and there were things that happened to the network that concerned me. I didn't know exactly what they meant, but they concerned me, and then by the beginning of the
fall season a year and a half ago, we could pretty well see which way the wind was blowing. I did not in those days think
that it was going to be this long, certainly, and I didn't think it was going to be this deep, but we could see it coming.
ROSE: And do you believe you will be number one again?
LETTERMAN: I think if things -- well, it's difficult to say.
ROSE: Because of the prime time schedule at CBS, because of how local news does at CBS, Because of the affiliates, there's
a lot of things you have no control of.
LETTERMAN: A lot of things we don't have any control of, and I don't want to make it sound like that's all responsible for
our current situation, because, you know, we have our ups and downs as well. I would say that if we were a network again
the way CBS had been a network for, you know, dozens of years, sure, we got a shot at being number one. There are now
other obstacles that make me think if it's gonna happen, it's gonna take a little longer than we would like it to happen.
ROSE: Like what?
LETTERMAN: Some of the things you mentioned, you know. I think that losing NFL football, that to me was tough.
ROSE: CBS and NFL football go together like 60 minutes and CBS.
LETTERMAN: It's a great loss leader, you know. We had the Olympics a couple of years ago. That was great. I think we have one more Olympics coming up, and then they go over to NBC for eternity.
ROSE: Do you feel a little bit less protected because Ovitz is now at Disney? Although I assume you still talk to him every day.
LETTERMAN: I talked to him today, as a matter of fact.
ROSE: What did Michael say?
LETTERMAN: It was hard to hear because he was in one of those Goofy costumes greeting people getting off a bus.
Everything was a little muffled.
ROSE: Saying, "Come on in. This is Michael Eisner." You love Michael. you talk to him a lot?
ROSE: He still is a powerful influence in your --
LETTERMAN: He's a nice man. I have enjoyed my association. I am endlessly entertained by this guy, endlessly entertained
by this guy, you know, because this is the guy, you know, this is the guy.
ROSE: As you said last night, a couple nights ago, he's the man.
LETTERMAN: He's the man.
ROSE: He's the man. He's the dice roller. He's the boy with the cufflinks, and I just get a huge kick out of him, and he put me back in business, and everything that he told me would happen came to pass, and as long as I've been alive, as long as
anybody's been alive, how often does that happen? So I have a lot of regard for him, and I enjoy him. He comes up to the
office every now and then, and I like to make fun of him.
ROSE: And bring out the caviar.
LETTERMAN: I like to push him around a little bit.
ROSE: But he made you a believer that whatever you wanted, he could help you get.
LETTERMAN: Well, you know what it was, I had been with talent agencies. I had been with two or three talent agencies,
and you go into a talent agent, and you think, "Man, here I am. I'll be at the house. You just call me," you know. Several
years later, is the phone out of order? Hello.
ROSE: Where are they?
LETTERMAN: But Ovitz comes in, and he says, "We're gonna do this, we're gonna do this, we're gonna do this, we're gonna
do this," and the next thing you know, all of those things came to pass.
ROSE: Did you walk out of the room when you first met him and say to Peter, "The Godfather, I have met the Godfather"?
LETTERMAN: Now, I've been told that I said that, and perhaps I did say that.
ROSE: Because that's in Carter's book.
LETTERMAN: If I did say that, it was in a jocular tone, but he seemed like he knew what he was talking about, and in show business nobody knows what they're talking about.
ROSE: Goldman was right, right? Nobody out here knows anything. Wasn't it Goldman that said that? Who was it said,
"Nobody out here who knows anything talks about Hollywood, show business"?
LETTERMAN: Well, that's what I always thought about -- everybody said, "Oh, he's a genius. Michael's a genius." Well, I've spent time with the guy, and I'm here to tell you he's not a genius --
ROSE: But he knows what he's talking about.
LETTERMAN: -- but he's just this much smarter than everybody else.
ROSE: The oscars, did you want to do it again?
LETTERMAN: Only from the standpoint that I thought it would really be fun. I thought it would be -- this time we could
really hurt some people, but it was not a burning desire, and this is how dumb I am. It wasn't until like weeks later people
were saying, "How do you feel about being snubbed?" And then I thought, "Oh." I mean, if you don't know you've been
ROSE: "Nobody told me."
LETTERMAN: Yeah, so then it took on a whole different perspective. I still feel like one day I'll do it again, but this would have been a good thing to do, and I understand why they didn't do it, but, man, it would have been entertaining this year.
ROSE: Quincy made the call, I guess, did he?
LETTERMAN: I guess.
ROSE: But why couldn't -- If you had wanted it, Michael could have picked up the phone, probably, and made it happen.
LETTERMAN: Probably so, yeah, probably so.
ROSE: So did you think about that? Did you ask him to make it happen?
LETTERMAN: No, no.
ROSE: You didn't?
LETTERMAN: I'm not that kind of person. I just sit back and see which way things go, but this time, had I hosted that show,
it really would have been like a drunk trying to disarm a bomb. I'm tellin 'ya, every set in the world, "Oh, he's got the pliers.
Oh, he cut the wrong wire," and, I mean, it had a lot of great elements built in because of last year, you know, I just think everybody would have -- okay, let's see what happens this year.
ROSE: See if he makes the same mistakes.
LETTERMAN: All right.
ROSE: The idea was when you did it last year, you did your show, and you didn't do the oscars, and that was the mistake. Do you accept that or do you look back and --
LETTERMAN: I think the only mistake was probably my performance, you know, I probably was more nervous than I
thought I was going to be and probably not as confident. I was out of my element. But the second time I do stuff, I usually
get it. The first time I'm a little bit goofy, but I can't blame it on anybody else. The people that we worked with just let us do anything we wanted, and we lived or died by it, and if you hated it, sorry, get over it. Figure out a way to live with
that. But to me, I guess it's supposed to be some kind of deep scar, but after the initial --
ROSE: I don't think so, I don't think so.
LETTERMAN: -- but after the initial heat cloud, I just thought, well, I screwed up. So What? It's the academy awards, for
God's sake. I'm happy I screwed it up.
ROSE: Just a billion people.
LETTERMAN: I'm damn proud.
ROSE: Who the hell cares about a billion people?
LETTERMAN: Well, first of all, that figure is not true. You think about it. How many people are there in this world? Six
billion? Five billion? That ain't happening, no. A billion people. Well, I don't think so.
ROSE: Well, come on, at least a half billion from China watching it. They're sitting there right now.
LETTERMAN: (Oriental accent) "Oh, look. Letterman screw up again."
ROSE: When you begin to look at the show now, are you happy? I mean, in a sense, you're no. 2. Is it different adjusting to
being no. 2 at all for you now?
LETTERMAN: It doesn't feel any different, because we think -- it's the same amount of effort going into the show now as
there was in the beginning, and on any given night, you feel, you know, like you're on the moon. You just feel -- it fills
you with that sense of, this is the greatest thing on television, and then on any other given night, you feel like, "Well, I'll just
be going now. Would somebody bring me my car, if you don't mind."
ROSE: If it doesn't work, the story is you go up to the room and you watch it, because you want to see why it didn't work.
LETTERMAN: That's right, exactly. I want to see what happened. I want to see what I could have done. I want to see the mistake I made, and hopefully learn from it, and then go on. I don't watch the show at home. If things go well, if I feel things
go well, I don't watch it at all.
ROSE: How much better are you now in February, 1996, than you were in September, 1993, when you started this in '94?
LETTERMAN: Well, not enough. I wish it was much, much better, and I'm telling you, some nights it just feels like, have I
done this before? Because the variables in doing a show like this aren't infinite. You know what they are. It's a half a dozen
things, and on any given night one of these half a dozen variables can just bite you in the ass, and you think, oh, yeah, I've
been through this a million times. Why didn't I see it coming?
ROSE: Do you enjoy the interviews?
LETTERMAN: Some of them I do. Some of them I actually do. If there is some kind of legitimate interchange, some kind of legitimate exchange, yeah, sometimes I really do, I get a kick out of them. If somebody says or does something that genuinely makes me laugh, I just think, this is great, you know, I get paid a lot of money and somebody is actually entertaining me, so
ROSE: Somebody said to me today -- we were talking about what you do and what I do is a very different spectrum -- they
said, "When somebody comes on David's show, they are expected to perform."
LETTERMAN: That's right.
ROSE: "And when someone comes on your show, what you want to do is for them not to perform so you can find out who
LETTERMAN: Yeah, probably so, and maybe that actually works against us a bit, because we have found that people in
show business are hugely successful people. Some of them don't get that this is an opportunity for them to demonstrate why
people should spend money on their movies, why people should buy their records, why people should watch them on television. Some of these people seem to be oblivious to that. Some nights I want to get out the sphygmomanometer and see, "Let's see if there's a pulse. Let's see if there's blood in the veins," because I can't begin to tell you the number of times somebody has just taken the opportunity to come out and have about a 12-minute nap on the air, and I just think, well, now, wait a minute here.
Are we both in show business here?
ROSE: Go to commercial.
LETTERMAN: Well, we do, and sometimes I get a little ragged with them, and then people say, (gay accent) "Oh, he's mean. He's being mean again," but then you have people like Bill Murray, like Steve Martin, like Tom Hanks, like Bruce Willis, Demi Moore. There's about a dozen of these people, top stars who really get it.
ROSE: They understand what is expected of them.
LETTERMAN: Sure, and Tom Hanks comes on like a first-time comedian, and he works on it and works on it and works
on it. We have a piece on the prime time show that we did with Steve Martin. He had a play in production and a play opening
the week he was with us. He came in three days in a row to pretape this for us and came in the morning of his appearance
to work on this piece, and he's always been like that, and Bill Murray has always been like that and Bruce Willis has always
been like that, and I just wish, you know, everybody -- and even when I used to be on The Tonight Show, I would spend six, eight weeks making sure, because what you wanted to do was make Johnny laugh. You didn't want to come out there and
just sort of, you know, all of a sudden Johnny's talking to Ed. You don't want that happening.
ROSE: What are you gonna change now, staff a little bit, bring back -- Rob is coming back, is he, because he's been off
working with Bonnie Hunt?
LETTERMAN: Yeah, Rob is back, and he's working on another project. The staff, I guess, if you looked at it over the years,
it's been pretty consistent, but still a bit of flux. Our director, Hal Gurnee, who was with us from the beginning, retired, so
that was a change for us. We're constantly -- you know, we're bringing in a new set, but, you know, ultimately all that's a
load of crap. It just -- it comes down to, you know, how well am I doing the job and how well do people respond to me?
That's the essential here. So, you know, it doesn't make any difference, you know, superficial changes. The only thing a superficial change will do you, it will get in the newspaper and people will say, "Did you hear that? Dave's got a new curtain."
"A new curtain? You wanna stay up?" Beyond that, there's not much you can do.
ROSE: Has anything changed since Westinghouse took over?
LETTERMAN: Let's see. We got a guy now who passes out paper towels. We used to be able to just get 'em by the handful. They got a guy now who will kind of count them out for you, you know, like he's rationing paper towels. That's the biggest change.
ROSE: Has Michael Jordan called you?
LETTERMAN: No, no, he's not called me. He's afraid of me. He has not called me. It's one of the great --
ROSE: Are you serious about this or --
LETTERMAN: Completely serious.
ROSE: -- or is this just something to have fun with?
LETTERMAN: No, no.
ROSE: Completely serious?
LETTERMAN: No, no, no, no. History will reflect on this as one of the great oversights and snubs of modern broadcasting.
ROSE: You don't care if he calls you or not.
LETTERMAN: No, no. Now, Here's what happened. In the beginning, okay, Westinghouse, Westinghouse, Westinghouse --
ROSE: Michael Jordan, For the benefit of anyone who doesn't know, is the guy who runs Westinghouse and Westinghouse
now owns CBS.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, And he came from a company in Dallas, Frito-Lay Pepsi, so whenever there was trouble it was always,
"Send 'em a case of diet Pepsi." That was it. That's what this guys knows. That's the extent of this guy's management skills.
"Jalapeno dip, send 'em some of that." So they buy the company. It's some kind of -- I don't know what they paid for it, not
much, and now they --
ROSE: Five billion.
LETTERMAN: Five billion. The ABC deal was what, 21 billion, something like that.
LETTERMAN: So they're bottom feeders. That's what we know about them. "Attention K-Mart shoppers."
ROSE: And how much money does your show generate for them?
LETTERMAN: Huge, huge money. We're the single biggest money-making concern on the network. So now, Mr. Big Shot,
Michael Jordan, decides he's coming to town. He's going to survey the plantation, see what he's bought, get a look at the
hands, and he goes over to 60 minutes. 60 minutes, that's where he goes first.
ROSE: Big money-maker for them.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, but not as much money as we're throwing off.
LETTERMAN: So he goes over to see them, and as I've said a hundred times -- and it's like two blocks away from where we
work. He goes to see the boys at 60 minutes, because he's hoping if he kisses up to these guys, the next time Westinghouse
has a toxic dump spill, you know, they'll look the other way. So he kisses up to those boys, he's back on his plane, and the
next thing you know, boom. We're sitting there. We Cleaned up the place. Maybe he's coming. Maybe the boss -- he never
came. Oh, he'll call. He Never called. We'll get a card at Christmas. No card at Christmas. So then I realized this guy -- we've
got to straighten this guy out. We've got to straighten this punk out. This guy's looking through the wrong end of a telescope,
I said to myself.
ROSE: You take a couple shots at him and he'll respond.
ROSE: And has he responded?
LETTERMAN: No, because he's a coward. I challenged the guy. I said, "Come on. Let's go, big time, you and me. We'll fight right here," and I can't fight anybody.
ROSE: Invite him on the show.
LETTERMAN: We've invited him on the show.
ROSE: To come on the show?
LETTERMAN: We invited him on the show to come on and fight. I thought, well, you know, fine, but as I now find out,
the reason he won't be on the show is because we tape at 5:30 to 6:30, and that's happy hour. He's not gonna miss that.
ROSE: Why give that up for an appearance on television? He's got a whole network.
LETTERMAN: No, no. "Send him a case of Diet Slice."
ROSE: But deep inside of you, this ticks you off.
LETTERMAN: The truth of it is, I just couldn't care less, in all honesty.
ROSE: You don't care if Michael Jordan ever calls you.
LETTERMAN: I couldn't care less.
ROSE: You don't even want him around.
LETTERMAN: I want to tell you something, Charlie. In my lifetime, I've met plenty of executives. I couldn't care less.
ROSE: Someone today who is an executive said, "What is it with David and television executives? Does he have nothing but contempt for them?"
LETTERMAN: It's a device, it's a mechanism, and it's as old as the medium itself.
ROSE: Suits can always take it.
LETTERMAN: Sure, and like they used to say at General Electric, there's not a damn thing we're gonna do that is going to damage this corporate global monster, shooting my mouth off at 12:30. The same is true at Westinghouse and this guy, and
the only thing I enjoyed about it is being able to, in front of a vast television audience, challenge the guy to a fight. I just
thought, well, that's silly. But the truth Of it is, do I care? Absolutely not. I could not care less.
ROSE: Do you enjoy New York? Do you go out? What's your lifestyle like?
LETTERMAN: New York to me is the only real city in North America. There's some beautiful, beautiful places, Chicago and --
LETTERMAN: Indianapolis Is a great town. It's a great town and I love it and I think the world of it, and every time I go
back there I'm just filled with all kind of melancholia and enjoyment and nostalgia. The people there are nice. The food is like
50 percent cheaper and 20 percent better in Indianapolis. The springtime in the mid west is other-worldly. It's unbelievable.
ROSE: Here is this wonderful city. Do you go to museums? Do you go out to dinner? I mean, the idea is out there a little bit
that Dave stays home. He goes to Connecticut to his place or he goes to wherever.
LETTERMAN: I do. I go home. Don't people go home?
ROSE: Well, they do, but, I mean, Are you enjoying this place? Do you go to museums? Do you go to the garden to watch
the Pacers play when they come in?
LETTERMAN: Not currently, not currently. I've done all of those things. I've been to every museum -- not every museum -- most of the museums. I've been to plays. I haven't been to -- the last play I saw was Glenn Garry Glenn Ross. I have problems
at plays because of the seating in these theaters. I'm an enormous man.
ROSE: Yes, you are, you're a big guy.
LETTERMAN: And if I have to sit there jammed into these supercoach seats they have in every theater, you know, halfway
through the first act my knees have locked and are numb, and I have to have a guy with a forklift come and get my ass out,
and I do love being here, and I recognize all of the cultural advantages and privileges that you have with this city, and I take
them as I can avail myself.
ROSE: Do you really? I mean, do you go out much at all?
LETTERMAN: The schedule I'm on now is -- one thing we would like to do is invoke some humanity into our schedule. It
does not exist. It does not exist.
ROSE: Like what? What time do you come into your office?
LETTERMAN: Well, my day begins -- I get up at dawn every day, and then I leave the house.
ROSE: Come on. You get up at dawn?
LETTERMAN: I Get up at dawn. I run to Bridgeport. I go right up i-95. That's about a 30 -- that's actually about a 60-mile
round trip run. I come back. I have the breakfast. I have the pancakes. I have the eggs. I have the rasher of bacon. I have the toast medley. I have The jam, the jellies, and then --
ROSE: Of course you do.
LETTERMAN: And then I shower off and drive to work. I try to get to work around 10:00 and from 10:00 o'clock on it's a
fistfight, and we get done --
ROSE: So What do you do all day?
LETTERMAN: "Yes" and "no." "Yes" and "no."
ROSE: "Yes, I'll do that. No, I won't."
LETTERMAN: That's pretty much what it is.
ROSE: Someone said to me that just for the Top Ten list, you've got 15 writers and each of them make up a Top Ten list
when you decide what the subject is going to be, and then you select the Top Ten.
ROSE: "Yes, yes, yes, no, no, no."
LETTERMAN: That's Right.
ROSE: I mean, The Top Ten then ought to be brilliant every night.
LETTERMAN: Well, it certainly is not, but sometimes -- jeez, I'd just give you a thousand dollars if I could light this cigar, Charlie. Look at this, it looks like Smokey the Bear is coming in to show us how to build a camp fire.
ROSE: I remember when Sean Penn was here.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, but sometimes, unfortunately, like television, you're always late. You're always late in television. By the
time I get to work, you know, I'm an hour late, and that's just the way it goes, and sometimes things -- every day is the best compromise we can make, and sometimes the chips fall your way, sometimes they don't, but the plane is taking off at 5:30
one way or the other.
ROSE: Celebrity doesn't mean a damn to you, and in fact it's a distraction.
LETTERMAN: The first thing that kind of got my attention years and years ago when I was first on the Tonight Show, I recognized almost immediately that people, strangers in all walks of life that I would come in contact with were friendlier
to me, friendly, nice, considerate and behaved kind of the way you think people behave to people, but it was a dramatic
change, and it was literally overnight, and it has been that way ever since. That part of it I just think is wonderful, because
instead of being part of just a faceless group of people struggling with and against one another, it invokes again some
humanity. People are nice to me, I'm nice to them, and sadly, I don't think real life is like that, and this is to me the great
benefit and luxury of being well-known. So I enjoy it, I try not to abuse it, and I do my best to be nice to people who are
always nice to me, and I count myself really being lucky for that, because I can remember, and I think everybody who is not fortunate enough to be well-known understands what this struggle is, you know, people for no good reason sometimes just
go out of their way to make your life unpleasant, but that all changed about 20 years ago, and I just think, man, if this was
really the world, that would just be keen, wouldn't it?
ROSE: We could all be celebrities.
LETTERMAN: Everybody happy, everybody nice. "Nice to see you." "Well, nice to see you." And it's contagious. When
they're nice to you, you're just nice back to them.
ROSE: One of the great things, in addition to that about being a broadcaster, is you get to see your work product every night.
ROSE: Think of the people who work every day who don't get a chance to see -- I mean, you build every day to 5:30. I
build every day to 6:00 o'clock.
LETTERMAN: That's right, that's right.
ROSE: I tape 30 minutes later than you do, and you get to see that night what you have crafted that day.
LETTERMAN: But there are many other pursuits in the world that are like that. I have always kind of likened our operation
to a small restaurant. You come in; you go to the market; you see what's available; you see what's fresh, you put it together;
you get a menu, and then you can see if people like it, and then the next day you look through the cash receipts and you know how you did. So it's not unique, but it is satisfying, very satisfying.
ROSE: They also say about you that you are enormously self-critical, that when things don't go right, you don't blame
anybody but Dave.
LETTERMAN: Well, that's being generous. Sometimes I --
ROSE: That you're impossible to live with but --
LETTERMAN: Ultimately I accept the responsibility for everything that goes wrong, and it's like a guy driving a race car, you know, they build the car, they put the engine in it, they tune it, they fine tune it, they adjust the aerodynamics, they adjust the
fuel flow or whatever, and then I go out there and put it in the wall. I mean, every day I'm given the elements of a great car, and some days, because I'm human, I just stack it up, and there's nothing more discouraging than --
ROSE: Stack it up against a wall.
LETTERMAN: Exactly, and knowing that this staff of 50 or 60 people have done their best every day, and then they put me in
the damn car, and, oh my gosh, he's tapped the wall in turn four. So I feel like I'm responsible, and I should be responsible.
My name's on the credits. I get the big paychecks. It's me, I can take it, and I screw it up more than anybody else in the production.
ROSE: Tell me -- I've got a thing here about the special. What's going to happen on Monday night, February 19th? You've
got -- listen to this, folks -- Howard Stern, Robin Williams, Mary Tyler Moore. Your Mom will be there.
LETTERMAN: Mom will be there.
ROSE: 10:00 to 11:00 p.m. on CBS. Who else is on this. Isabella Rossellini.
LETTERMAN: Isabella Rossellini.
ROSE: Rosie Perez. Elizabeth Berkley.
LETTERMAN: Rosie Perez. Steve Martin is with us.
ROSE: Steve Martin. Bay Watch's Yasmin Bleeth.
LETTERMAN: Yasmin Bleeth.
ROSE: Victoria Secret's Frederique.
ROSE: Did you meet her?
LETTERMAN: Yeah, I did meet her.
ROSE: Sports Illustrated's Tyra Banks.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, I believe she was there as well.
ROSE: Linda Evangelista, Lauren Hutton. Cameo roles by Regis. Reege is going to be there?
LETTERMAN: I guess. The thing of it is, you can't hardly keep Regis out. When we first went on the air, every night there would be Regis. So we thought, oh, that's nice, he's just being neighborly, and then, you know, two and a half years later,
every night, there's Regis, and we're all sick of it.
ROSE: But we love him, because he's a hell of a broadcaster.
LETTERMAN: I think Regis is great. I think Regis has something. I think Howard Stern has something. These guys know
what it is. I don't know if they even know what it is, but they just have it, and they use it, and they make it -- I mean, it's,
something very compelling. Regis is talking right to you. It doesn't make any difference what Howard Stern is talking about,
lesbians, wrestling or whatever hell is breaking loose in Howard's studio, there's something very compelling, undeniably,
you have to listen to Howard, and that's a great gift, and I know Howard would whine about the comparison to he and Regis,
but I think there is a kindred spirit there, but perhaps at opposite ends of the scale.
ROSE: What about Imus?
LETTERMAN: I think Don Imus is very good. I have a lot of respect for this guy, because what I know of him, he kind of
rebuilt for himself a career and a persona after years and years of substance abuse and being in radio a long, long time and
nobody really survives in radio or television a long, long time unless they are first rate, and I think his present incarnation,
I think, is endlessly entertaining, and I have a lot of respect for him as well.
ROSE: And so do I for you. Thank you for doing this.
LETTERMAN: Charlie, thank you very much.
LETTERMAN: Nice to see you, sir.
ROSE: David Letterman, an hour, Monday night, February 19th, 10:00 o'clock, the Late Night special on CBS. Thank you for joining us on this Friday. We'll see you Monday.
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