Friday, August 24, 2007

Book Review: David Letterman:On Stage and Off

This book came out in 1994, just as Letterman was getting used to his new CBS Late Show and his new surroundings in The Ed Sullivan Theatre. It was written by Rosemarie Lennon and it covers a variety of topics, from Dave's childhood in Indianapolis to his battle with Jay Leno to be the successor to Johnny Carson. It chronicles Dave's time as a broadcast student at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. He worked in radio and TV in Indiana and then moved to Los Angeles. He wanted to be a writer but ended up primarily doing stand up at The Comedy Store. He was discovered by a talent agent for The Tonight Show and was invited to be on the program. He was a big hit with Johnny and filled in guest hosting the show on a regular basis. In 1982 after a failed morning show for NBC, the peacock network launched Late Night with David Letterman, which aired until 1993. Letterman wanted to take over for Johnny, and Carson thought that Dave was the man for the job, but the suits at NBC chose Leno. CBS gave Letterman a $14 million per year contract and renovated The Ed Sullivan Theatre to be his new home. The theatre is in the heart of the midtown/Broadway district where Dave can do his man on the street antics that he did at NBC. The CBS headquarters are in a less vibrant part of town and Dave wanted to be in a neighborhood where he could find comedy opportunities. He has made Rupert Jee and his Hello Deli famous. The book covers Dave's failed marriage, and his long relationship with Merrill Markoe, who was instrumental in writing much of Dave's comedy material. Lennon's work discusses Letterman's pessimistic streak, and also the stalker who showed up at his Connecticut home repeatedly.

I'm a big fan of late night television, from pioneers like Johnny Carson and Tom Snyder, to David Letterman and Conan O'Brien. Anyone who enjoys late night TV should check out this book since it gives many insights into how the business works. After 25 years in late night television, Letterman is still going strong.

David Letterman will appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show on Monday, September 10. It should be interesting to see what they talk about. Oprah's appearance yielded big ratings for The Late Show.
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