Playboy - David Letterman Interview

NBC's sixth floor at 30 Rockefeller Plaza is the birthplace of the modern television talk show. Steve Allen hosted "The Tonight Show' there for three years, followed by Jack Paar and Johnny Carson.

In 1972, "The Tonight Show" went West, and a year and a half later, Tom Snyder moved in for an eight-year stint. Now Snyder is gone and a new breed of talk-show audience is filling studio 6A's 250 seats--with 4,000,000 more of the same new species watching at home. For the first time, the generation that was raised by television has its own network talk show, "Late Night with David Letterman.'

According to the Nielsen people, an astonishing 60 percent of Letterman's viewers were born after World War Two, a demographic profile not even remotely approached by any previous talk show. And here they are now, dungareed and T-shirted, clapping hard and grinning with gleeful anticipation as Paul Shaffer's band explodes in an old R&B song and announcer Bill Wendell intones, "And now, a man who is frightened by the slightest change in air temperature, David Letterman.' A door opens at the back of the stage and Letterman enters--followed by a cameraman holding a minicam directly over his shoulder. The three big floor cameras peel away toward the wings and Letterman, the minicam hugging his shoulder, strides forth. The audience is momentarily startled and everyone scrambles for a peek at one of the overhead monitors; but in a twinkling, this audience is in on the joke--Letterman is letting us see the show from his point of view.

Laughter and cheers wash over the stage. This is the video generation; they get this kind of stuff. If Carson pulled a stunt like this, most of his viewers would probably think something was wrong. Letterman is playing to an audience that loves to see the world stood on its head--the way Mad magazine used to do when they were children. But now they're grown and crowding a TV studio to watch a man The Washington Post described as "lankish, prankish, boyish and goyish 'stand where Allen and Paar and Carson and Snyder used to stand -- except this guy is showing them what it's like to be there. He's taking the magic out of television, and they love it.

Since it went on the air in February 1982, "Late Night with David Letterman' has welcomed such guests as Sidney Miller, Doorman of the Year; a gentleman who flew to an altitude of 15,000 feet in a lawn chair and was almost killed by a Delta Air Lines jet; a worm farmer; a man who died and came back to life; and a woman who claimed to have gone shopping on Venus. The show's regular features include elevator races, viewer mail and stupid pet tricks. There have been such special features as an investigative report titled, "Alan Alda: A Man and His Chinese Food.' When the show does have traditional celebrity guests, Letterman usually attempts to do something different with them.

During an interview, Henry Winkler happened to mention that his 83-year-old father was in the lumber business. Letterman immediately produced a telephone and called Wink
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October 1984
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By SAM MERRILL
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