TV Guide - David Letterman Article

Gene Says ...

To properly speculate whether David Letterman will make a good Oscar host, you have to know what he's really like. A few months ago, Roger Ebert (the one who still eats movie popcorn) tried to answer the question "What's Dave really like?" in a newspaper article. Halfway through, he confessed that he didn't have much of a clue.

I, however, do know -- and if TV guide were paying me a whole lot more money, I'd tell you. Think I'm bluffing? OK, here's a Dave factoid worth their measly thousand clams: Dave keeps his gap-filling "toothette" inside a moldy, foam-filled 50-cent plastic container about the size of a silver dollar, if silver dollars were rectangular. When I was 13, I used the same sort of box for my retainer, and I was earning about $14 million a year less than Dave at the time. Why is this significant? Because Dave is too busy with his show to buy himself a tooth caddy worthy of a Prince of the Airwaves. But all work and very little play has made Dave anything but a dull boy.

Yes, I want him to be more cranky. Yes, I want him to stop telling every female guest she "looks like a million bucks." And, yes, I don't think he should be praising movies if he's only seen the promotional clips. But these are the plaintive cries of a fan and admirer. Dave is the fastest gun on the talk-show circuit, and the challenge is whether you can keep up with him. Once, Roger said, "Dave, you're looking at me like I'm foolish." And Dave responded in a flash: "Actually I'm thinking of another
word that begins with 'f.'" Can your talk-show host do that?

I'm genuinely excited that Dave is hosting the Oscar show. Billy Crystal was very funny. But Whoopi Goldberg? People are too polite to tell her she was boring. Dave will be great because he knows the movies cold, particularly films of the '30's and '40's. His taste runs to Preston Sturges comedies and smart English romances. He correctly thinks the post-"Jaws" block-buster era has been ruinous for films with smart dialogue. Hence his wide embrace of "Pulp Fiction," clearly the year's best original screenplay.

Anyone can predict that Dave will use Sirajul and Mujibur as presenters on the telecast (and Roger probably does in the adjoining boring article.) But here are a couple of long shots; I'm betting Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump will appear in a clip from Dave's disastrous film debut last year in "Cabin Boy," and I wouldn't be surprised if Dave makes his entrance Monday night with the following self-deprecating line: "Good evening, everybody. I know what all you big movie stars here in the Shrine Auditorium are thinking: 'You hate me; you really hate me.'"

Not true, Dave. We appreciate your workaholism. The hosting job is yours for as long as you want it, even if it takes you a couple of years to kill the dreadful production numbers, not to mention Jack Valenti. So relax, and let the barbs fly. And by the way,
Dave -- Oscar isn't king. You are.

Roger says ...

The prospect of David Letterman hosting the Academy Awards fills me with a fair measure of suspense. On the one hand, he may be brilliant. On the other hand, maybe the distinctive personal chemistry of his television program won't translate to a show that is big, long, lethargic, predictable, and has a mind of its own. On Late Show, Letterman is smarter than many of his guests, and quicker than the others. There is an impatience to his attack. He leans forward in his chair, scooting it closer. There seems to be a desk between Dave and the guests, but when you sit on the set you see it is an optical illusion. He is right there, like a full-court press.

What comes across is the energy of impatience. Dave is implying, "OK! OK! We know all that! Cut to the chase!" He keeps his guests off balance, and sometimes inspires them to transcend themselves. It's a talent that may prove irrelevant at the Oscarcast, which is as ritualized as a fraternity initiation. The form of the program is the enemy of comic momentum: Just when Dave gets something going, it'll be time to introduce the next presenters, a couple of glamorous stars who will read dumb remarks off the TelePrompTer and mispronounce names.

Letterman's plans for the telecast have remained secret. It seems a fair bet he will not be able to involve the regulars from his program. No Paul Shaffer in the orchestra pit, no Calvert DeForest announcing the categories. The last time Siskel and I were on Letterman, I suggested that Mujibur and Sirajul would be obvious choices to read the Academy rules. But don't look for them on the show; the governing board is happy to have Letterman hosting the Oscarcast, but they don't want "The Late Show with David Letterman! Tonight, the Academy Awards!"

On his own program, Letterman has a peculiar form of concentration; he seems to be free-associating, but in subtle ways he reveals his mastery of everything that is happening. Anyone who has ever drawn or painted will know how a certain state of reverie is obtained, one in which good work is being done but the conscious mind doesn't know how. I think Letterman is in such a state when the show is going well. But like the Road Runner, he dares not look down. What he resents when something goes wrong is that it interrupts the reverie.

Will the staid formula of the Oscars derail this process? Is it possible for Letterman to get something going on a show that is constructed out of interruptions? He'll be professional, no doubt about that. His writers will craft sharp material, and his opening monologue will be terrific, because Letterman is a perfectionist and will make sure it is.

But will we get an evening in which Letterman transforms the stodgy Oscarcast formula? Or just an entertaining emcee job?
It will be interesting to see.
C
"Dave does the Oscars!"

"Siskel & Ebert Preview: The new man behind Oscar"

The suspense is killing us. When David Letterman shows up for his date with Oscar, will he deliver the goods? Does he have the
stuff that great hosts are made of? Here to address these issues are two very opinionated film critics"

By GENE SISKEL and ROGER EBERT
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Late Show With David Letterman Webpage>
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March 25th 1995
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