NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) –– David Letterman marked his 30th anniversary on late night television Wednesday.
While the milestone wasn’t marked with great fanfare or an extravaganza, Letterman did sit down with his very first guest in late night T.V. — comedian and actor Bill Murray.
Murray was Letterman’s guest when he first went on the air on NBC in 1982. He was also the first guest in 1993 on the very first “Late Show with David Letterman,” which airs on CBS.
The anniversary means Letterman has outlasted his idol Johnny Carson, who hosted “The Tonight Show” for 29 years and eight months.
Over the NBC years, Letterman’s primary mission seemed to be showcasing people that wouldn’t be booked on other shows as well as his increasingly looney staff members such as Kathleen Ankers (the NBC bookmobile lady), Jude Brennan, Pete Fatovich, Barbara Gaines, Biff Henderson, Al Maher, announcer Bill Wendell, and especially Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band.
All of that ended On June 25, 1993, when Tom Hanks and musical guest Bruce Springsteen helped close down this program so Letterman could move the entire show over to the Ed Sullivan Theatre for CBS. During that time, the show earned five consecutive Emmy Awards for variety writing (1983-1986) plus one for variety directing in 1990.
Murray helped launch the new “Late Show with David Letterman” on August 30, 1993, with musical guest Billy Joel and special appearances by Tom Brokaw and Paul Newman.
The CBS program dominated Leno’s show in the ratings for two years before they dipped to second place for much of the remaining time.
Many of the same staffers and comedy bits transitioned over with Letterman, but newcomers emerging included Rob Burnett, Johnny Dark, Pat Farmer, Joe Grossman, Rupert Jee, announcer Alan Kalter, Tony Mendez, Gerard Mulligan, neighbors Mujibur and Sirajul, Maria Pope, and Bill Scheft.
Most of the favored guests from the NBC show retained their “frequent flyer” status, but quite a few celebrities started appeared regularly with him on CBS or created headlines, including Alec Baldwin, Drew Barrymore, Tom Dreesen, Farrah Fawcett, Will Ferrell, Jim Gaffigan, Ricky Gervais, Bonnie Hunt, Jake Johanssen, Andy Kindler, Madonna, Dr. Phil McGraw, Sarah Jessica Parker, Joaquin Phoenix, Julia Roberts, Ray Romano, Adam Sandler, Amy Sedaris, Martha Stewart, Jay Thomas, Donald Trump, and Bruce Willis.
Darlene Love continues her 25-year annual tradition of singing “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” the last show of each year. Popular NBC regular segments have continued, but Letterman has become even more involved with the audience through “Know Your Current Events,” “Stump the Band,” “Is This Anything?,” “Audience Show and Tell,” and “Will it Float?.”
On a more serious note, his insightful and piercing questions have unsettled many politicians and newsmakers, including Joe Biden, Rod Blagojevich, Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Herman Cain, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Al Gore, John McCain, and Barack Obama. Following the 9/11/11 devastating terrorist attacks in New York City, other late night shows and comedians waited for Letterman’s show to return so his would be the first entertainment voice everyone heard to discuss the events.
Letterman also had several empathetic episodes following his heart surgery in early 2000. Rocker Warren Zevon was terminally ill in 2002 when Letterman and the show devoted a full hour in a tearful tribute to him. His show following the death of Carson in 2005 featured several monologue jokes written by his mentor and a discussion of his life and career.
The CBS program won the Emmy for Best Variety Series in 1994 and later followed with five consecutive victories in that same category (1998-2002). It has also won three technical categories for a total haul of nine awards.
Letterman co-hosted the Emmy Awards in 1986 with Shelley Long and infamously helmed the Academy Awards ceremony in 1995. He inducted another idol Steve Allen into the TV Academy’s Hall of Fame in 1986 and was part of Carson’s Kennedy Center Honor tribute in 1993.
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