|Chicago Sun-Times - David Letterman Article
Someone new came into the world before our very eyes with the birth last week of David Letterman's son Harry.
That someone is Daddy Dave.
Babies are born all the time. What's rare is to see the emergence of a new man at age 56, and it's thrilling to watch. Fatherhood agrees with Letterman, despite his too-easy, too-often cracks about being too old for it. The kid's not 2 weeks old and already he's opened his pop up to a remarkable degree, made him a little less aloof and a little more vulnerable, softened him just a tad without taking away his edge.
We're talking about subtle changes, to be sure. But even subtle changes register when they alter a persona that's been so firmly established over more than 20 years and thousands of network TV hours.
Don't believe it? Tune in to CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" at 10:35 p.m. on WBBM-Channel 2. Since Harry's arrival forced him to miss his Nov. 3 telecast, we've seen a Letterman genuinely willing to share some of his personal life, which is something akin to a Donald Rumsfeld who shares some of his doubts.
Harry has him positively giddy, as if the joys of parenting never truly occurred to him until just now.
While the child already is becoming a source for silly made-up monologue jokes like the ones about Letterman's heart trouble, his mother, his onetime stalker, his driving record, his hairline and getting passed over by NBC, back at his desk on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theatre, Letterman also seems willing to talk about what's actually going on in his life in real terms and real details no less engaging.
Dave was spot-on the other night when he asked bandleader Paul Shaffer to stop him if he ever starts sounding too much like Kathie Lee Gifford, who devoted so much TV time gushing about her precious two youngsters that when she left the air a lot of people were frankly relieved, little Cody and little Cassidy perhaps among them.
But Letterman no longer flinches so much when guests such as Howard Stern or Madonna bring up his off-air existence, a topic that before all of this almost always had Dave squirming and firing off a quick one-liner that sent the conversation hurtling in another direction.
The result has been a series of revelations to those casual fans who might not have known that "the girlfriend" (as he would refer to his longtime companion on those once-in-a-blue-moon occasions he dared allude to her) is named Regina Lasko; that, yes, he was married briefly once before and it's left him gun-shy about exchanging vows again, and he stopped drinking years ago.
These were things he discussed when interviewed by others, in print and on the air. They were not, however, matters he was comfortable talking about on his own show, when he had control. But doing so -- his voice often taking on a different timbre -- can't help but make him more relatable.
It certainly makes him warmer, or at least as warm as a man can be when he persists in setting his theater's thermostat low enough to keep sides of beef fresh.
Letterman always had been among the most able of broadcasters with a sorely underutilized gift for storytelling. This newborn willingness to share his feelings and a portion of his personal life gives him an expanded palette with which to work.
Letterman has shown signs of this before, of course. His heart surgery four years ago had him briefly introspective, for example, but each day lived with a repaired ticker makes it easier to take those ticks for granted again and revert to old postures. His off-the-cuff remarks after 9/11 were breathtakingly raw and cathartic, but again emotions faded and habits returned. A child, though, is something he will be acutely aware of for the rest of his life, so lasting changes are not inconceivable.
The baby hasn't hurt the ratings. Last week, which began with NBC boss Jeff Zucker declaring the late-night war officially over and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" the clearcut winner, Letterman pulled within six-tenths of a rating point in the nation's top 55 markets, the smallest margin between the shows since Letterman's 2000 return from heart surgery.
It's way too soon to say if these will be lasting gains, but if Letterman's rebirth is as authentic as it now seems, that definitely can't hurt. Surely those who wrote him off because they didn't think he was approachable enough should take another look.
One person out there whom Letterman claimed had no use for him over the years may be of a different mind-set now, at least in his eyes. A huge gift basket arrived for young Harry filled with 80 children's books, each with a specially designed sticker that said "Harry's Book Club," and Letterman was so sincerely moved he could only register his surprise and humble thanks on the air.
The gift was from Oprah Winfrey. No joke.
This is definitely new territory for David Letterman.
|"Daddy Dave cares"
By PHIL ROSENTHAL
|Late Show With David Letterman Webpage>|
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|November 13th 2003|
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