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TV Guide - David Letterman Article

IS IT A TALK SHOW?

You have to call Late Night a talk show, but it often appears to be more of a Saturday Night Live sendup than a clone of Johnny Carson's program. For every appearance by a Don Rickles, there's a guest shot by the fellow who won a New Jersey Lottery payoff -- $20, that is. ("So tell us, Jim, what are you going to do with all that dough?")

Often the guests, who are just trying to plug a book or a movie and get out of there alive, are dwarfed by the overall lunacy of the show, including a dozen or so running gags. Many of the ongoing bits will simply singe the hair of the casual viewer as they fly over his head. Then again, no amount of explanation in the world can adequately prepare one for an appearance by Larry "Bud" Melman, who frequently shows up to take questions from the audience or hawk his taste-treat sensation, "Toast-on-a-Stick."

It's the same way with The Guy Who Lives Under The Seats, who is only funny if you've seen the gag a few times before. The Car and Truck Rental Song. The Giant Doorknob ("It's just plain BIG") Do's and Don'ts with Frank and Fred, all take on added dimensions for the hard-core viewer. For the uninitiated -- be patient. It'll come clear in a few weeks.

GREAT MOMENT #1

Jerry Lewis, setting up a bit: "Now, David, I want you to do everything I do."

Letterman: "Gee, I hope I don't look like a jerk."

THE MESSAGE OF THE SHOW

If there is one, it's this: Hey folks, they gave us an hour of big-time network television; let's see what we can do with it.
Letterman's media genius is that he has an uncanny knack for knowing what you or I would do if we were given a one-hour
show, four times a week. Of course, he has an extra helping of imagination and nerve. Watch him put on a 90-minute Christmas special in July; hear him say at the beginning of a show in June, "Well, folks, this of course is the night when we all set our clocks back an hour"; see him drop watermelons, bowling balls and a keg of beer from a five-story building, just to see what they look like when they hit the ground.

GREAT MOMENT #2

Brooke Shields: "I get an allowance -- 10 or 15 dollars a week."

Letterman: "Oh, come on now, Brooke, you don't expect us to believe that."

A REGULAR GUY

Despite his status as a high-profile celebrity who pulls down a salary estimated at $1 million per year, David Letterman seems
like one of us. Telling us about the fat guy who sat next to him on the subway or wondering if his new shirt looks stupid, he takes common problems one step beyond into the Land of Letterman.

Letterman's difficulties with his local cable installer turned into a running gag. Finally, he had to take a day off and stay home to make sure the cable man showed and hooked up everything. Problem: there was a show that night. Solution: portable cameras followed Dave around his home in Connecticut while he waited for the cable man. Back in New York the band,
the crew, the studio audience, even the guests went through the paces of a "normal" show, and though the host wasn't there in person, he got the job done "through the miracle of television." Letterman in Connecticut is better than Alan Thicke anywhere.

30 ROCK

Studio 6A, NBC building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. That's where Late Night is taped, but it's not the only part of
the building we're allowed to see. Refusing to rope off any section of the outside world, Letterman has taken the viewers on mini-tours to the lobby, the elevators, the gift shop, the local newscast (while it was on the air), the greenroom, and even the boiler room, after a member of the studio audience complained that it was too hot in the building.

GREAT MOMENT #3

Clad in a suit made entirely of Velcro, David Letterman springs himself against a wall. He sticks.

GUESTS

ADVICE TO GUESTS: Don't take yourself too seriously. Smile graciously throughout the extracurricular activities and Dave
will eventually give you a chance to say what you came to say. He's a pretty nice guy.

JUST BECAUSE THEY WEREN'T ANNOUNCED ...

Not all guests have been allowed to finish their own segments. When an interview with then New York Yankees pitcher Tommy John reached an impasse, John was removed in favor of Bill Lee, who was a member of the Montreal Expos at the time. True to relief-pitcher tradition, Lee was brought out in a golf cart.

GREAT MOMENT #4

Letterman, interviewing Moe Howard's daughter: "Did the other kids make fun of you because your dad was a Stooge?"

THINGS DAVID LETTERMAN HAS DONE

The Phil "Is The Caller There?" Donahue Countdown Calendar. After it was announced that Phil's show would move to New York, we learned a new Fun Fact about Phil almost every day. Twice, Letterman has tried to start a new American catch
phrase, a la "Where's the beef?" The first phrase was, "They pelted us with rocks and garbage." That was replaced by, "I
do and do and do for you kids, and this is the thanks I get." He has conducted new athletic events, including elevator races, dog-sled races, and pizza-delivery contests. NBC sportscasters Marv Albert and Bob Costas are usually along to provide commentary.

We've heard cuts from the most esoteric record collection in America -- actual songs by William Shatner, Sebastian Cabot, Lorne Greene and Telly Savalas. With hundreds of tablets of Alka-Seltzer attached to his suit, Letterman was submerged in a vat of water. Sealed inside a barrel, he has rolled down the stairs in the studio.

Last year, he held "Bob Rooney Day" to honor the show's audio assistant. (Bob Hope even videotaped a tribute.) Given
three wishes, Rooney asked for a beer, a submarine sandwich -- and another beer.

One of his many investigative reports was "Alan Alda; A Man And His Chinese Food." Several films by Dave's dog Bob have been shown. He harassed a librarian who was urging her home town to give up television for a month. "This woman has got to be stopped," Letterman claimed, and he took matters into his own hands by calling her. "Look at the shows you'll be missing the first week alone," he chided the nonplused woman. "There's the season premiere of Riptide, an encore presentation of Foul-ups, Bleeps and Blunders and an all-new segment of Punky Brewster." He has spray-painted Byant Gumbel's ankles orange.

GREAT MOMENT #5

In an NBC after-school special called "They Took Away My TV Show," young Timmy is heartbroken to learn that his favorite show has been canceled. But David explains to Timmy that nothing actually comes on television. "Why, I can remember how upset I was when they took The Six Million Dollar Man off the air. But then came the Fall Guy. Oh, sure, the character had a different name, and there were a few minor changes, but it was basically the same show." "Gosh, Mr. Letterman," Timmy enthuses, "this will be the best TV season ever!" "Maybe it will be, Timmy," Dave says wisely. "Maybe it will."
"Clad in a suit of velcro, he springs onto a wall -- and sticks"

"For those of you who have yet to discover the sometimes esoteric, occasionally baffling, almost always silly hour
known as Late Night with David Letterman, here's the ultimate talk show primer"

By RICHARD ROEPER
Late Show With David Letterman Webpage>
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July 13th 1985
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