David Letterman

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David Letterman : biography

April 12, 1947 –

Letterman and Carson

In spite of Johnny Carson’s clear intention to pass his title to Letterman, NBC selected Jay Leno to host The Tonight Show after Carson’s departure. Letterman maintained a close relationship with Carson through his break with NBC. Three years after he left for CBS, HBO produced a made-for-television movie called The Late Shift, based on a book by New York Times reporter Bill Carter, chronicling the battle between Letterman and Leno for the coveted Tonight Show hosting spot. Letterman would mock the film for months afterward, specifically on how the actor playing him, John Michael Higgins, did not resemble him in the least.

Carson later made a few cameo appearances as a guest on Letterman’s show. Carson’s final television appearance came May 13, 1994, on a Late Show episode taped in Los Angeles, when he made a surprise appearance during a ‘Top 10 list’ segment. The audience went wild as Letterman stood up and proudly invited Carson to sit at his desk. The applause was so protracted that Carson was unable to say anything, and he finally returned backstage as the applause continued (it was later explained that Carson had laryngitis, though Carson can be heard talking to Letterman during his appearance).

In early 2005, it was revealed that Carson occasionally sent jokes to Letterman, who used these jokes in his monologue; according to CBS senior vice president Peter Lassally (a onetime producer for both men), Carson got "a big kick out of it." Letterman would do a characteristic Johnny Carson golf swing after delivering one of Carson’s jokes. In a tribute to Carson, all of the opening monologue jokes during the first show following Carson’s death were written by Carson.

Lassally also claimed that Carson had always believed Letterman, not Leno, to be his "rightful successor." During the early years of The Late Show’s run, Letterman occasionally used some of Carson’s trademark bits, including "Carnac the Magnificent" (with Paul Shaffer as Carnac), "Stump the Band", and the "Week in Review."

Letterman and Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey appeared on Letterman’s show when he was hosting NBC’s Late Night on May 2, 1989. Following that appearance, the two had a 16-year feud which according to Letterman started when he and his girlfriend decided to skip out on a bill, tricking the waiter into thinking Oprah agreed to pay it.

The feud apparently ended in 2005 when Winfrey appeared on CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman on December 2, in an event Letterman jokingly referred to as "the Super Bowl of Love".

Winfrey and Letterman also appeared together in a Late Show promo that aired during CBS’s coverage of Super Bowl XLI in February 2007, with the two sitting next to each other on the couch watching the game. Since the game was played between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears, the Indianapolis-born Letterman wears a Peyton Manning jersey, while Winfrey—who tapes her show in Chicago—is in a Brian Urlacher jersey. On September 10, 2007, Letterman made his first appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He shared pictures of his son and live-in girlfriend.

Three years later, during CBS’s coverage of Super Bowl XLIV, the two appeared again in a Late Show promo, this time with Winfrey sitting on a couch between Letterman and Jay Leno. The appearance was Letterman’s idea: Leno flew to New York City on an NBC corporate jet, sneaking into the Ed Sullivan Theater during the Late Show’s February 4 taping wearing a disguise, meeting Winfrey and Letterman at a living room set created in the theater’s balcony where they taped their promo.

Winfrey interviewed Letterman in January 2013 on Oprah’s Next Chapter. Winfrey and Letterman discussed their feud during the interview and Winfrey revealed that she had "terrible experience" while appearing on Letterman’s show years earlier. Letterman could not recall the incident but apologized.