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‘Late Show with David Letterman’

An Overview


‘Late Show with David Letterman’

The 'Late Show' Marquee

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Title: Late Show with David Letterman

Host: David Letterman

Band Leader: Paul Shaffer

Band: The CBS Orchestra

Announcer: Alan Kalter

Personalities: Biff Henderson (stage manager), Rupert Jee (owner of nearby restaurant ‘Hello Deli’), Pat Farmer and Kenny Sheehan (stagehands), Tony Mendez (cue cards), Harold Larkin (head carpenter), Dave Dorsett (cameraman), Stephanie Birkitt (production assistant), Gerard Mulligan and Chris Elliott (former writers), and Dorothy (Dave’s mother).

Format: One-hour, classic host-behind-the-desk

Network: CBS (Aug. 2003 – present) NBC (Feb. 1982 – June 2003 as Late Night with David Letterman)

Broadcasts: Weeknights, 11:35 p.m. to 12:35 a.m. ET

Tapes: Mondays at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (the second taping airs on Fridays), Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. and Thursdays at 4:30 p.m.

Premiere Date: August 30, 1993

Originating From: New York City

Awards: The Emmy for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program in 1994 and 1998 – 2002.


The Late Show with David Letterman follows what is consider the standard late-night talk show format:

  • Open with a topical monologue
  • Follow with banter and a comedy bit from behind the talk show host’s desk
  • Introduce the first guest
  • Inject a mid-show comedy sketch
  • Introduce second guest
  • Introduce third guest, stand-up comic or musical guest

Since his debut in 1982, host David Letterman has been known for his quick wit, dry and often sarcastic sense of humor, and his devotion to the medium. In most quarters, he is considered the true successor to Johnny Carson, former host of The Tonight Show (in fact, the former host used to call Letterman to offer jokes for him to use on the program). In recent years, Letterman’s style has softened and his comedy sketches have grown less cutting edge and – though still absurd – more subdued.

Popular Segments:

The Top Ten List: Each night, Letterman presents his Top Ten List, a show staple and a carry-over from his days at NBC. As the title suggests, the Top Ten List presents the top 10 “reasons for …” or “signs of …” or other definer, inspired by pop culture and current events. Letterman presents the list most of the time, but on occasion, celebrity guests have ticked off the entries.

Stupid Pet Tricks: Pet owners showcase the strange talents of their pets – tightrope walking dogs, sneezing cats, beer-fetching ferrets and the like. The segment’s catch phrase: “Remember, this is only an exhibition, not a competition – please, no wagering.” is just as popular as the segment itself.

Stupid Human Tricks: An spin-off of “Stupid Pet Tricks,” this segment features the bizarre talents of plain old humans – from odd gymnastics to spitting milk from tear ducts.

Will it Float?: A favorite, in which band leader Paul Shaffer and Letterman debate whether everyday objects – a ham, a phone book, a folding chair – will float in a tank of water.

Know Your Current Events: An audience participation game, in which players are asked to select a quiz topic – from current events to strange items, such as “Know Your Cuts of Meat” – and are asked a trivia question. Winners receive prizes.

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