Let­ter­man: The Last Gi­ant of Late Night by Ja­son Zi­no­man

Montreal Times - - News - By Stu­art Nul­man mtl­times.ca

(Harper, $35.99) avid Let­ter­man “Top 10 List” and “Viewer at best, can be Mail”, and mak­ing stars de­scribed as an out of the most or­di­nary “anti-talk show and un­likely peo­ple, such host”. For more than 30 as book pub­li­cist Meg Par­sont, years on the late night TV hack ac­tor Larry talk show cir­cuit, Let­ter­man’s “Bud” Mel­man and even two talk shows Dave’s mom. broke all the con­ven­tions As New York Times that are usu­ally as­so­ci­ated critic Ja­son Zi­no­man with a late night talk writes in his prob­ing bi­og­ra­phy show, took the el­e­ments Let­ter­man:The Last of what “Tonight Show” Gi­ant of Late Night: “Late hosts Steve Allen, Jack Night ap­pealed to the Paar and Johnny Car­son same voyeuris­tic plea­sures re­spec­tively brought to that would soon be the show – el­e­ments that ex­ploited by the re­al­ity in­flu­enced Let­ter­man – show genre. It had its own and cre­ated a show that con­trived nar­ra­tive that he tai­lored to his ironic, its fans fol­lowed closely, un­con­ven­tional style of and af­ter a decade of hu­mour. The end re­sult peel­ing back the ar­ti­fice of was a show that had a his show, Let­ter­man in­vited grow­ing cult fol­low­ing, you to see him as thanks to seg­ments like the pro­tag­o­nist of his own “Stupid Pet Tricks”, the drama. … You might say

Dthat Late Night with David Let­ter­man be­came what hap­pened when one talk show host stopped be­ing po­lite and started get­ting real.”

Zi­no­man traces the life and ca­reer of David Let­ter­man with a great deal of thor­ough­ness, as he speaks with many of his for­mer writ­ers, pro­duc­ers and staffers to get a por­trait of an in­di­vid­ual who carved out a bril­liant ca­reer on tele­vi­sion be­cause he con­stantly went for the un­con­ven­tional and proved to be a breath of fresh air as a re­sult, yet off the air, he was a walk­ing bundle of in­se­cu­rity, self doubt and self loathing.

From his abortive morn­ing talk show on NBC dur­ing the sum­mer of 1980 (which I watched and mar­veled at dur­ing his very short run on the net­work’s day­time line-up), to the grow­ing pains of “Late Night”, to su­per­star­dom on “The Late Show”, the book deals with the evo­lu­tion of an un­con­ven­tional, one of a kind TV per­son­al­ity who wanted to be like Johnny Car­son with­out ex­actly be­ing Car­son.

If there is one un­sung hero who is to be her­alded in this book as to be­ing the one who molded David Let­ter­man into the cult fig­ure that he is re­garded as to­day, and that is Mer­rill Markoe.The tal­ented com­edy writer and author – who was also Let­ter­man’s long­time girl­friend through­out the 1980s – helped to cre­ate the reg­u­lar seg­ments that made “Late Night with David Let­ter­man” such a pop­u­lar show with view­ers who wanted a break from the con­ven­tional for­mat that “The Tonight Show with Johnny Car­son” reg­u­larly of­fered (and earned Let­ter­man a num­ber of Emmy Awards).

Ba­si­cally, those early, rev­o­lu­tion­ary years on NBC helped to ce­ment Let­ter­man’s rep­u­ta­tion as a late night talk show gi­ant. How­ever, as a re­sult of his bit­ter bat­tle with Jay Leno over who would suc­ceed Car­son as “Tonight Show” host, not to men­tion the in­flux of younger hosts like Jimmy Kim­mel, Jimmy Fal­lon and Co­nan O’Brien, Let­ter­man’s feel­ings of self loathing grew even deeper, as he be­gan to rely on his writ­ing staff on a di­min­ish­ing ba­sis (which re­sulted in many of those writ­ers de­fect­ing to the writ­ing staffs of hit TV sit­coms or com­pet­ing talk shows), pre­fer­ring more celebrity in­ter­views or his in­creas­ing abil­i­ties as a sto­ry­teller. By the time his show went off the air in 2015, Let­ter­man be­came more in­tro­verted, es­chewed re­hearsals and ba­si­cally sleep­walked through the mo­tions as host. Even the work at­mos­phere at the pro­duc­tion of­fice was toxic, with his re­main­ing writ­ers and staffers sub­jected to lengthy post-mortem meet­ings fol­low­ing show tap­ings, in which Let­ter­man just ram­bled on for hours with lengthy mono­logues about his life and in­se­cu­ri­ties.

Th­ese days, Let­ter­man is more or less liv­ing a com­fort­able, her­mit-like ex­is­tence with his wife and son, and is un­rec­og­niz­able with the large, philoso­pher-style beard he has grown since his de­par­ture from the air­waves (al­though he has re­cently broke his si­lence, with his lim­ited en­gage­ment as guest co-host on Turner Clas­sic Movies’ (TCM) weekly pro­gram “The Es­sen­tials”).

Let­ter­man: The Last Gi­ant of Late Night is an ab­sorb­ing study of a rather enig­matic TV per­son­al­ity who be­came an iconic fig­ure be­cause he set new, rev­o­lu­tion­ary stan­dards of how the late night TV talk show should be done … yet he hated ev­ery minute of it!

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