Six big takeaways from Dave Itzkoff’s sit-down with David Letterman for The New York Times as Letterman approaches his final month as a late-night TV host (and for a seventh, how about this photo from Damon Winter that reveals Letterman has wall of stacked paper cups along his dressing-room mirror representing every show he’s hosted over the years!):
1) Letterman secured his place as an innovator and godfather of weird late-night TV out of necessity, because his bosses at NBC and particularly The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson didn’t want a carbon-copy talk show at 12:30 a.m. ET/PT.
“A lot of what we did was dictated by Carson.”
2) 33 years later, Letterman knew time and technology had passed him by. Twitter? YouTube? Just not for him.
“When I was watching those interim shows they did on “The Late Late Show,” and I saw John Mayer hosting one night, I thought, “Ohhhh, now I see exactly what the problem is.” Because he’s young. He’s handsome. He’s trim. He’s witty. He was comfortable. So then I realized, I got nothing to worry about. I know I can’t do what Jimmy Fallon’s doing. I know I can’t do what Jimmy Kimmel is doing. There’s nothing left to be worried about. It’s all over, Dad, you’re going to be just fine.”
3) He worried CBS would replace him when he underwent heart surgery in 2000.
“And of course, I was worried that somebody would go on while I was off with my heart surgery, and be good enough that they didn’t want me back.”
4) He realized after the fact that CBS could have, would have and perhaps should have fired him in 2009 when revelations surfaced about his multiple relationships with young female interns and staffers over the years.
“Looking at it now, yes, I think they would have had good reason to fire me. But at the time, I was largely ignorant as to what, really, I had done. It just seemed like, O.K., well, here’s somebody who had an intimate relationship with somebody he shouldn’t have had an intimate relationship with. And I always said, “Well, who hasn’t?” to myself. But then, when I was able to see from the epicenter, the ripples, I thought, yeah, they could have fired me. But they didn’t. So I owe them that.”
5) He also understands that late-night TV is all too white and male, and doesn’t have to be. Not that anyone needed to consult with him on his replacement.
“I always thought Jon Stewart would have been a good choice. And then Stephen. And then I thought, well, maybe this will be a good opportunity to put a black person on, and it would be a good opportunity to put a woman on. Because there are certainly a lot of very funny women that have television shows everywhere. So that would have made sense to me as well.”
6) Will he miss late-night TV after May 20? Of course! Will he be OK with that? Probably.
“Every big change in my life was full of trepidation. When I left Indiana and moved to California. When Regina and I decided to have a baby — enormous anxiety and trepidation. Those are the two biggest things in my life, and they worked out beyond my wildest dreams. I’m pretending the same thing will happen now. I’ll miss it, desperately. One of two things: There will be reasonable, adult acceptance of transition. Or I will turn to a life of crime.”