The Late Show with David Letterman

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Template:Infobox television The Late Show with David Letterman is an hour-long weeknight comedy and talk show broadcast by CBS from the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway in New York City. The show debuted on August 30, 1993 and is produced and hosted by David Letterman. The show's music director and bandleader of the house band, the CBS Orchestra, is Paul Shaffer. The head writers are brothers Justin Stangel and Eric Stangel. The announcer is Alan Kalter, who replaced Bill Wendell as announcer in 1995.

Letterman was previously the host of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC from 1982 to 1993. Shaffer, Wendell, and several members of the band were also with the NBC show. Even today, many news stories about The Late Show still refer to it with the Late Night title.

According to an August 2004 edition of the show's official newsletter, in eleven years there have been 2264 shows, 4082 guests, 1382 cameo appearances, 1668 musical performances, 473 guests and substitute musicians who have sat in with the CBS Orchestra, 275 stand-ups, and at least 130 demonstrations.

Letterman at his desk.

Regular sketches

Top Ten List segue.

When Letterman moved to CBS and began the Late Show, several of Late Night's long-running comedy bits made the move with him, including his best known bit, the Top Ten List. Letterman renamed a few of his regular bits to avoid legal problems over trademark infringement (NBC cited that what he did on Late Night was "intellectual property" of the network). For example, "Viewer Mail" on NBC became the "CBS Mailbag," and Larry "Bud" Melman began to use his real name, Calvert DeForest.

One recurring sketch on both the NBC and CBS shows has been the destruction of household items by various methods including explosives, steamrollers, and - most frequently - throwing them off the roof of a building.

The Late Show is well known for its repeated absurdist segments, often taking the form of competitions or audience participation. The charm of these segments is often that they are completely pointless, yet are taken seriously by Letterman and all involved.

Is This Anything?

In the Is This Anything? segment the curtain is raised to reveal a costumed performer performing an unusual stunt. Next to this performer, who varies, are two other performers who became regulars for the segment:

  • The "Hula Hoop Girl" (played by Anna Jack), who spins numerous hula hoops around different parts of her body, and
  • The "Grinder Girl" (played by Kiva Kahl), who operates a hand-held grinder against metal parts of her costume, producing sparks.

After about thirty seconds the curtain is lowered and Letterman discusses with Shaffer whether the act was "something" or "nothing."

Know Your Current Events

In this segment ("America's Fastest Growing Quiz Sensation" according to Letterman), Letterman picks an audience member to play a quiz game. He or she first gets to choose the category. Besides the title category, one of the "six big ways to win big" is always "Know Your Cuts of Meat"; other categories are topical and often esoteric, and rarely reappear. Some of these have included "Know Your Home Depot Locations in Delaware," "Know Your Late Show Production Accountant Joe DeGeorge" and "Know Your Shocking Facts about Peter Jennings."

In the case of "Know Your Cuts of Meat", the audience member sees a photo of a cut of meat, and is asked to identify it; other categories are similar. If they win (and they always do, as the answers are given secretly to the contestant), they are given a set of prizes: dinner for two at a local restaurant, (since 1997) the CD Live On Letterman: Music From The Late Show, and most recently added, a box of Explod-O-Pop Atomic popping corn. Winning "Know Your Cuts of Meat" also gets the contestant a special additional prize: a box of USDA Prime beef from Lobel's of New York, worth US$300. (back in April 2000) Letterman will frequently ask winners to share their meat with other members of the audience, or, if the "winner" happens to leave his or her box out in the open, simply reaches in and takes some meat out to give to the other contestant.

Will It Float?

In this segment, an item is dropped into a tank of water by two attractive models. Before this happens, announcer Alan Kalter reads off the name of the item that will be tested and what prize Letterman and Shaffer are competing for. A picture of that prize is flashed on screen for a split second. The prize is never actually awarded to anyone. The two then discuss whether the item will float or sink.

Two models drop the item into the tank while the Late Show "Hula Hoop Girl" and "Grinder Girl" perform on either side of the tank.

According to Letterman, the skit was adapted from a similar BBC programme entitled "Is It Buoyant?". He also advertises the (fictional) "Will It Float" home game, which has everything you need in a box to play the game for only $19.99. The box consists of only the box and a sheet of paper (which suggests what items to use in the game). In addition, before lifting the curtain, Dave always asks Alan Kalter what he and Paul are "playing for", which typically is "$500,000 in gold!". After the game is over, Letterman often makes reference to the big "Will It Float?" party to take place after the show.


Long-time stage manager Biff Henderson.

The show sometimes uses Shaffer and Kalter in comedy routines. Crew members also make occasional appearances, such as stage manager Biff Henderson, stagehands Pat Farmer and Kenny Sheehan, handyman George Clarke, cue card boy Tony "Inky" Mendez, producer Maria Pope, and assistant Stephanie Birkitt.

Some comedy bits also include Rupert Jee, owner of the nearby Hello Deli. Letterman's mother, Dorothy, also makes appearances (via satellite from Indianapolis) from time to time, including each Thanksgiving. She also reported nightly from the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Former recurring players from the show include Sirajul Islam and Mujibur Rahman (employees of a nearby gift store), Calvert DeForest, now-retired writer Gerard Mulligan, and the late scenic designer Kathleen Ankers (reprising her Late Night role of "Peggy, the Foulmouthed Chambermaid"; on CBS, she was the equally censored "Helen, the Ill-tempered Ticket Lady").

Dozens of cameo appearances have been made by the late Tony Randall and by Regis Philbin.

Rupert Jee in his "Hello Deli."

Letterman involves his audience in routines such as "Stump The Band" (a bit originated by Johnny Carson), "Know Your Current Events", and "Audience Show and Tell"; he brings Rupert Jee and outside bystanders into bits such as "May We See Your Digital Photos, Please?" The prizes of these games range from Hello Deli meat platters to Explod-O-Pop, "America's only all-natural atomic popping corn."

For a while, Letterman took great delight in making fun of his employer, continuing a tradition established at NBC. Senior executive Les Moonves was often the target of his abuse. For example, on hearing that Moonves had met with Fidel Castro in 2001, Letterman asked his audience to:

"Imagine the lunch...on one side of the table you've got an egomaniacal dictator surrounded by sniveling yes-men, and, of course, on the other side of the table you've got Fidel Castro."

Letterman's relationship with Moonves has improved; a segment titled "More with Les" features jocular phone calls between Letterman and Moonves.

A Late Show Bumper

He also has a knack for consuming food products and drinks that appear on his show. Among some of the items that he consumed was wine from a bottle used for a cooking demonstration, various kinds of liquor (while quipping "We're gonna lose our liquor license"), Popeye's "Full Flavor Green Beans," Red Bull, liquid from a bottle that supposedly partially contains Wite-Out, pills from boxes labeled "Lipitor" and "Cialis" (obviously not really the drugs), and even cosmetic products.

Alan Kalter's introduction, while technically not a skit, assigns a bizarre modification to Letterman's name and appears at the beginning of every show. ("And now: Microscopic Sea Creature, David Letterman!") Letterman's title changes every night and often makes reference to a current event. ("And now: Disenfranchised French Youth, David Letterman!") Prior to September 11, 2001, the first line of Kalter's introductions contained humorous non sequiturs ("From New York! Where the rats hate the subways, too!"). Once The Late Show returned to air on September 17, 2001, the introduction changed simply to, "From New York! The greatest city in the world!" It has not changed since.

The following is a partial list of other recurring or notable comedy bits:

  • Week In Review
  • Stupid Pet Tricks/Stupid Human Tricks (both holdovers from the NBC show)
  • Telemundo Highlight of the Night
  • Dumb Ads
  • Small Town News
  • How Many Men in a Bear Suit (etc.) Will Fit in a Donut Shop (etc.)?
  • Pat & Kenny Read Oprah Transcripts
  • Pat Farmer's Movie Gaffes
  • Celebrity X-Ray Challenge
  • Dave's Record Collection
  • Throwing items off the roof (usually done by Pat Farmer)
  • Fun with Rupert, a Candid Camera-style bit
  • George W. Bush Joke That's Not Really a Joke
  • Dr. Phil's Words of Wisdom
  • A Moment With George W. Bush
  • Trump or Monkey? (Briefly "Trump or Wookie" during release of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)
  • Paul Shaffer does James Brown's cape routine (with various celebrities, including James Brown himself on one occasion, caping Shaffer)
  • Dick Assman, who made several appearances in 1995
  • Dwight the Troubled Teen
  • "Late Show Unfair Edit," later "Late Show Fun with Editing," later "Late Show Editing Fun"
  • Guess the Puddle
  • Rejected FDA Items
  • Biff Henderson's Fun with a Bullhorn
  • Biff Henderson's Fun with a Stopwatch
  • Alan Kalter's "Are You F*cking Kidding Me?" segment, which questions the sanity behind major news stories (for example, after the Michael Jackson verdict, Kalter's response: "Are You F*cking Kidding Me?!!")
  • George Bush's Spanish is better than his English
  • Ape Or Artist (Letterman and Shaffer are shown a painting and they discuss whether an ape or an artist painted it—always an ape)
  • Ape or Artist or Elephant (nearly identical to Ape or Artist, except with the likely possibility that an elephant painted it)
  • Putting away the Late Show Bear
  • Alan Kalter's "Oh No You Didn't!" in which Alan mentions a recent news story (such as the 5-week working vacation George W. Bush announced) and then says "Oh No You Di-int!"

September 17, 2001

Letterman with Dan Rather on Sept. 17, 2001.

On September 17, 2001, The Late Show returned to the television airwaves six days after the September 11th attacks, a high-profile appearance given the anxiety and grief still felt by many at the time, especially in New York City. Letterman reportedly was considering not resuming the show (a comment that later attracted criticism).

In his opening monologue, an emotional David Letterman said:

"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 goddamn sense?"

High-definition broadcasts

The show began broadcasting in HDTV on Monday August 29, 2005. About two week later, Tim Kennedy, the show's Technical Director, commented on the transition in the show's official newsletter:

  • The biggest challenge in the HD conversion was to renovate and upgrade our old control room, audio room, videotape room, and edit room while still doing five shows a week....This entailed pulling a remote production truck on 53rd Street running somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 feet of video and audio cable just to tie the truck to the existing technical plant....
  • The coolest piece of equipment is our new control room Virtual Wall. We have done away with the conventional monitor for every video source and replaced it with four 70-inch rear projection screens and within those screens we can "virtually" place as many video images as we want, anywhere we want them, and when we want it.

Kennedy and his crew won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video for a Series" during the nearly-four-month-long transition to HDTV.


The following is a partial list of statistics about the first twelve years of the show:


External links

ja:The LATE SHOW with David Letterman no:The Late Show with David Letterman nn:The Late Show with David Letterman zh:大衛深夜秀