David Letterman's Career
After making it through a rather uneventful childhood, Letterman married Michelle Cook in 1969 and went on to become a weatherman and local TV announcer. A few years later, David worked as a radio host until he made his second TV attempt in 1982, this time he was much more successful.
Before he got his break, though, Letterman was working at The Comedy Store in the late 1970s. He was a struggling stand-up comedian, so to help support himself and in the hope of taking his career to the next level, Letterman began writing for television shows. David wrote for the Good Times and other shows, Letterman made appearances on The Gong Show, Liar’s Club, and The $25,000 Pyramid. By 1978, David had reached the status of a minor celebrity. The Game Show Network soon revealed that Letterman had hosted the pilot of his own game show in the seventies called The Riddlers, but the show didn’t take off and wasn’t made into a series. And that’s probably a good thing, as it freed Letterman up to become the renowned host he is today.
After talk of Letterman and his talents began to spread through the industry, he made a few appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. His popularity rapidly expanded and led to him being the permanent substitute host at the end of the 1970s. NBC thankfully recognized his talents and gave him his own show, called The David Letterman Show in 1980. The daytime talk show turned out to be a disaster for the network, and only aired for a short period.
In late 1981, Tom Snyder was forced off the air after Tomorrow Coast to Coast (his own late-night show) began to decline in ratings. The show always aired after Carson’s time slot. While Letterman was still the permanent co-host of the Tonight Show, he got a second chance to host with his show Late Night with David Letterman in 1982.
Letterman began a new breed of late night and often focused on politics, while other hosts steered away from them. He encouraged his guests to participate in various skits and fans argue that his popularity began to exceed Carson’s. Late Night with David Letterman was extremely unconventional, which is likely what sparked the interest of viewers. Letterman would make calls on-air to strangers and discuss strange topics to provoke the thoughts and feelings of his audience. David would stage elevator races in Radio City Music Hall. The multitude of ideas he employed on the show skyrocketed the ratings until Letterman had become a well-known name by the late 1980s.
Letterman began to do his late night show almost exclusively, which was unlike other hosts at the time such as Carson, who would often make cameo appearances in shows and movies. Despite Letterman often making his guests feel uncomfortable because of his style and approach, he began to reshape the world of late night television and his show was an almost instant success.
In the early 90s, Carson announced he was retiring, and the public assumed Letterman would finally take over the role of the Tonight Show host. But, NBC instead chose Jay Leno after much dismay from the public. Just a couple years later, Letterman had his own announcement: he was moving to CBS. NBC, not wanting to lose one of the most successful shows they had, began a battle with Letterman and claimed that many of his skits were the intellectual property of NBC and he could not take the show with him. NBC lost the fight, but they did manage to keep Letterman’s co-host’s nick-name. Since the show began, Calvert DeForest (the co-host of Letterman) had long been called Larry “Bud” Melman. In their legal fight, NBC let Letterman leave on the contingency that the co-host’s name remained their property. Calvert is now called by his real name on the CBS show.
Letterman’s fans stayed loyal to him and followed him directly to CBS where his show continued to rival other late-night hosts. The popularity of Letterman and his show beat most other late-night shows on air, even when Chevy Chase, Ted Koppel, and other popular names began their own late-night shows. It wasn’t until 1995 when Leno had Hugh Grant as a guest that he began to beat Letterman. With all of the controversy over Grant’s arrest, and the fact that Grant cried on screen, Leno was able to increase his ratings from there on out.
Despite the jump in Leno’s show, Late Night with David Lettermen is still a success and still holds a strong fan base. Letterman has continued his popularly style and continues to address political and national issues while often dragging his audience into outrageous and hilarious skits. Today, Letterman is also well-known as a producer under the company name Worldwide Pants. After his long-running career of success both on-screen and behind-the-scenes, Letterman is now planning his retirement, and after many years of loyalty, his fans will be seeing him off very soon.