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Talk Shows, Hosts and 9/11

How talk show hosts responded after September 11

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Many of our beloved talk shows are based in New York City. Shows like Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night and Live with Regis & Kelly.

So when the events of September 11, 2001, took place, the terrorist attacks affected New York City talk shows like no other -- though the tragedy of that day was felt from coast to coast. All went dark for some time. And after a few days passed, our TV viewing foundation returned to the airwaves with heartfelt words of humanity, compassion and hope. Here are some of the most memorable moments.

1. David Letterman Returns

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Letterman returned on Sept. 17, 2001, just a week after the attacks. His show was quiet and reflective, featuring only Dan Rather and Regis Philbin. The talk show host's monologue is historic, capturing the confused emotion of all New Yorkers and most of America. His most memorable line: "As I understand it (and my understanding of this is vague at best), another smaller group of people stole some airplanes and crashed them into buildings. And we're told that they were zealots, fueled by religious fervor… religious fervor. And if you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any sense to you? Will that make any Goddamned sense? Whew."

Watch the monologue here.

2. Jon Stewart Follows

Getty Images/Brendan Hoffman

Letterman's return signaled it was okay to get back to work. Jon Stewart sat behind the desk at The Daily Show shortly thereafter with another inspiring monologue. Rather than guests, Stewart's show was filled with "Best Of" clips, intended only to bring a bit of levity to weary souls.

"The reason I don't despair is because this attack happened. It's not a dream. But the aftermath of it, the recovery is a dream realized. And that is Martin Luther King's dream," Stewart told his audience. "Whatever barriers we've put up are gone even if it's momentary. But to see these guys, these firefighters, these policemen and people from all over the country, literally, with buckets rebuilding. That's extraordinary."

3. Conan Thanks His Audience

Conan O'Brien, then host of NBC's Late Night, addressed the bravery of his audience on his first night back. "I want to begin by thanking a studio audience that would come here and support New York and the show, and everything, just - in the situation in general - just for being here," Conan started. "It's just tremendous for you to be here."

Conan's take on coming back was to simply press forward. "All I can say is that tonight we're going to start and we're going to try and make this little show, which has always been silly and unprofessional and largely inconsequential in the larger world," he said. "We're going to try to do one of these tonight, and then we'll try tomorrow, and then so on and so on. So let's begin."

4. Live with Regis & Kelly

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After appearing on the Late Show the night before, Regis, along with co-host Kelly Ripa brought Live on air Sept. 18. The show opened with a review of the previous week's tragic and historic events. Later, Regis would visit what is now known as Ground Zero. "I am so glad to see everyone," Ripa warmly told the studio audience. "Every day, now, I have a renewed appreciation for humanity and for life."

5. The Rosie O’Donnell Show

Former talk show host Rosie O'Donnell opened her daytime talk show, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, with a montage of images from New York - people, places, moments in time. She also encouraged viewers to donate to The September 11th Fund. The Fund, which collected $534 million from more than 2 million donors, completed its mission in 2004. "To the victims' families, I, like everyone else, have no words," O'Donnell said, welling up. O'Donnell stressed the importance of moving on with our day-to-day lives. "Otherwise, the bad guys win. And the bad guys don't get to win."

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