THE MAN THEY CALL DAVE

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I’m struggling to find a succinct way to speak about David Letterman and The Late Show. How can you sum up 15 years of watching someone. I’ve started several drafts of this piece rambling on about the other late night shows, Dave’s career, the qualities I admire in him and those I do not. Words upon words before even remotely coming close to mentioning the new show on Netflix. I will try to keep this short and about the new show.

It’s a little late to the game for newcomers to discover Dave but I hope some do. Letterman is doing six episodes on the streaming service interviewing what appears to be all people he admires and most that he has already interviewed before. I will be interested to see how that plays out. His first guest is former President Barack Obama who Letterman is clearly in awe of. Their body language speaking volumes as Letterman appears relaxed and in charge while still deferring to Obama. The format has changed, Letterman takes to the stage in a university theatre and speaks to a crowd before introducing his guest. They sit and talk in two comfortable leather chairs miked up and with clips playing throughout including Letterman walking with Congressman John Lewis across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Montgomery. Almost identical to the kind of seminars or talks a retired talk show host would do and ones that Letterman has done in recent years. You miss Paul and the band (Schaeffer did contribute the snazzy new theme tune) but not really the sketches. Letterman in his later years did one thing better than any of his late night competition. Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, Stewart, Colbert, Ferguson, O’Brien and Handler. He did interviews better than all of them and to see him spread his wings away from network television with no ad breaks is very enjoyable.

The two retirees (Obama significantly younger and busier is still looking back) are reflective most likely by design. As a legacy project Letterman does not so much attempt to reinvent his glory days as lean into his age and focus. These are two old guys talking about the old days and worrying about the future. Not just worrying though but on some level asking what they can do in the time they have left. Obviously for Letterman it is to ask questions, inform others and yes push agendas. In this sense by going back to basics the rebel in him is alive and well.

A few themes are nicely conveyed in this episode, for example an Obama presidency is only made possible by events like the one at Selma with a young John Lewis. Another example is in one breath the former President speaks of being a child home schooled by his mother while living in Indonesia. In the next he is talking about that woman’s granddaughter going off to college. Two polished speakers nicely delivering anecdotes and even hints of regret. Obama wonders if social media so integral to his 2008 campaign has not now been misused, while he is proud of his stewardship through the global financial crisis he candidly expresses that far too many people are left behind in the current economy (a clear expression of failure and regret if you’re paying attention).

Trump is not directly criticised by President Obama but John Lewis makes mention of him. I might have liked Letterman to point out that in 2012 the President spent more money on his campaign than Mitt Romney and whether he thinks that led to a slippery slope. To press him more on what he regrets more. There is a moment where Letterman is needled and he fires back a salvo and you wonder if we could get a little bit more of that banter.

If you’re a fan of either man and their work you’ll find lots to enjoy here. I do hope the show continues for a long time past these six episodes but I do hope it involves more remotes and guests that will challenge him. Imagine Leno or Dubya being interviewed. Maybe that does not fit with the legacy though, Letterman is moving forward and asking questions about how we can better to each other. Not picking fights. A classic moment for me is a closing question from Letterman to Barack. “Why was I not on that bridge?”. Who got The Tonight Show hardly seems important anymore. Dave long since earned the legacy and he’s putting it to good use.

-Lloyd Marken

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20 thoughts on “THE MAN THEY CALL DAVE

  1. I’ve usually enjoyed Letterman when I caught his show, but the new one, no – I do not have Netflix. I fail to see why anyone admires Obama, he accomplished nothing in his 8 years except to bring up old wounds and start the racial tension all over again. People blame Trump for the mess here today, but it was like that when he was elected, no one dare blame a minority president for anything wrong – not in this politically correct world of our anyway.

    1. I have to agree about Obama, GP. I cannot see that he achieved much, and certainly no better life for the poor and the minorities in your country. And then he degenerated into threatening British people about the Brexit vote. He will live on in history as your first black president, but that seems to have been his main claim to fame.

    2. I’m not sure of that GP, his approval rating sank in his second term and only recovered near the end. Former politicians always get positively re-evaluated with hindsight but I think plenty can be critical of his failures as he think even he hints at in this program. I don’t know how he contributed to racial tensions. Some of what Trump has said I would argue is more divisive. I do agree in the political correct atmosphere of today we are losing our ability to have a real conversation about issues and we are speaking about privilege in a way that makes us fight amongst ourselves for the scraps while the truly privileged go on living it up. It would be nice if we felt we were getting the whole story without agendas and bias. Then we could have a real conversation about how we can all make it better. I think people are catching on to this and hopefully we’re going to get better at it.

      1. You can’t really go by polls and approval ratings – they tend to cater to whoever is running it.
        I’m not saying I completely agree with everything Trump does, I’m just saying, Obama did not contribute to the welfare of this country by putting forth his agenda which was very bias, hence bringing up the racial tension again.
        Hopefully we will get better at talking things out, but history doesn’t back that up. Jeez, I do hate politics!!

      2. Polls go up and polls go down. Only reflective of the mood at the time. I think there’s a mood now though that back in the day if Walter Cronkite said the news we believed it. We held Nixon accountable for Watergate, we held Johnson accountable for the Tet Offensive and we held Kennedy accountable for the Bay of Pigs. We acknowledged their triumphs in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the SALT Treaty and civil rights. We could look past voting lines, hell even switch them to recognise what was right and what was wrong. These days we don’t trust the context of the news. We don’t have it reported the same way depending on the outlet. Everything is an opinion, not a fact and so we shape things as best we can. I think going forward we’re going to get out from our echo chambers. There’s always been a pull to old onto old values or to push for future full of more possibilities. These two values will always share tension between them but in the end we all want what’s right for each other. I think we’re gonna not always agree but there’s a common base that wants the same things even if we might not agree on the best way to get there. I’m hopeful for the future.

    3. On a safer topic 🙂 , did you watch Carson back in the day? You may enjoy an old clip of Letterman talking to Paris Hilton and his first night back after September 11. Perhaps my favourite talk show moment is when he had Warren Zevon on in 2002. Zevon was dying and they both knew it, he was the only guest that night performing a bunch of songs for Letterman a long time fan who had had him on the program several times. Watching two middle aged men talk candidly about facing about mortality with a showman’s polish but a true artists honesty is one of the moving, heartfelt and reasonate episodes of television I have ever watched.

      1. I did watch Carson back in the day and I always enjoyed it!! He could always make me laugh – good old belly laughs! I watched Letterman for a while, just not as much. I believe back then I started working nights and then went to very early morning hours – so sleep won out! 🙂

      2. I know what you mean. I’ve enjoyed so much of Carson on YouTube. I watched Letterman as a uni student and it became more difficult as I got a job and a girlfriend. Now with streaming I’ve left late night television behind but I’ll always love Dave.

  2. I have never been a fan of talk shows, to be honest. I have never watched Letterman, Carson, or any of the British equivalents. The guests are generally plugging a book, film, tour, album, or new TV show. When they try to get ‘serious’, they tend to provide a platform for someone to drone on about their achievements, their time in rehab, or how they found the light.
    As you can tell, not my thing, despite your enthusiastic tribute, which was no less interesting to read for that.
    Best wishes, Pete.

      1. I read them because I am interested in what you write about, Lloyd. I don’t have to like the subject, to enjoy the article. I am always happy to read anything you write, as I enjoy seeing your style developing. You should have confidence, as you are very good at what you do, and have definitely found your ‘niche’.
        Best wishes, Pete.

  3. I admire both Barack Obama and David Letterman. No one is perfect. I’m thankful for all the world who celebrated when we had an end to the Bush Family’s runs. We do have a good relationship displayed among the Obama’s and all the recent past Presidents. They are so cordial and show a display of decorum, one will not find in the current realm.
    Hoping for peace and better communication in the future. We have declined and our discussion shouldn’t be on subjects it deteriorates to, many people are depressed. Sincerely, Robin

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