Letterman Signs Off, With A Heartfelt Guest-Filled Finale | KERA News

Letterman Signs Off, With A Heartfelt Guest-Filled Finale

May 21, 2015
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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Last night after 33 years on television as a late night talk show host, David Letterman presented his final program. Today, we'll salute Letterman by visiting with his longtime executive producer Rob Burnett. We'll start with a look at David Letterman's last show by our TV critic David Bianculli.

Letterman's career on national TV began in daytime television in 1980 on a program that lasted only a few months on NBC. But two years later, NBC selected Letterman to follow Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" with his own offbeat talk show "Late Night With David Letterman." That show ran from 1982 to '93 when Carson announced his retirement and NBC appointed Jay Leno, not Letterman, as Carson's successor. Letterman countered by moving to CBS where the "Late Show With David Letterman" premiered in 1993 and ran until last night. Here's David Bianculli's review of Letterman's finale.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: David Letterman gave the first words on his last show to former President Gerald Ford in a vintage news clip, followed by specially recorded messages from other U.S. presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

PRESIDENT GERALD FORD: My fellow Americans, our long, national nightmare is over.

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Our long, national nightmare is over.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Our long, national nightmare is over.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Our long, national nightmare is over.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our long, national nightmare is over; Letterman is retiring.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID LETTERMAN: You're just kidding, right?

BIANCULLI: No, Barack Obama wasn't kidding. Not at least about it being the end of Letterman's third-of-a-century talk show run. It was a durable, impressive, influential reign, longer even than that of the master Johnny Carson himself. And Letterman's farewell show was packed to the rafters, the rafters of the Ed Sullivan Theater. His final monologue, instead of being rushed or maudlin, was strong as it could be, starting with a killer of an opening one-liner.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

LETTERMAN: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the "Late Show." I want to tell you one thing; I'll be honest with you. It's beginning to look like I'm not going to get the "Tonight Show."

(LAUGHTER)

BIANCULLI: For the first hour of the slightly extended finale, Letterman was all business showing top-rate clips, finding ways to showcase top-tier guests and even taking care of some important housekeeping. He took time to wish good luck to his appointed successor, Stephen Colbert, whom Letterman predicted will do, quote, "a wonderful job," unquote. He replayed old, classic taped bits from shows past; Dave harassing customers at the drive-through station at a Taco Bell or chatting charmingly with little kids, the way Art Linkletter used to do only goofier. And his final Top 10 list of Things I've Always Wanted To Say To Dave had a different celebrity come on to read each number on the list. It was populated by some of the host's all-time favorite guests - Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey, Peyton Manning and others including Chris Rock and Julia Louis-Dreyfus whose contributions to the Top 10 seemed to tickle Letterman immensely, especially Seinfeld's deadpan, silent reaction to his former sitcom co-star's contribution.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

LETTERMAN: Number five, Chris rock.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHRIS ROCK: I'm just glad your show is being given to another white guy.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN: You know, I had nothing to do with that.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN: Number four, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: Thanks for letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale.

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN: I had nothing to do with that either.

BIANCULLI: The lead-up to this last show has been tremendous, with guests coming by for one last visit with Dave. George Clooney handcuffed himself to Dave for an entire show in an attempt to get him to stay. Barack and Michelle Obama came by making separate appearances. After more than a month of outstanding, memorable shows, David Letterman, on his very last "Late Show" didn't disappoint. And he waited until the one-hour mark when his show went into a brief but deserved overtime to do what more than any other talk show host of his generation he does best.

When he has something to say from the heart, he's the best extemporaneous broadcaster in the business. And on this singular occasion, he made it clear that after 33 years on TV, it was all about family, his workplace family that made "Late Show" so reliably entertaining, and finally, proudly his family at home, wife Regina and son Harry who on this final night, were watching and saluted from the audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

LETTERMAN: I want to thank my own family, my wife, Regina, and my son, Harry.

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN: Look at that kid.

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN: Just seriously - just thank you for being my family. I love you both, and really nothing else matters, does it?

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN: And before the show, Harry wanted me to introduce his buddy, Tommy Roboto. Tommy right there, there's Tommy.

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN: Go get them, Tommy (laughter). Oh, man.

BIANCULLI: I love that. On his very last show, after more than 6,000 of them, David Letterman still took the time and found a way to enjoy himself and be totally natural on camera. It's what made me a fan of his at the very start when I gave a positive review to his first daytime show. And 35 years later at his very last show, I'm still a fan. Well done, David Letterman.

GROSS: David Bianculli is the founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.