David Letterman : biography
Following Leno’s return to The Tonight Show, however, Leno has regained his lead.
Letterman’s shows have garnered both critical and industry praise, receiving 67 Emmy Award nominations, winning 12 times in his first 20 years in late night television. From 1993–2009, Letterman ranked higher than Leno in the annual Harris Poll of Nation’s Favorite TV Personality 12 times. For example, in 2003 and 2004 Letterman ranked second in that poll, behind only Oprah Winfrey, a year that Leno was ranked fifth. Leno was higher than Letterman on that poll three times during the same period, in 1998, 2007, and 2008.
Hosting the Academy Awards
On March 27, 1995, Letterman acted as the host for the 67th Academy Awards ceremony. Critics blasted Letterman for what they deemed a poor hosting of the Oscars, noting that his irreverent style undermined the traditional importance and glamor of the event. In a joke about their unusual names (inspired by a celebrated comic essay in The New Yorker by Thomas Meehan), he started off by introducing Uma Thurman to Oprah Winfrey, and then both of them to Keanu Reeves: "Oprah…Uma. Uma…Oprah," "Have you kids met Keanu?" This and many of his other jokes fell flat. Although Letterman attracted the highest ratings to the annual telecast since 1983, many felt that the bad publicity garnered by Letterman’s hosting caused a decline in the Late Show’s ratings.
Letterman recycled the apparent debacle into a long-running gag. On his first show after the Oscars, he joked, "Looking back, I had no idea that thing was being televised." He lampooned his stint two years later, during Billy Crystal’s opening Oscar skit, which also parodied the plane-crashing scenes from that year’s chief nominated film, The English Patient.
For years afterward, Letterman recounted his hosting the Oscars, although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continued to hold Letterman in high regard and they had invited him to host the Oscars again. On September 7, 2010, he made an appearance on the premiere of the 14th season of The View, and confirmed that he had been considered for hosting again.
Heart surgery hiatus
On January 14, 2000, a routine check-up revealed that an artery in Letterman’s heart was severely obstructed. He was rushed to emergency surgery for a quintuple bypass.
During the initial weeks of his recovery, reruns of the Late Show were shown and introduced by friends of Letterman including Drew Barrymore, Ray Romano, Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Megan Mullally, Bill Murray, Regis Philbin, Charles Grodin, Nathan Lane, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Jerry Seinfeld, Martin Short, Steven Seagal, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Danny DeVito, Steve Martin, and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Subsequently, while still recovering from surgery, Letterman revived the late night tradition that had virtually disappeared on network television during the 1990s of ‘guest hosts’ by allowing Bill Cosby, Kathie Lee Gifford (recommended by Regis Philbin, who was asked first but had no time in his schedule), Dana Carvey, Janeane Garofalo, and others to host new episodes of The Late Show. Cosby—the show’s first guest host—refused to sit at Letterman’s desk out of respect, using the couch instead; Garofalo followed suit, utilizing a set of grade-school desks instead.
Upon his return to the show on February 21, 2000, Letterman brought all but one of the doctors and nurses on stage who had participated in his surgery and recovery (with extra teasing of a nurse who had given him bed baths—"This woman has seen me naked!"), including Dr. O. Wayne Isom and physician Louis Aronne, who frequently appears on the show. In a show of emotion, Letterman was nearly in tears as he thanked the health care team with the words "These are the people who saved my life!" The episode earned an Emmy nomination. For a number of episodes, Letterman continued to crack jokes about his bypass, including saying, "Bypass surgery: it’s when doctors surgically create new blood flow to your heart. A bypass is what happened to me when I didn’t get The Tonight Show! It’s a whole different thing." In a later running gag he lobbied his home state of Indiana to rename the freeway circling Indianapolis (I-465) "The David Letterman Bypass." He also featured a montage of faux news coverage of his bypass surgery, which included a clip of Dave’s heart for sale on the Home Shopping Network. Letterman became friends with his doctors and nurses. In 2008, a Rolling Stone interview stated "he hosted a doctor and nurse who’d helped perform the emergency quintuple-bypass heart surgery that saved his life in 2000. ‘These are people who were complete strangers when they opened my chest,’ he says. ‘And now, eight years later, they’re among my best friends.’ "