Late Night with David Letterman

Last updated
Late Night
with David Letterman
Latenightdllogo.png
Also known as Late Night (franchise brand)
Genre Talk
Variety
Comedy
Humor
Created by David Letterman
Written by Merrill Markoe
(head writer: 1982)
Jim Downey
(head writer: 1982–83)
Steve O'Donnell
(head writer: 1983–92)
Rob Burnett
(head writer: 1992–93)
Presented byDavid Letterman
Starring Paul Shaffer
and The World's Most Dangerous Band
Narrated by Bill Wendell
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons11
No. of episodes1,819
Production
Executive producer(s) Jack Rollins (1982–92)
Barry Sand (1982–88)
David Letterman (1987–93)
Robert Morton (1987–93)
Peter Lassally (1992–93)
Production location(s)Studio 6-A, NBC Studios
New York, New York
Running time42–43 minutes
Production company(s) Carson Productions
Worldwide Pants Incorporated (1990–93)
Space Age Meats Productions (1982–90)
NBC Productions
Release
Original network NBC
Picture format 480i (4:3 SDTV)
Original releaseFebruary 1, 1982 
June 25, 1993
Chronology
Preceded by Tomorrow Coast to Coast
Followed by Late Night with Conan O'Brien
Related shows The David Letterman Show
Late Show with David Letterman

Late Night with David Lettermanis an American late-night talk show hosted by David Letterman. It premiered on NBC on February 1, 1982, [1] and concluded on June 25, 1993. Letterman began hosting Late Show with David Letterman on CBS in August 1993. The series has since been reformatted as Late Night with Conan O'Brien , Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Seth Meyers .

Late-night talk show type of comedic talk show, airing late at night

A late-night talk show is a genre of talk show popular in the United States, where the format originated. It is generally structured around humorous monologues about the day's news, guest interviews, comedy sketches and music performances. The late-night talk show format was popularized, though not invented, by Johnny Carson with The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on NBC. Typically the show's host conducts interviews from behind a desk, while the guest is seated on a couch. Many late night talk shows feature a house band which generally performs cover songs for the studio audience during commercial breaks and occasionally will back up a guest artist.

David Letterman American comedian and actor

David Michael Letterman is an American television host, comedian, writer, and producer. He hosted late night television talk shows for 33 years, beginning with the February 1, 1982, debut of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC, and ending with the May 20, 2015, broadcast of Late Show with David Letterman on CBS. In total, Letterman hosted 6,028 episodes of Late Night and Late Show, surpassing his friend and mentor Johnny Carson as the longest-serving late night talk show host in American television history. In 1996 Letterman was ranked 45th on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time. In 2002, The Late Show with David Letterman was ranked seventh on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.

NBC American television and radio network

The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American English-language commercial terrestrial television network that is a flagship property of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The network is headquartered at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, with additional major offices near Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. The network is one of the Big Three television networks. NBC is sometimes referred to as the "Peacock Network", in reference to its stylized peacock logo, introduced in 1956 to promote the company's innovations in early color broadcasting. It became the network's official emblem in 1979.

Contents

In 2013, this series and Late Show with David Letterman were ranked #41 on TV Guide's 60 Best Series of All Time. [2]

<i>TV Guide</i> American bi-weekly magazine

TV Guide is a bi-weekly American magazine that provides television program listings information as well as television-related news, celebrity interviews and gossip, film reviews, crossword puzzles, and, in some issues, horoscopes. The print magazine is owned by NTVB Media, while its digital properties are controlled by the CBS Interactive division of CBS Corporation; the TV Guide name and associated editorial content from the publication are licensed by CBS Interactive for use on the website and mobile app through an agreement with the magazine's parent subsidiary TVGM Holdings, Inc.

History

After his morning show on NBC was canceled in October 1980 after only 18 weeks on the air, [1] David Letterman was still held in sufficient regard by the network brass (especially NBC president Fred Silverman) that upon hearing the 33-year-old comedian was being courted by a syndication company, NBC gave him a $20,000 per week deal to sit out a year and guest-host a few times on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show .

<i>The David Letterman Show</i> television series (June - October 1980)

The David Letterman Show is a short-lived morning talk show on NBC, hosted by David Letterman. It ran from June 23 to October 24, 1980. Originally, the series lasted 90 minutes, then 60 minutes from August 4 onward.

Fred Silverman is an American television executive and producer. He worked as an executive at all of the Big Three television networks, and was responsible for bringing to television such programs as the series Scooby-Doo (1969–present), All in the Family (1971–1979), The Waltons (1972–1981), and Charlie's Angels (1976–1981), as well as the miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man (1976), Roots (1977) and Shōgun (1980). For his success in programming wildly popular shows, Time magazine declared him "the man with the Golden gut" in 1977.

Johnny Carson American talk show host and magician

John William Carson was an American television host, comedian, writer, and producer. He is best known as the host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962–1992). Carson received six Emmy Awards, the Television Academy's 1980 Governor's Award, and a 1985 Peabody Award. He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993.

In 1981, NBC and Carson, after significant acrimony, reached an agreement on a new contract, which (among other concessions to Carson) granted the venerable host the rights to the time slot immediately following The Tonight Show. [3] All throughout 1981, in addition to guest-hosting the Tonight Show as outlined in the terms of his NBC contract, Letterman also frequently appeared as guest on the highly-rated program as the network groomed the 34-year-old for a new project. Finally, on November 9, 1981, NBC and Carson's production company Carson Productions as well as Letterman's newly-established production company Space Age Meats Productions announced the creation of Late Night with David Letterman, set to premiere in early 1982 in the 12:30 a.m. time slot Monday through Thursday, with occasional specials every few Fridays, all aimed at young men. The network wanted to capitalize on catering to young males, feeling that there was very little late-night programming for that demographic. The newly announced show thus displaced the Tomorrow Coast to Coast program hosted by Tom Snyder from the 12:30 slot. NBC initially offered Snyder to move his show back an hour, but Snyder, already unhappy with being forced to adopt changes to Tomorrow that he detested, refused and ended the show instead. The final first-run Tomorrow episode aired on December 17, 1981.

Tom Snyder American television personality

Thomas James Snyder was an American television personality, news anchor, and radio personality best known for his late night talk shows Tomorrow, on the NBC television network in the 1970s and 1980s, and The Late Late Show, on the CBS Television Network in the 1990s. Snyder was also the pioneer anchor of the primetime NBC News Update, in the 1970s and early 1980s, which was a one-minute capsule of news updates in primetime.

US Television Ratings (Late-Night Talk Shows)

SeasonNielsen RankNielsen Rating [4] Tied With
1981–82N/AN/AN/A
1982–83N/AN/AN/A
1983–84N/AN/AN/A
1984–85N/AN/AN/A
1985–86N/AN/AN/A
1986–87N/AN/AN/A
1987–88N/AN/AN/A
1988–89N/AN/AN/A
1989–90N/AN/AN/A
1990–91N/AN/AN/A
1991–9233.2N/A
1992–9342.8N/A

Debut

The staff responsible for preparing the launch of Late Night included Merrill Markoe in the head writing role, seasoned TV veteran Hal Gurnee as director, Letterman's manager Jack Rollins as executive producer, and a group of young writers — most of them in their early twenties, including the somewhat more experienced 29-year-old Jim Downey who had previously written for Saturday Night Live and 27-year-old Steve O'Donnell. Markoe stepped down as head writer after a few months, and was succeeded by Downey who was in turn succeeded by O'Donnell in 1983. O'Donnell would serve as the head writer through most of the rest of the show's run while Downey went back to Saturday Night Live in 1984. Also on board, initially as a production assistant in charge of the "Stupid Pet Tricks" segment, was 21-year-old Chris Elliott. Elliott would quickly be promoted to writer and a recurring featured player.

Merrill Markoe is an American author, television writer, and occasional standup comedian.

Hal Gurnee is an American television director who directed all of the television shows hosted by David Letterman on NBC. Gurnee directed the Emmy Award-winning but short-lived NBC daytime program The David Letterman Show, then moved with Letterman to Late Night with David Letterman in 1982. Gurnee himself would often be heard or appear on the show, when Letterman would call on him in the control room to facilitate a comedy segment. When introducing him, Letterman would deliberately stumble over and mispronounce his last name, or confuse him with Dan Gurney.

Jack Rollins (producer) American film producer

Jack Rollins was an American film and television producer and talent manager of comedians and television personalities. His first major success came in the 1950s when he managed actor and singer Harry Belafonte. Rollins co-wrote the song Man Piaba with Belafonte on his 1954 debut RCA Victor album Mark Twain and other Folk Favorites. In 1958 he helped create and promote the comedy duo Nichols and May. He went on to help shepherd the careers of several prominent comedians with his partner Charles H. Joffe, beginning in 1960 with Woody Allen and later with Dick Cavett, Billy Crystal, David Letterman, and Robin Williams.

The plan from the start was to resurrect the spirit of Letterman's morning show for a late-night audience, one more likely to plug into his offbeat humor. The show also got a house band, hiring NBC staff musician Paul Shaffer to lead the group; after several years on the show without a formal name, the band was eventually given the moniker The World's Most Dangerous Band in 1988.

Paul Shaffer Canadian musician

Paul Allen Wood Shaffer, CM is a Canadian singer, composer, actor, author, comedian and multi-instrumentalist who served as David Letterman's musical director, band leader and sidekick on the entire run of both Late Night with David Letterman (1982–1993) and Late Show with David Letterman (1993–2015).

Realizing that NBC executives exhibited very little desire to micromanage various aspects of the show, the staff felt confident they would be allowed to push outside of the mainstream talk-show boundaries and thus set about putting together a quirky, absurdist, and odd program. Snyder's Tomorrow re-runs continued until Thursday, January 28, 1982 and four days later on Monday, February 1, 1982, [1] Late Night premiered with a cold opening featuring Larry "Bud" Melman delivering lines as an homage to the prologue of Boris Karloff's Frankenstein , followed by Letterman coming out on stage to Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1" behind a group of female dancers — the peacock girls who had also opened the finale of The David Letterman Show . After a brief monologue, the very first comedy segment was a sarcastic tour of the studio. The first guest, 31-year-old comedian and actor Bill Murray, came out in confrontational fashion, throwing jibes and accusations at the host as part of a knowing put-on. He remained for two more similarly sardonic segments in which he first presented footage of a Chinese zoo baby panda as a supposed home video of his recently adopted pet, before expressing newfound love for aerobics and pulling a crew member onstage, making her do jumping jacks along with him to Olivia Newton-John's "Physical". The second comedy piece was a remote titled "The Shame of the City"; taking a general format of a local news action segment, it featured Letterman touring several New York locations pointing out various civic problems with righteous indignation. The second guest was Don Herbert, TV's "Mr. Wizard", and the show ended with a young comic named Steve Fessler reciting aloud the script of the obscure Bela Lugosi film Bowery at Midnight .

The reviews were mixed [5] Los Angeles Times wrote: "Much of Letterman's first week did not jell" — but more importantly, the show drew 1.5 million viewers, 30% more than had tuned in for Snyder's Tomorrow.

On the third night, after baseball great Hank Aaron finished his interview segment with Letterman, a camera followed him backstage, where TV sportscaster Al Albert conducted a post-interview chat with Aaron about how it had gone. Eccentric and awkward, the show immediately established a sensibility that was clearly different from The Tonight Show. [5]

The show was produced by Johnny Carson's production company, as a result of a clause in Carson's contract with NBC that gave him control of what immediately followed The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Carson, for his part, wanted Late Night to have as little overlap with his show as possible. In fact, most ground rules and restrictions on what Letterman could do came not from the network but from the production company itself. Letterman could not have a sidekick like Ed McMahon, and Paul Shaffer's band could not include a horn section like Doc Severinsen's. Letterman was told he could not book old-school showbiz guests such as James Stewart, George Burns, or Buddy Hackett, who were fixtures on Johnny's show (the fact that Tonight had long moved to Hollywood and Late Night was taped in New York helped minimize guest overlap). Letterman was also specifically instructed not to replicate any of the signature pieces of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson like "Stump the Band" or "Carnac the Magnificent". Carson also wanted Letterman to minimize the number of topical jokes in his opening monologue.

Leaving NBC

After the battle for The Tonight Show , when NBC executives decided to give it to comedian Jay Leno, Letterman decided to accept an offer from CBS for a late night talk show to compete with The Tonight Show . In 1993, Letterman and his crew moved to CBS (in the newly renovated Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City) and the Late Show with David Letterman was born, beginning on August 30, 1993 (although NBC would air repeats of Late Night from June 28, 1993 until September 10, 1993).

Up until this point, the three competing television broadcast networks had tried to create talk shows to compete with the success of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, but all had failed. A total of 1,819 shows were broadcast during its 11 12-year run (an episode on January 16, 1991 went un-aired due to preemption for coverage of the beginning of the Gulf War; the program already had been taped before word came out of Baghdad that United States airstrikes were beginning).

Production and scheduling

Late Night originated from NBC Studio 6A at the RCA (later GE) Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. The program ran four nights a week, Monday to Thursday, from the show's premiere on February 1, 1982 until June 4, 1987. Friday shows were added on June 12, 1987, although the show still only produced 4 new episodes a week—Monday's shows were re-runs. (NBC previously aired Friday Night Videos in the 12:30 a.m. slot on Saturday morning, with occasional Late Night specials and reruns.) Starting on September 2, 1991, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was pushed back from 11:30 p.m. to 11:35 p.m., with Letterman starting at 12:35 a.m., at the request of NBC affiliates who wanted more advertising time for their profitable late newscasts. [6]

Syndication

On September 30, 1991, A&E, a U.S. cable channel at the time partly owned by General Electric — the same corporate entity that owned NBC, began airing Late Night repeats in an effort of monetizing the show's vast accumulation of old episodes. The repeats aired less than a year, until July 24, 1992. The syndication deal was done without Letterman's blessing, and he frequently made his displeasure known on-air, feeling that having reruns air five nights a week, earlier in the evening on cable, diluted the value of the nightly first-run shows on NBC — fearing people would not be willing to stay up late for the first-run if they could watch the show at a more reasonable time. Because of Letterman's opposition, the syndication run was ended early and not attempted again until he had left NBC. [7]

In mid-1993, E! Entertainment Television purchased syndication rights to Late Night. The network aired complete shows from various years five days per week from 1993 until 1996. Then Trio (owned by NBC) picked up reruns and showed them from 2002 until the channel went off the air in 2005.

A number of programs were sold by GoodTimes Entertainment in 1992–93. These episodes were stripped of the series theme, open and close. No DVD release is currently scheduled (GoodTimes went bankrupt in 2005; the company's assets are now owned by Gaiam, which does not typically distribute general-interest programming).

Letterman moves to CBS

Letterman, who had hoped to get the hosting job of The Tonight Show following Johnny Carson's retirement, moved to CBS in 1993 when the job was given to Jay Leno. This was done against the wishes of Carson, who had always seen Letterman as his rightful successor, according to CBS senior vice president Peter Lassally, a onetime producer for both men. [8] On April 25, 1993, Lorne Michaels chose Conan O'Brien, who was a writer for The Simpsons at the time and a former writer for Michaels at Saturday Night Live , to fill Letterman's old seat directly after The Tonight Show. O'Brien began hosting a new show in Letterman's old timeslot, taking over the Late Night name.

When Letterman left, NBC asserted their intellectual property rights to several of the most popular Late Night segments. Letterman easily adapted to these restrictions for his CBS show: The "Viewer Mail" segment was continued under the name "CBS Mailbag," and Late Night fixture Larry "Bud" Melman continued his antics under his real name, Calvert DeForest. Similarly, the in-house band (now free to add horns) was unable to use the name "The World's Most Dangerous Band," so the name was changed to "Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra". The name "CBS Orchestra", approved by CBS (who retained rights to the name after Letterman retired in 2015), was Shaffer's idea. Notably, however, "Stupid Pet Tricks" originated on Letterman's 1980 early morning show The David Letterman Show , to which Letterman, not NBC, owned the rights. This meant "Stupid Pet Tricks" was able to cross over to the CBS show with its name and concept unchanged. With Carson retired, Letterman was also granted free use of some of Carson's sketches, and in due time, "Stump the Band" and "Carnac the Magnificent" (with Shaffer as Carnac) entered the Late Show rotation.

Both "Late Show" and "CBS Orchestra" are names from broadcasting's past. Beginning in 1951, The Late Show was the title under which some CBS affiliates, including network-owned stations in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, ran movies late at night. These films began after the late local news, generally at 10:30 p.m. or 11:30 p.m. local time. The Late Show would usually be followed by another film on The Late Late Show and, on a night when there was time to add a third feature to the schedule, The Late Late Show II. Movies were regularly shown under the Late Show umbrella title well into the 1980s, after which they were increasingly displaced by overnight news broadcasts and infomercials. Still, The Late Show continued to appear sporadically for more than another decade; the last Late Show film was shown in 1999.

Another series called The Late Show was an unrelated attempt by Fox to establish its own late-night talk show. It was Fox's inaugural series, premiering in October 1986 and running on-and-off for four years.

The CBS Orchestra was the name of the orchestra that occasionally played on the CBS Radio Network. The name was also seen[ according to whom? ] as an homage to Carson's band, the NBC Orchestra.[ citation needed ]

Format

Like most other late-night talk shows, the show featured at least two or three guests each night, usually including a comedian or musical guest.

Letterman frequently used crew members in his comedy bits, so viewers got to know the writers and crew members of the show. Common contributors included bandleader Paul Shaffer, Chris Elliott, Calvert DeForest as "Larry 'Bud' Melman," announcer Bill Wendell, writer Adam Resnick, scenic designer Kathleen Ankers, stage manager Biff Henderson, producer Robert Morton, director Hal Gurnee, associate director Peter Fatovic, stage hand Al Maher, camera operator Baily Stortz, production manager Elmer Gorry as NBC President Grant Tinker [9] , and the "production twins," Barbara Gaines and Jude Brennan. The cramped quarters of 30 Rockefeller Plaza also often played into the humor of the show.

Letterman's show established a reputation for being unpredictable. A number of celebrities had even stated that they were afraid of appearing on the show. This reputation was born out of moments like Letterman's verbal sparring matches with Cher, Shirley MacLaine and Harvey Pekar.

Because of the creativity of staff writers like Merrill Markoe, Letterman's NBC show, in its first few years especially, had innovative segments and theme shows that were new and different from other talk shows of the time. Some were visual gags that owed a debt to pioneers like Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen. Amongst the highlights were:

Other show format innovations related to the way individual episodes or segments were presented:

Notable musical guests

Sonny & Cher reunited on his show in 1987 and sang together for the first time in 11 years, at his request (which Cher at first was against) in an impromptu performance which had audience members in tears. Ringo Starr was talked into playing drums unrehearsed with Paul Shaffer's band when he appeared in 1989. Captain Beefheart was interviewed and showed part of his latest music video which MTV had not aired. Guests such as Jerry Garcia, Ringo Starr and Arnold Schwarzenegger also participated in comedy sketches which were shown before the opening credits. Carly Simon performed on the show broadcast from a hotel room, because of her terror of appearing before a live audience. Eric Clapton appeared on the program, promoting his album Behind the Sun .

Most Late Night appearances

The "king" of 'Late Night' show appearances was sportscaster Marv Albert, with 73 total appearances over the 11-year period. Second most appeared person was Richard Lewis with 48, George Miller and Tom Brokaw with 40, Jay Leno with 39 and Teri Garr and Robert Klein 30 appearances. Dave's friend Bill Murray was his first Late Night guest, and, 30 years later, his last (on the Late Show).

Recurring Late Night segments

Leaving the studio

More than any other major talk show, Late Night ventured outside the studio frequently. Letterman ran elevator races, taxi races (the taxis went around Rockefeller Center), had a flock of sheep herded out of the studio, down the hall, and onto the elevators by two border collies, and ran various kinds of races or other "sporting events" in the corridor outside the studio. He would charter a steam roller and have it run over cans of tomatoes (not in Manhattan). He would interview strangers on the street, searching for Miss November. Sometimes he just walked, commenting on signs in store windows. He might visit a guest's or staffer's house, in New Jersey. There were repeated segments outside the studio, such as:

Memorable shows

Awards

Primetime Emmy Awards

The show was nominated as Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series for 10 consecutive seasons, from its 2nd full season in 1983–84 through its final season in 1992–93. Including the nominations for the CBS Late Show variant, the Letterman team was nominated 26 consecutive times in this category.

Peabody

In 1991, the show's three production companies—Carson Productions, Worldwide Pants, and NBC Productions—were awarded a Peabody Award, which cited the following: [15]

Once a television wasteland, late night has become a daypart of increased interest to programmers, performers, and viewers. In the past ten years, one show has moved to the position of the leader in late night television in creativity, humor, and innovation. That program is Late Night With David Letterman. As one member of the Peabody Board remarked, "David Letterman is a born broadcaster." He is also a savvy co-executive producer. Along with co-executive producer Jack Rollins, producer Robert Morton, director Hal Gurnee, and musical director Paul Shaffer, Mr. Letterman has surrounded himself with exceptional talent and given them the go-ahead to experiment with the television medium. Particularly noteworthy is the work of head writer Steve O'Donnell and his talented staff. Together, the "Late Night" team manages to take one of TV's most conventional and least inventive forms—the talk show—and infuse it with freshness and imagination. For television programming which, at its best, is evocative of the greats, from Your Show of Shows , to The Steve Allen Show , and The Ernie Kovacs Show , a Peabody to Late Night with David Letterman.

See also

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References

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  2. Bruce Fretts (23 December 2013). "TV Guide Magazine's 60 Best Series of All Time". TVGuide.com.
  3. Bushkin, Henry. How Johnny Carson Nearly Quit 'Tonight' and Scored TV's Richest Deal Ever. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  4. "The TV Ratings Guide: Before Late Night Became A Toilet of Trumpster Fire Jokes – The 1991–2015 Late Night Talk Show Ratings".
  5. 1 2 Rothenberg, Fred (February 6, 1982). "Letterman's Late Night dares to be unconventional". Daily News. Bowling Green, KY. Associated Press. p. 6B.
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/1991/05/22/news/nbc-moves-johnny-carson-starting-time-by-5-minutes.html
  7. http://articles.courant.com/1991-09-01/entertainment/0000212526_1_dorothy-quick-cable-bills-original-series
  8. Carson Feeds Letterman Lines Archived 2011-07-14 at the Wayback Machine . New York Post (Post Wire Services). p. 102. January 20, 2005.
  9. Collins, Glenn (1986-07-27). "Can David Letterman Survive Success?". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2019-02-25.
  10. "alt.fan.letterman The Official David Letterman Song Book".
  11. "Classic Dave: Mexican soap opera (1990) on YouTube
  12. "Outrageous Oliver Reed Interview on Late Night (1987)". YouTube. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
  13. Sonny joins Cher on show – says he's got a new partner. Eugene Register-Guard (Wire services). November 15, 1987.
  14. "Sonny & Cher Boost Ratings", The New Mexican, Santa Fe, New Mexico. November 29, 1987, p. 35, accessed through NewspaperARCHIVE.com on March 13, 2009. Retrieved via Google News August 16, 2010.
  15. Late Night with David Letterman – 1991 Archived 2009-06-24 at the Wayback Machine . Peabody Awards.
Media offices
Preceded by
none
Late Night era by host
1 February 1982 – 25 June 1993
Succeeded by
Late Night with Conan O'Brien
Preceded by
The David Letterman Show
David Letterman talk show
1 February 1982 – 25 June 1993
Succeeded by
Late Show with David Letterman