|Tom Snyder Interviewing David Letterman
SNYDER: I have wanted to interview Dave ever since he began his program on CBS back in August of 1993. Remember how
hot that was? The press was covering it, and I was working at CNBC at the time, and we tried to put together some
arrangement whereby Dave and I could just sit down and chat as broadcasters about mutual experiences, and finally, a year
and a half later, tonight is the night. He is staying later at the Ed Sullivan Theater back in New York tonight for a conversation about his early years in broadcasting and his fiercely competitive time now as host of the Late Show, one of the great stars of CBS at 11:35 every night. The first time I met him on television was late in the run of the Tomorrow show. He and other
young comedians were booked to come on and talk about what made comedy and what made for being funny on stage in
front of people, and among the guests were David Letterman and Billy Crystal, who were together tonight. So here from late in the Tomorrow Show, David Letterman and Billy Crystal.
(The scene now shifts to a very young Tom Snyder, David Letterman and Billy Crystal)
LETTERMAN: I started doing weather just as what they used to call "happy talk" came out of WABC in New York, and in
the Midwest it hadn't come around yet, and they didn't like it. I would, when a tropical storm became a hurricane, I would wish
her well, and they didn't like that sort of thing, because later it would go on to destroy millions and millions of dollars of
SNYDER: You know, maybe you've written -- all of you, I think, have written for other people and maybe watched them, as
Carson says, go down the tubes with a joke or a line. What is it when it happens to you?
CRYSTAL: It is the worst feeling you can imagine. When you feel that you are being rejected by 500 people all at once, it's a
little heavy to take, and you start getting this sweat that people call flop sweat, but it really happens. I mean, it starts back here (indicating the back of his neck) and then works its way across your face, down the latissimus dorsi into your thighs, then into your ego, into your car, into home, into therapy.
(The scene now shifts back to the Late Late Show)
SNYDER: They didn't have sweat meetings back then. By the way, the toll free line is not working tonight for technical
reasons. Settle back, fire up the simultinis and watch Dave and Tom as they fly through the air.
SNYDER: And now, having just finished his nightly program and joining us from the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, here
is David Letterman. David, thank you for staying up late and doing our show tonight. Welcome.
LETTERMAN: Thank you very much, Tom. Thank you for the invitation. Thank you for your courtesy and thanks for every
last little consideration.
SNYDER: You're welcome. Now, you've just finished back there.
SNYDER: And have you assessed tonight's show? I'm told you think about it after you have finished as to whether or not
it could have been better, could have been stronger, could have been sharper. Have you gone through that process yet?
LETTERMAN: Well, the problem with tonight's show, Tom, is I overslept and missed the whole damn thing. So I'm certain
it was probably pretty good. I'm curious about one thing, and I know that you have a very close relationship with your staff there, a very warm family kind of atmosphere, and I recognize that and applaud that, and let me just ask you a question.
Later will the kids get together and do the crossword puzzle on your tie? It's a joke. Settle down.
SNYDER: Let's not go down this road, please. I noticed that tonight there was a delay after your first segment in which it
seemed to take forever to get the program back up on line here in California. What happened there? What was the problem?
LETTERMAN: I have no idea. The best we are hearing now, the reports we are getting from a couple of the top boys at
NASA, who, by the way, are always standing by whenever we take the air, it was ball lightning, Tom.
SNYDER: In your opening monologue tonight, you went back to the well in so far as Connie Chung and CBS.
SNYDER: This is the third night, and I talked about that in a more serious vein, having worked with her on news assignments
in the past, and I just wonder if, as an observer of Connie Chung, as someone who has had her on your program, you wonder about what happened in this instance.
LETTERMAN: Well, yeah, I think so. I have no more insight into this than I do any other aspect of my life, professionally or personally, but the tack that we are taking on it is that Connie was screwed, because it seems to be easy, it seems to be cheap, and it affords more comic possibilities, but I'll be the first to say, I have no idea. You know, I guess Dan caught her using his eyeliner. I think that's what it was.
SNYDER: To be serious for a second, did you read the comments of the CBS news executives in the paper the other day,
Eric Ober, the president of CBS news, who said, "Let's face it. It was our idea to put her on the news, and we made a
mistake." Unfortunately, they get to stay in their offices and she gets to go home. That's the sad part of being a talent.
LETTERMAN: Yeah. You know, it's not a mistake. I wish these guys would stick to talking about lesbians and golf, because that's far more entertaining. It's not a mistake at all. Here is a woman who has been in professional big league broadcasting, I don't know, 20 years, and so to regard that decision as a mistake is not true, not accurate, but beyond that I don't know. I
always thought the world of Connie. I thought she was very nice, very bright, and we are talking about her like she's passed away, which, of course, she has not, and I assume she will just go on to co-host that awful show her husband does. Maury,
they call it Maury, and people tune in.
SNYDER: Yeah, right, right.
LETTERMAN: Did you ever think you would live long enough to see the day when people would tune in and watch a show
SNYDER: Well, did you ever think you would live long enough to see the day when people would tune in and watch most
of what's on television these days?
LETTERMAN: Well, myself included. I can't remove myself from that criticism.
SNYDER: When did you first know that you wanted to be a broadcaster, that you wanted to be on the air?
LETTERMAN: I got a call about 4:00 this afternoon.
SNYDER: Stop it.
LETTERMAN: You know, when I was a kid, I can remember the first television we had at the house, because it was
interesting. Up to a period in my life, there was no television. We had no idea what it was, and then one day, I guess, you
know, Dad got one that had fallen off a truck or something, and the next thing we know, there's this big mahogany box the
size of our garage in the living room, and, you know --
SNYDER: Dave, Dave, Dave, you're fading out out here. Something is happening. Something bad is happening.
LETTERMAN: Well, I'm certain that's my fault as well, Tom.
SNYDER: No, it's not your fault as well, but I'm just concerned as to whether or not it is troubling -- just stop talking. Thanks. Oh, excuse me. We're going to fix our little problem here and go right back to David Letterman at the Ed Sullivan Theater in
New York, so you folks enjoy this time out. We'll be right back.
SNYDER: We are back with Dave from the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, and technical problems happen from time to
time, Dave, because pictures were not meant to fly through the air. Thank for your patience back there.
LETTERMAN: Yes, exactly. Thank you.
SNYDER: Now, you were saying all of a sudden one day this big thing the size of a garage appeared at your house.
LETTERMAN: And so then for the first seven or eight years of my life we were not watching television, and then suddenly
for the rest of my life I've been watching television, and at some point in that experience I decided, well, hell, maybe I can do that, because I really couldn't do anything else, except mow the yard once or twice a summer, and what a beautiful lawn
SNYDER: Did you have the opportunity at all to go to a radio station or a TV station and hang out as a kid? I mean, I used to
go down as a 12-year-old all the time and hang around the television station.
LETTERMAN: Well, it's interesting, because the sheltered existence that was mine, I had no idea how you got from being a
regular person -- not certainly that I would flatter myself in those terms -- but how you could go from just being whatever you
were doing to being on the radio or on the television. And when I was a kid in high school, there was a radio station, a Top 40 radio station that came to the city, and they operated with a glass front so you could see the control room and the disk jockey
and the engineers and whatever, right on one of the main streets in town, and so great fun for us would be to guzzle down a
lot of discount warm beer on a Friday night and then go just stand like idiots in front of the disk jockey's window and watch
this guy, and to me, you know, that was great insight. It was huge magic to watch this man work and talk and cue up his own records and play the commercials, and that really was when I thought, oh man, if I could, you know, do that --
SNYDER: Do that for a living, sure, sure.
LETTERMAN: I don't want people driving by looking at me full of warm beer, but every other aspect about it -- and it just -- what he seemed to be doing, he was taking phone calls and cueing records and filling out a log and doing live commercials
and playing audiotaped commercials. I just thought, this guy is a magician, and, you know, later when I realized that most
disk jockeys are derelicts it takes a little of the edge off of it, but that was it for me, and I just thought, man, if I could do that. And I spent some time in radio, not enough for my tastes, but, jeez, I just loved it. To me that was very exciting and it stayed with me for a long time.
SNYDER: When are you gonna do the line about, "Willard Scott killed a kid"?
LETTERMAN: Well, Tom, now wait a minute. If you know anything about my career, you know that we discussed Willard
Scott beating a cue card boy to death during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and we always discussed that on the
holiday itself, because there is no greater holiday story than the time Willard Scott went nuts on a Thanksgiving morning and
beat a cue card kid to death during the parade. It happens to be true, by the way, and NBC and General Electric, the powerful
broadcasting international corporate juggernaut that they are, were able to hush it up.
SNYDER: You just can't stop yourself, can you?
LETTERMAN: Well, you know, I'm serious. When you look at Willard -- and God, I love Willard, because he's a guy like
yourself in that he is a broadcaster born and bred, and that's all he should have ever done, and he's very good at it -- but
you know when you look at him, you can tell looking at this guy, look right into his eyes, he's nuts.
SNYDER: So you're at W -- what is the radio station there in Muncie Indiana at your college, WAR?
LETTERMAN: I worked at a couple radio stations. I actually worked at three radio stations when I was in college. The commercial AM operation of the day was WERK, The Men At Work. Do you get it, Tom?
SNYDER: Got it.
LETTERMAN: The Men At Work. I worked there for a while filling in for a friend of mine who worked there and actually
got me the job. Then I worked at WBST, Ball State, and it was ten watts of radiated power, and if you wanted to listen to that
station, you had to come and sit in the parking lot, and then I worked at a place in -- gosh, forgive me. I forget the name of
the town. It was about 40 miles away. It was W --
SNYDER: It's okay, it's okay. I'm thinking about your college radio station, but I've forgotten the call letters myself.
LETTERMAN: You know, one time when I was working at this other station, this fraternity brother of mine would take me to
work every day. I would ride on the back of his Triumph Bonneville motorcycle, and this was before helmets -- hell, this was before hats. We're going way back now. And we would go -- he would take me on the back of this motorcycle at 95 miles an hour to get over to this little radio station, and one day, it was on a Saturday, and there was all kinds of incoming programming from other sources, and some of it was on disk, some of it was on tape, and some of it was actually coming in from a
network, and one day in sliding back from the console after doing whatever I had to do, I unplugged everything. The AC
cord had wrapped around my foot, and I just unplugged everything, the clock including, and I sat there for like an hour
thinking, jeez, I thought it was about time for lunch, but, man, I guess not, and all sign of life at the radio station stopped for about an hour, of course, until the general manager rolled into the parking lot and beat the living hell out of me.
SNYDER: My first job first day I opened the door on the transmitter cabinet and threw the whole station off the air for 20 minutes. They loved me.
LETTERMAN: And I could never -- you know, you're also supposed to have a third class license, and that's all -- they'd send
you a booklet and you'd study. It's like 40 questions.
SNYDER: Oh, yeah, yeah, the restricted radio-telephone operator's license, yeah.
LETTERMAN: That's right, and then if you were really good at what you were doing, you'd get the first class phone,
and this was -- you had to go to West Point for a couple years to study for this examination. It was impossible, and so I only
got the third class, but you were -- with the third class you were supposed to be able to know how to take transmitter
readings, and the transmitters in those days -- and I have no idea what they are like now -- were so complicated that to get a
reading off of any one of a half dozen meters required a very complex procedure that I never understood or mastered, so for
every radio station that I worked at where I was responsible for taking transmitter readings, I just made them up.
LETTERMAN: It was much easier.
SNYDER: By the way, who knew?
LETTERMAN: Well, you know, the guy in the FCC car, well, you know, he was here in June. For God's sakes, what if the
guy comes back? You're screwed, buddy. I just thought I hope to God I get fired before the FCC examiner rolls in again.
SNYDER: I'm told that when you were at those radio stations -- I read the Rolling Stone piece on you over the holidays last
LETTERMAN: Fascinating, wasn't it, Tom?
SNYDER: Yes, it was. I loved every chapter of it.
LETTERMAN: A real page-turner, wasn't it?
SNYDER: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. But they said that you had this disparaging attitude about Muncie, that you dumped all over Muncie when you were on the air in Muncie.
LETTERMAN: Well, how can you not, for heaven's sakes? It's Muncie, you know. We're not talking about Paris exactly here.
SNYDER: I know, but you seem to take great delight in dumping all over everything, no matter where you go. I mean, you had
a field day with the Titanic tonight. My line might well have been the Titanic only went down once, but yours was very, very good, but where does this come from where you are compelled to disparage, gently and with humor, the venues in which you find yourself?
LETTERMAN: Well, I think it's not limited to the venues in which I find myself -- and by the way, I consider myself to have been quite lucky, because I've had great, great experiences in broadcasting, and it's the only thing I've ever wanted to do in my life, and how many people can say that they have worked most every day of their adult life in something that they really, really have always wanted to do? So I have felt very fortunate in that regard. And as far as making fun of things, we think and we try to first and foremost demonstrate the willingness to make fun of ourselves, myself, the furniture, the Ed Sullivan Theater, and it's just a extension of that. We think that a lot of times the stuff that you find to use as source material for comedy is just as good as
making things up in your head. So I think that you describe it in terms that to me seem a bit severe, when my perspective on it is a bit more generous. I've made fun of my hair. I've made fun of my teeth. I've made fun of the way I look. I've made fun of my suits, but good Lord, Tom, in my entire life have I never seen anything like that tie you're wearing. Oh, get outta here. Just get outta here.
SNYDER: You paid for it, Dave.
LETTERMAN: HUH? That's pretty clever, isn't it?
SNYDER: When you were a kid, did your parents want you to be an achiever? I mean, my mother and father were forever on
me to make something out of myself and to study hard in school and work hard. Did you have that kind of ethic in your
LETTERMAN: Well, I can remember, you know, when the folks would come by the reform school on Sundays, they'd say,
"Dave, good Lord, you've got to do something with this shamble of a life." No, they were -- my existence as a kid was just
great, you know, I had a great time. I was holy hell on my poor mother and ran roughshod over the household.
SNYDER: Well, she's certainly getting even.
LETTERMAN: What exactly does that mean? So, no, you know, it was great. I had a great time as a kid, and I can't
remember the question exactly.
SNYDER: No. I just wondered if you were under pressure to excel as a student.
LETTERMAN: No, no, no. I was not a very good student, because I just, you know, as a kid, of course, like kids, you're
distracted and you're bored and you're goofy and, you know, you would rather be out throwing eggs at somebody's house than
studying, you know, for your schoolwork. I didn't do very well, and it was an endless source of frustration to my parents in particular, because they thought, well, you know, if you don't get good grades, which I never really did, what will become of you? And I think about that now, and all I can do is laugh.
SNYDER: Me too. Same thing. I flunked college and my parents were fearful that I would never amount to anything, and,
of course, look what happened.
LETTERMAN: Well, you know, it's interesting because a lesson that I have learned in my life, and I don't pretend to have
learned many or certainly not all of them, but a lesson that I learned in high school, because I was a certified dweeb in high school, and also in college more or less, you know, that doesn't represent the be-all and end-all of your life. You play 162 games a season, and just because you drop a few early on the road doesn't mean -- I have no idea what I'm talking about now.
SNYDER: It doesn't mean the season's over.
LETTERMAN: Thank you.
SNYDER: We have to pause. We're chatting with David Letterman from the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. Back after
SNYDER: We are back with David Letterman. The man who runs the camera into which you look now, Dave Dorsett, and I
worked at WLWA, your sister station at WLWI, Crossly in Indianapolis.
LETTERMAN: That's right.
SNYDER: What was the career potential at WLWI?
LETTERMAN: Well, I started at WL -- WLWI. That was one of my problems.
SNYDER: Mine too. Thank God they changed the call letters to something else.
LETTERMAN: It was WLWI Indianapolis, WLWD, I believe, Dayton, WLWC Columbus, and the whole thing originates live from channel 5, Cincinnati, Ohio.
LETTERMAN: WLW, of course, I had a great fondness for that because it was a flagship. It was the flagship of the Crossly and then later AVCO network. But WLW, the radio station, I think you know the details of this better than I, at one time with a special experimental permit from the government was allowed to broadcast at something like 500,000 watts.
SNYDER: I believe that's right.
LETTERMAN: And that's how it got to be known as the nation's station, and literally, that radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio, covered North America and maybe then some, and it was in those days, like in many other large communities, a real center of broadcast activity. They did a lot of original broadcasting both in radio and television, and certainly more than goes on these days, so for me it was a real exciting connection. Crossly was okay. When AVCO got to it they were making flexible straws
for the space program, and they spent more time worrying about that than they did broadcasting.
SNYDER: But what about the confinement? In those days, as I recall, if you were an on-air talent at a local television station,
you had three choices: news reader, sports reader or weather reporter. You know, there were not talk shows. There was a
movie hosting job occasionally, but you didn't get a chance to do the kinds of things that you and I like to do, which is chat
with people or perform on television.
LETTERMAN: Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say I enjoy chatting with people, Tom, but when I got the job it was -- and
again, it was a great stroke of luck. In college it was the summer between my sophomore and junior year, and the previous
summer I had worked at a place, WTRE in Greensburg, Indiana, your Tree City station, because at Greensburg at the time, and
they may still have it, in the courthouse they had like an oak tree growing out of the roof of the courthouse, WTRE, your Tree
SNYDER: Tree City station, yeah.
LETTERMAN: And then the following year, between my sophomore and junior year in college, a friend of mine by the name
of Jerry Norris, really nice kid and a guy that I was close with all through high school and college, his brother, Dick Norris, worked at this television station. We used to go down there and hang around, and he would show us the facility and so forth,
and as kind of a, I think, a lark, he set up an audition for me at the television station to audition for the part, you know, as a summer replacement, vacation announcer. You would sit in the announce booth, you would do the weather, you would do everything that they used to use live talent for -- again, not that I am flattering myself with that term -- and miracle of miracles,
I got this summertime job, and so suddenly I had virtually almost gone from sacking groceries at the Atlas Market to being on television, and for me it was a dream come true, and everything that you mentioned was afforded me. I had a chance to read some news. I was part of the little kids show. I got to do some weather, and I was just horrible, just horrible at it, you know,
but it was great experience, I mean, it was -- as you know, once you've learned the two or three lessons you need to learn in broadcasting, it doesn't make any difference whether it's Muncie, whether it's Milwaukee, whether it's Atlanta, Indianapolis --
SNYDER: Or the Ed Sullivan theater.
LETTERMAN: -- Cincinnati, yeah, once you have those, you know, that's all you need to know the rest of your life if you're going to stay in broadcasting. And, you know, it was a grand time for me. It was just -- I don't know. I've had nothing but really fun jobs, and that was, I guess, maybe the first real solid taste of broadcasting, and I loved every minute of it.
SNYDER: How much fun is the job you have now?
LETTERMAN: When it goes well, it's great, it's endless fun. As you know, the exhilaration you get from participating in kind
of overseeing a job well done by the 40 or 50 people that put together the endless details of a nightly show, when that goes
well, regardless of your participation or whatever you've done not to screw it up, when that goes well -- it's like anybody's job.
A mason, when he puts up a lovely piece of brick work, there is nothing more satisfying, nothing more exhilarating, and it's the best fun you can have.
SNYDER: Are you happy more often than you're not happy with the piece of work you've done? Are you happy with tonight's piece of work?
LETTERMAN: Yeah, more or less. We had some problems tonight, and I didn't help things, but it turned out to be a pretty good show, again, largely through the efforts of others. Billy Crystal was our first guest, and he was very, very funny, and Marv Albert was on, and I get a big kick out of Marv. I have a lot of respect for him.
SNYDER: But Marv should give the scores and let you do the jokes.
LETTERMAN: Well, now, let's not be harsh with Marv. Yeah, so I think that despite my ineptness tonight and despite some
other problems that are going to happen every few months or so, yeah, I think it turned out all right.
SNYDER: Why do you keep referring to yourself as inept? Why do you keep saying, "It's all my fault"? The night that I was
with you last April and you leaned over and you said to me, gesturing to the studio audience, "These people all hate me," is that just a front or do you really believe -- you can't believe that, for heaven's sake. When you walk out of that theater every night
and they applaud you, you know they don't hate you. Why do you say that?
LETTERMAN: Tom, I hate to correct you, but I believe what I said to you when I whispered in your ear was --
SNYDER: I know what's coming.
LETTERMAN: -- was, "These people hate you." You know, I don't know. I've thought about this for a long time, and the
best analogy I can come up with here, it's like running a small restaurant, and you come to the restaurant and work in the
kitchen all day long preparing the best food possible, and some nights the people are going to enjoy it, some nights they are
not going to enjoy it, and I feel the ultimate consummate sense of responsibility that everything that goes wrong, the blame for
everything should and will be and can be placed in my lap. I'm not doing this for free, and I feel like if I don't justify in my own mind each and every night the very best effort to take the hard work of the men and women who work on this show each day and make it into something as good as the ingredients or a little bit better, you know, then I ought to be giving the check back, and I'm speaking metaphorically, of course, because there's not a chance in hell I'll be giving the checks back.
SNYDER: You, Dan Rather and all.
LETTERMAN: So I just feel like if things go well, that's great, things are supposed to go well. If things don't go well, I feel like it's my fault.
SNYDER: We are with David Letterman. We will continue after these brief messages.
SNYDER: We are back with David Letterman. In the definitive book about the transfer of power on the Tonight Show and
your move from NBC to CBS, it was written that David Letterman felt he had to reinvent himself for the 11:30 time period,
that he had to do something different from what he did at 12:30. Did you consciously go through a process in which you said, "Here is how I'm going to be different," or did you just walk out and do what came naturally?
LETTERMAN: Well, you know, we considered it at length, because that seemed to be something that people were questioning
us about and talking a great deal about, "Well, you know, the show barely worked at 12:30. How the hell is it going to work
at 11:30?" So we considered it, you know, we'd have meetings and we'd take a rundown from the old show and we'd say,
"Well, what about this? Can we still do this? What about that?" And pretty much, with the exception of some cosmetic
changes, in tone and attitude I think we are doing the same show. We were very fortunate in that the facility that we came to,
the Ed Sullivan Theater, presented all manner of new opportunities and endless source material, things to explore and to
exploit. So that helped a great deal, I think, in reinforcing the impression that we had done some reinventing, but the truth of it
is, the only actual things that when it came down to, we decided to change the kind of clothing that I wore, which is maybe something, Tom, you ought to think about, and we also --
SNYDER: Don't start up with me on clothing or hair, pal.
LETTERMAN: And we also increased the size of the band. Beyond that, there was not a great deal of forethought or conscious effort to make any changes.
SNYDER: Let me ask you about the press that's written about the Late Show with David Letterman, which since August of
1993 has been phenomenal, and then after the Oscar program it began to change, and it almost seemed as if the press was
piling on David Letterman, and the press was writing stories that somehow Dave had lost the magic and that he wasn't as
sharp or as good as he used to be. What effect if any did that have upon your outlook or your attitude?
LETTERMAN: Well, first of all, you're right. We've been very fortunate with this show, and most of my public life we've
been very, very lucky, and I found what you described to be very interesting, because while it's clearly more fun to have really
a hundred percent nice things written about you day in and day out, you only learn things about yourself when there is some
kind of trouble, and I never could bring myself to read the glowing reviews and positive things that people were saying,
because I felt like, well, this means that the person writing this piece either really agrees with everything I'm doing or is
just pretending to agree with everything I'm doing.
SNYDER: Right, right.
LETTERMAN: So when people write negative things about you, what you have to do, of course, is get beyond any kind of
hurt feelings that that might cause and take a look at it, and that's the only way that I learn things about myself, the only
way I learn things about the job we're doing. So overall I found it to be really very interesting, but how big a factor is it in my life? Not really. If somebody has something legitimate and honest and critical to say about the work that I'm doing, absolutely, I'm fine with that, because, of course, like most everybody drawing breath on this globe, I'm not infallible. So I guess the answer to your question is I found it very interesting, and I think in many, many ways very beneficial, because you're doing a nightly television show, and we are a work in progress, and if we lose sight of something, you know, by all means it should be called to our attention. Again, going back to just looking at it in terms of the fiscal responsibility here, we ought to be doing the best job we can, and if people can help us out by criticizing the show or me, I don't have a problem with that. I really think, and I guess anybody who's been alive for any length of time knows this, you only really learn things when there's trouble. So from that standpoint, it was a really good experience for us.
SNYDER: When you say you learn things when there's trouble, does that mean that there has been trouble?
LETTERMAN: The trouble that you referenced regarding, you know, criticism in the press.
SNYDER: Not reference to changes in staff on the Late Show, the departure of Hal Gurnee?
LETTERMAN: No. Well, Hal Gurnee has been with me since, I guess, 1980, 15 years, and I can't say enough good wonderful
things about this man. This is the guy that I always wanted to be. He's smart; he's funny; he's talented; he's a gentleman.
He has experienced things in his life that I would not wish on others and has come through always with grace and dignity and
a sense of humor. So Hal's departure, we're going to miss Hal as a person and, of course, as a director, but as he told me when he talked about quitting, when we hired him on the Morning Show back in 1980, he had already retired then, so here's a guy
who for me had postponed his retirement for 15 years, and I'll never forget anything that Hal has ever done for us, and he is going to remain with the company, and we are very happy about that, but good Lord, I envy this man and what he and his life have ahead of him.
SNYDER: Speaking of the company for which I work and which you run, Worldwide Pants, how much time do you devote to
your duties as a television mogul in charge of the production not only of these two late night programs at CBS, but a Bonnie
Hunt sitcom which will run on CBS this fall and other programs in development? You know, you almost wear two hats here,
broadcaster and executive producer and mogul. How do you handle the mogul part? Dave Letterman, mogul.
LETTERMAN: I think my mogul hat needs blocking. I have very little to do with it. I want to say something here that, I guess,
is going to sound self-serving, but I feel like this is something I have really felt for a long, long time. I couldn't be -- we're
very lucky to be in a position to have a small production company, and I couldn't be prouder, more proud of you and your
staff and the people that put that show on every day, because it's turned out great, and I am very, very flattered and excited
about that. I feel the same way with Bonnie Hunt and Rob Burnett with the work they've done on that show. We had
another show called Emmitt and Earl, which services are being held for that tomorrow.
SNYDER: Hey, Dave, some you win, some you lose.
LETTERMAN: But the people behind that show, a guy named Adam Resnick, who's been with us for years and years, did a
terrific job, and I am so proud of the efforts that all of these people have done, and Robert Morton was key among those for
Emmitt and Earl, and also I'm very proud of --
SNYDER: What, did Morty mess that one up?
LETTERMAN: No, no, no. He did a fine job.
SNYDER: I thought when I heard you say tonight, "Must kill Morty," that something --
LETTERMAN: And also the work that our staff did last week when we were in London, to me, in answer to your question,
I had very little to do with all of this. I show up two or three times a week, you know, they sober me up, put me in a suit, and that's about it, and the rest of this is so gratifying, because we have attracted and been able to maintain relationships with just wonderful people who have done day in and day out a great job for us, so the answer to the question is I don't have much to do with it, but I certainly am proud of the benefits.
SNYDER: If I could keep you for five more minutes, I would be even more in your debt. I have to do a fast break. Back with David Letterman from the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York after hours after these messages.
SNYDER: We are back with David Letterman. Let me ask you here about --
LETTERMAN: Let me ask you. When is this show on? This seems like a pretty good thing.
SNYDER: It's on right after your program tonight, Dave. It's on right now, pal.
LETTERMAN: Hey, slick. Tom, how is -- I know for a fact you're twice my age, and you look a hundred percent better than
I do. How does that happen? How the hell does that happen?
SNYDER: Make-up, lighting and attitude, kid.
LETTERMAN: Where does the vodka figure into that?
SNYDER: If it figured into it that much, I wouldn't look nearly this well, my friend. Now, let me ask you here about imitation in late night television. Certainly Johnny Carson probably borrowed elements of Jonathan Winters to do kind old lovable Aunt Blabby. Certainly David Letterman has borrowed and updated things that Steve Allen did back in the early days of television. Steve Allen gave out salamis; David Letterman gives out canned hams. I notice that the Tonight Show now has a host and a band leader who banter back and forth who go out on location and do things together, and this has been written about in the press. Do you ever think, as you hear of these escapades on the part of your competition, Mr. Leno, that imitation is the sincerest form of thievery?
SNYDER: Do you mind if people steal from you?
LETTERMAN: First of all, firsthand experience, I don't know that to be true, so I can't comment directly about that. I can
speak to our situation. If you cite something that I have done on this show or something on the old NBC show or something
on the early Morning Show, I can show you the source material for that. So that just seems to be the nature of -- and forgive
me for using this phrase -- the creative process. We try to take glimmers of ideas or full-blown ideas and change them, and usually what happens, as you know, in any endeavor like this, you start out by imitating something you know, and then you work that way, and through that process you eventually achieve your own voice, and it's nothing mystical. I didn't mean to make it sound that way.
SNYDER: How much of what you do on the Late Show would have been the Tonight Show starring David Letterman at NBC?
LETTERMAN: This is the show. This would have been the show, without question. We always felt -- the big disappointment
for me regarding not getting that job was we felt like we had done a show for ten years at NBC, and as a production unit we were ready to go.
LETTERMAN: We wanted to move to Burbank. That would have been great. Johnny was gone, and that would have been
huge pressure to follow Johnny, but we felt like we were -- I don't know about a comparison to Carson; I don't know if
anybody is up to that task -- but we felt like we were up to the task and responsibility of producing a really nice good show for 11:30.
SNYDER: As you have well demonstrated now coming up on two years, and you and your people -- and I don't mean for this
to be self-serving because I work for your company -- but you ought to be commended for this.
LETTERMAN: Well, God bless you, Tom.
SNYDER: Let me ask you here about what you think is the legacy, the continuing legacy, if in fact there is any of it left, for Johnny Carson's reinvention of late night television, because you and Jay have taken it a totally different way from Carson's gentle art of conversation and mimicry.
LETTERMAN: Yes. I think in some way that's too bad, because I watch shows like yours and other shows, but they are
dwindling, and you realize how entertaining the simple form of reasonable conversation can be, and I realize that we probably
just beat that notion to death. When we were in London, we had Peter O'Toole on Wednesday night.
SNYDER: I saw him.
LETTERMAN: And every now and then we'll have guests here on this show where you kind of get a sense of, yeah, this used
to be the way it was, and my God, there was really nothing very wrong with this at all, was there? Sometimes part of the
problem is -- well, I don't know if it's a problem at all. We've just changed things and, you know, you feel like you've got to have, you know, spinning disks of color to keep people entertained.
SNYDER: Dave, Dave, television is changing, it's changing, but we tend to think of ourselves here as one of the last bastions
of that time when late night television was conversation.
LETTERMAN: And you're very smart to have done it, because I've watched your career, as I've told you many, many times.
SNYDER: Well, don't tell me again then.
LETTERMAN: I saw you on the first Tomorrow Show and watched darn near every one of those programs, and you're smart
to continue doing what you're doing, because, like I say, the numbers are thinning, and so to see it done as gracefully and
as artfully as you do it, it's very satisfying.
SNYDER: Thank you. Why do you like to drive so fast?
LETTERMAN: Oh, stop it. Gee, don't make me come out there and slap you silly. What the hell? I don't drive --
SNYDER: No. Seriously, why --
LETTERMAN: I don't. Oh, you've never received a speeding ticket in your life?
SNYDER: I haven't had a speeding ticket since I was 17
LETTERMAN: Oh, please.
SNYDER: Seriously, what is it about you? What is the thrill with speed? I know you love cars and I know you're probably
going to go to the Indianapolis 500 race this weekend. What is it --
LETTERMAN: I will not be going to the Indianapolis 500 this weekend, but I'm very, very excited. I will now, Tom, do for
you something wonderful. I will tell you the winner of this year's greatest spectacle in speeding.
SNYDER: In auto racing.
LETTERMAN: Yeah. Bobby Rahal will win the 79th edition of the Indianapolis 500. What was the other question? Oh, no. I
don't speed. I got some tickets once years ago.
SNYDER: I know. The officers had faulty radar guns, and I'm down to time here.
LETTERMAN: No, no, no. I lost my license and now I obey all posted speed limits.
SNYDER: Good. David, thank you so much for your time tonight, and thank you for letting us play.
LETTERMAN: Wait a minute. Have you got somebody else coming on?
SNYDER: No, this is it. No, it's 1:30 in the morning, Dave. It's time to close up shop here.
LETTERMAN: Yeah. Well, maybe it's time for you, Tom, but I'm just getting warmed up. I want to tell you something, buddy. I own that show. We ain't going anywhere. Do you understand? What have you got coming up next, like a half hour infomercial with Cher about make-up? No, no, we're staying on.
SNYDER: Say good-night, David.
LETTERMAN: Good night, Tom. Thank you.
SNYDER: And good night for NBC news. My thanks to David Letterman.
LETTERMAN: You said it again, Tom.
SNYDER: My thanks to David Letterman for being with us tonight from the Ed Sullivan Theater. Again, David, thank you and good night.
LETTERMAN: You said NBC.
SNYDER: Did I really?
SNYDER: Well, remember, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley? Good night, Chet, good night, David, and good night for NBC
LETTERMAN: That's a good one, Tom.
SNYDER: Okay, get off of him and get off of me. We'll be right back after these messages.
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