All good things come to an end. And so it was for David Letterman’s stint at the helm of his much-loved late-night talk show on CBS. After 33 years (and 6,028 shows) entertaining night owls, Letterman’s The Late Show on Wednesday evening was his last.
It was an emotional farewell as the Indiana native checked into retirement with a line-up of classic clips, a Foo Fighters performance and a host of big names delivering a final Top Ten list of things they always wanted to say to the late night king.
None were any bigger than the four presidents (including current POTUS Barack Obama) who at the top of the show remarked in a taped address, “our long national nightmare is over.”
For his final opening monologue at the Ed Sullivan Theater, the 68-year old talk-show giant struggled to quieten his cheering audience. Paul Shaffer’s CBS Orchestra had to intervene. Naturally, all Letterman’s gags were connected to his retirement. What is he going to do now he’s done with regular TV? “By god I hope to become the new face of Scientology,” he quipped. And later, “when I screw up,” he remarked, “I’ll need to go on someone else’s show to apologize.” He said that professor Stephen Hawking crunched the numbers and that Letterman’s career on TV had included “about eight minutes of laughter.”
There were shout outs to the slot’s incoming host Stephen Colbert, a tailor-made sketch from the Simpsons, and multiple trips down memory lane. Colbert, the former Colbert Report host, will no doubt have been watching. And reminding himself that Letterman will be a mighty tough act to follow.
Letterman’s iconic Top 10 segment was always hard to beat, and he pulled out the big guns for the finale. Ten frequent Late Show guests and “friends” of the program took their turn to present the last list, “Things I’ve Always Wanted to Say to Dave.” Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Martin, Barbara Walters (who missed her marker) and a bearded Jim Carrey (“honestly Dave, I’ve always thought you to be a bit of an over-actor”) were among the guests who walked to the mic to serve up their lines. Bill Murray was charged with the No. 1 response: “Dave, I’ll never have the money I owe you.”
Letterman’s acerbic, self-deprecating style has given his show pulling power around the globe. He turned it on again for the last time. “In light of all the praise, merited or not, save a little for my funeral,” he asked.
As the show reached its final moments, Letterman thanked family, crew, friends. And it came back at him. “Thank you David, you’ve changed our lives. We’ve loved every second of it,” remarked his band leader Shaffer, who looked choked-up on occasions through the one hour 20 minute broadcast. He’s not the only one. In a tribute to Letterman, rival Jimmy Kimmel chose to play a rerun for his ABC show on Wednesday. There would be no competition against the great. Jimmy Fallon began his own Wednesday monologue by noting: “I want to thank you for watching this on your DVR after you watched Letterman.”
Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters gave Letterman a send-off with the enduring epic “Everlong,” from the rockers’ second, 1997 album The Color and the Shape. The Foos played the song for Letterman when he returned from quadruple heart bypass surgery in February 2000. “These people saved my life,” he said of that performance 15 years ago.
Letterman leaves in good shape, but when the tears dry and after everyone’s had a good night’s sleep, his late, long-lasting TV staple will pass into history.