David Letterman : biography
Move to Los Angeles
In 1975, encouraged by his then-wife Michelle and several of his Sigma Chi fraternity brothers, Letterman moved to Los Angeles, California, with hope of becoming a comedy writer.Gail Koch. "Letterman Evolved from Struggling Radio Host to Star." Ball State Daily News, February 1, 2002. He and Michelle packed their belongings in his pickup truck and headed west. Airdate June 2, 2012, Regis Philbin, guest host. Letterman: "In 1975 I did that. My wife and I did that, put everything in the truck and went to California." He still owns that truck today. In Los Angeles, he began performing stand-up comedy at The Comedy Store. Jimmie Walker saw him on stage; with an endorsement from George Miller, Letterman joined a group of comedians that Walker hired to write jokes for his stand-up act, a group that at various times would also include Jay Leno, Paul Mooney, Robert Schimmel, Richard Jeni, Louie Anderson, Elayne Boosler, Byron Allen, Jack Handey, and Steve Oedekerk.
By the summer of 1977, Letterman was a writer and regular on the six-week summer series The Starland Vocal Band Show, broadcast on CBS. He hosted a 1977 pilot for a game show entitled The Riddlers that was never picked up and co-starred in the Barry Levinson-produced comedy special Peeping Times that aired in January 1978. Later that year, Letterman was a cast member on Mary Tyler Moore’s variety show, Mary. Letterman made a guest appearance on Mork & Mindy (as a parody of EST leader Werner Erhard) and appearances on game shows such as The $20,000 Pyramid, The Gong Show, Password Plus and Liar’s Club, as well as talk shows such as The Mike Douglas Show., broadcast April 3, 1979. He was also screen tested for the lead role in the 1980 film Airplane!, a role that eventually went to Robert Hays.
His dry, sarcastic humor caught the attention of scouts for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and Letterman was soon a regular guest on the show. Letterman became a favorite of Carson’s and was a regular guest host for the show beginning in 1978. Letterman credits Carson as the person who influenced his career the most.
On June 23, 1980, Letterman was given his own morning comedy show on NBC, The David Letterman Show. It was originally 90 minutes long, but was shortened to 60 minutes in August 1980.Peter Kerr. "David Letterman’s Off-Center Humor Finds a Home." The New York Times, February 19, 1984, p. H27 The show was a critical success, winning two Emmy Awards, but was a ratings disappointment and was canceled in October 1980.
Late Night with David Letterman
NBC kept Letterman under contract to try him in a different time slot. Late Night with David Letterman debuted February 1, 1982; the first guest on the first show was Bill Murray. Murray also guested on January 31, 2012 – 30 years later, and again on June 29, 2012. The show ran Monday through Thursday at 12:30 a.m. Eastern Time, immediately following The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (a Friday night broadcast was added in June 1987). It was seen as being edgy and unpredictable, and soon developed a cult following (particularly among college students). Letterman’s reputation as an acerbic interviewer was borne out in verbal sparring matches with Cher (who even called him an asshole on the show), Shirley MacLaine, Charles Grodin, and Madonna. The show also featured comedy segments and running characters, in a style heavily influenced by the 1950s and 1960s programs of Steve Allen. Although Ernie Kovacs is often cited as an influence on the show, Letterman has denied this.
The show often featured quirky, genre-mocking regular features, including "Stupid Pet Tricks" (which had its origins on Letterman’s morning show), Stupid Human Tricks, dropping various objects off the roof of a five-story building, demonstrations of unorthodox clothing (such as suits made of Alka-Seltzer, Velcro and suet), a recurring Top 10 list, the Monkey-Cam (and the Audience Cam), a facetious letter-answering segment, several "Film[s] by My Dog Bob" in which a camera was mounted on Letterman’s own dog (often with comic results) and Small Town News. All of which would eventually move with Letterman to CBS.