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‘The David Letterman Show’

All about Dave’s first talk show – and a daytime one to boot

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David Letterman is recognized at the Kennedy Center Honors.

David Letterman is recognized at the Kennedy Center Honors.

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

 

  • TitleThe David Letterman Show
  • HostDavid Letterman
  • Band leader: Fred Owens
  • Announcer: Bob Sarlatte, Bill Wendell
  • Format: Originally 90-minutes, then one-hour daytime talk show
  • Executive producers: David Letterman, Jack Rollins, Barry Sand
  • Broadcast information: Originally broadcast on NBC.
  • Production company: Space Age Meats, NBC
  • Distributor: NBC
  • Premiere Date: June 23, 1980
  • Final episode: October 24, 1980

Brief History:

Shortly before he took his place in late night history, David Letterman hosted a daytime talk show on NBC called ‘The David Letterman Show’. It only lasted a few weeks, but the show left an indelible mark on the late night landscape.

Originally a 90-minute talk and variety program, Letterman’s early morning charmer delivered comedy in Letterman’s quirky kind of way. And even though Letterman carried many of his trademark segments and gags to late night, there were some big differences between the two shows.

The show debuted in February 1982. It replaced Tomorrow with Tom Snyder, another late night talk show that was aimed at older audiences. NBC offered to slide Tomorrow to 1:30 a.m., but Snyder didn’t want to do that. Instead, NBC cancelled the program.

Late Night was geared at young men, a demographic NBC wanted to capture, and featured many of the segments popular with critics from Letterman’s daytime program.

Letterman’s interview style is one of the biggest differences, according to Splitsider writer Ramsey Ess. Morning Dave seems far more interested in what his guests have to say that late night Dave, who is known to half-listen to a guest if that guest proves uninteresting, disengaged or otherwise not on their game (or appearing as part of some contractual obligation).

There’s a lot that’s the same, as well. Viewers of Dave’s morning program were likely happy to see that segments like “Stupid Pet Tricks” and “Small Town News” made their way to late night. Even “Viewer Mail”.

The show didn’t last long, however.

Letterman received news from NBC in October 1980 that the show would be cancelled after only four months on the air. Never mind that NBC executives liked his style and critics loved the show. Morning viewers didn’t, and as such, the show was shuttered.

NBC didn’t want to lose Letterman however. There was word that other production companies would be happy to offer the young comedian a spot on their roster. So NBC asked Letterman to ignore those deals, paid him to “sit out the season,” so to speak, ($20,000 a week) while they figured out what to do with him. During that time, Letterman guest hosted The Tonight Show and spent time honing his comedy writing skills.

It wasn’t long before NBC had an answer and a plan. They offered to move Letterman to late night and develop a talk show around him. His show would follow The Tonight Show. So Letterman’s production company, Space Age Meats Productions, along with NBC and Johnny Carson’s company, Carson Productions, developed Late Night with David Letterman.

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