TCA Late Night Wars: David Letterman

PASADENA, Calif.–CBS got us all excited. They put a “TBA” on their press tour schedule. We all thought it meant that HE was finally going to walk among us–David Letterman.
Dave has not made the press tour scene since 1994 or ’95. He worked press tour when CBS snagged him away from NBC, making an appearance at CBS’s Television City Studios. He was via satellite another time when he was a producer on some other show–maybe one of Bonnie Hunt’s shows, I can’t remember.
Anyway, dammit, instead of Dave, the big surprise was that Wayne Brady was in the house. No disrespect to Brady–he was here to promote his new role as the daytime host of a revival of Let’s Make a Deal–he just ain’t Dave.
I asked a few CBS higher-ups if there might ever be any scenario where Letterman might make this scene. If it was ever going to happen, it should have been this summer. This red hot minute, he’s the guy standing pat while NBC turns their entire late night schedule inside out. He’s the guy who is suddenly neck-and-neck with Conan O’Brien’s new Tonight Show. A new two-year-deal with Dave is imminent, goes the chatter. A few minutes here would have brought him headlines from critics across North America, maybe pushed him over the top. He’s the big get, Garbo and Carson rolled into one, the interview we all want before we hang ’em up or get put by the curb.
It will never happen, one CBS suit told me. Not because he doesn’t care, not because he’s shy, not because he’s trying to be aloof, not because he doesn’t want to get into a dust up with O’Brien (a guy he generously endorsed way back when the red head really needed it) but just because he’s different–a genuine, real deal, 100% broadcaster. They pour themselves out into the ether and into our consciousness for tens of thousands of hours and that’s all your ever gonna get, said the suit.
I guess, but a guy can still dream, can’t I?
Critics got a tantalizing glimpse into the inner Dave earlier at press tour when Robin Williams worked the HBO sessions. When I asked Williams if his recent heart surgery had led to any kind of epiphany, he segued into swapping surgery stories with Letterman on a recent visit to the Late Show couch. Letterman, who survived a quintuple bypass several years ago, leaned over to Williams at one point during a break and said:

“Do you find yourself getting emotional?” I went “Oh, yeah.” It is this thing of you literally are opened up. It’s like (makes a sound). And then after that — and you really do appreciate the simplest things like breath and friends and the idea of — and all of the weird things that you kind of go “Yeah, I’ve got to keep going, going. Just take it a little slower.” That’s why, when you said the stand-up, just take it a little slower. Start to see. Look at it more. Don’t rush the conclusion. You know, it’s like the John Cleese line in “Meaning of Life,” “Don’t go stampeding toward the clitoris, boy. Just take a moment. Take a moment. Look at it.” And that’s been amazing. And it really makes me appreciate, like, to see — like, to see Larry today, it was like going “Yeah, you are still here,” to see Letterman and go “You are still here.”

That’s why I still want to interview Letterman–because we’re still here.

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