A few thoughts on David Letterman’s final show

Last night was the end of an era, David Letterman’s final Late Show.

Late Night with David Letterman premiered on NBC when I was 9 years old. I remember quietly staying up well past my bedtime on many school nights in the 1980s to catch Letterman’s crazy antics. It turns out I had a penchant for absurdist humor of a kind that I may never have known existed until I saw David Letterman. Growing up in a rather socially conservative small town in the midwest, Letterman was one of a few key figures in opening my growing mind to the possibilities in a larger world. That sounds a bit overblown, but really, it isn’t. Letterman’s show on CBS has become such an institution over two decades — something that I’ve taken for granted, really, and not watched much in years — that it’s easy for me to forget just how huge David Letterman was to me in my formative years.

All of that came into sharp relief for me last night as I just barely managed to catch Dave’s final show. I knew he was retiring, and I had been reading enough about him lately to know that his final show was coming up sometime soon, but I didn’t know it was going to be last night until about 20 minutes before the show came on the air.

I found out about it because my college jazz band director mentioned it on Facebook.

I was lying in bed a little after 10 PM, idly checking Facebook on my iPhone, intending to set the phone down and settle into a crossword puzzle before going to sleep. Seeing that Letterman’s finale was imminent, however, I quickly changed my plans and turned on the TV. This was probably only the third time our bedroom TV has been turned on since we moved into the house last November.

There’s a lot packed into that last paragraph. The futurism of constant communication and instant access to the world of information via the ubiquitous pocket computers we call smartphones. How old I sound when I think of myself sitting in bed doing a friggin’ crossword puzzle. The shifting (and diminishing) cultural significance of broadcast television.

When Carson retired, it was a momentous event. It seems like from the ’60s to the ’80s, everyone watched — or at least had on the TV — The Tonight Show, on a nightly basis. As much as David Letterman revolutionized late night television and shepherded in a new era, he also came at a time of change he couldn’t control, and was both a victim and agent of a cultural shift that ensured his legacy would never be as great as that of his hero and mentor.

And yet, Letterman is the Carson of his generation, at least as much as anyone could have been. (Leno? Give me a break!)

Without a doubt my most vivid memory of Letterman, and honestly one of the most vivid memories of my youth, altogether, was Crispin Glover’s notorious, possibly drug-fueled, appearance in 1987 when he tried to kick Dave in the face.

I was delighted to see that moment in the rapid-fire montage of stills from 33 years of Dave’s show at the end of last night’s finale. It just wouldn’t have been complete without it.

That montage was a nearly perfect conclusion to a lifetime of late night TV. According to some reviews I’ve read this morning, it was the main portion of the show that Letterman had direct involvement in producing. And it was apparently Dave’s personal wish to have the Foo Fighters perform “Everlong” behind the slideshow, because that song touched him personally in his recovery from open heart surgery 15 years ago. (Fifteen years ago!) It occurred to me that this conclusion was almost like Dave’s life — his television life — flashing before his eyes. But not just Dave’s life, our lives, as his audience. Even though I haven’t watched his show regularly since I was in college in the mid-’90s, there were so many familiar sights in these final few moments that I realized that in a way, this was all of our lives. For 33 years millions of Americans have invited this weird guy into their homes on a nightly basis, and he has shared moments of absurd delight with all of us.

Thanks, Dave.

41-year-old Dara “41” Torres is 41 years old!!!!! (41)

Dara Torres is 41!!!!!!!With Wimbledon underway and the Olympic Trials picking up speed, SLP and I have been watching a lot of sports on NBC this week. And the most breathless, repetitive story throughout has been the “marvel” of 41-year-old swimmer Dara Torres. 41. It is impossible for an NBC sportscaster to mention Dara Torres (41) without stating that she is 41. 41.

It is impressive that she’s competing in the Olympics at the age of 41, and in fact is swimming at her peak, setting personal best and in some cases record times. But it would be nice if they could just once mention her name and her success without, at least 3 times per sentence, also emphasizing her age. Yes, she’s 41! 41!!! OMG she’s 41!!!!!!11!!41!!!!111one!!!forty-one!

We get it. She’s also a great swimmer, regardless of her age. Enough already!


Get your Schrute Farms Beets gear here!

Update November 18, 2007: I withdrew this post a few weeks ago, after receiving an email from CafePress notifying me that they had received a cease and desist notice from NBC/Universal’s lawyers regarding the huge number of CafePress shops that were selling products that infringed upon NBC’s intellectual property rights to every word uttered in an episode of The Office — or for that matter, every thought that has ever passed through the minds of the show’s writers. Or something like that. At any rate, CafePress had already summarily removed all “Schrute Farms Beets” items from my store. I don’t blame them; it’s just lame that NBC is taking this approach. Of course, that’s partly because NBC is selling their own Schrute Farms Beets shirts, which naturally are more accurate to the one Dwight wore in the episode. (Mine wasn’t quite homemade-looking enough.) So if you’re looking for a Schrute Farms Beets shirt, by all means buy the official product. But if, on the other hand, you are interested in one of my other stupid original designs (the sliver of hope of which is what inspired me to reinstate this post), read on.

Schrute Farms Beets long-sleeve t-shirtAfter last night’s uproarious season premiere of The Office, I couldn’t resist the temptation to jump on the unofficial merch bandwagon with the 2000+ other Office-inspired items available on CafePress, mainly because no one else seems yet to have nailed the cheap, homemade, stenciled look of Dwight’s “Schrute Farms Beets” shirt. I didn’t totally nail it either, without a perfectly accurate stencil font at my disposal, but this is at least a lot closer than what else I’ve seen out there. (A lot of people have come up with very elaborate and well-designed logos for the Schrute Family Farm, but they seem to have missed the point. Last night’s episode demonstrates that if the Schrutes did have shirts, they would only sport the most rudimentary of designs.)

And so, my offering. I’ve attempted to recreate the “bleed-over” look of a painted-on stencil, since that appears to be how the actual shirt Rainn Wilson was wearing was made. Three styles of shirts are available now in the Room 34 Online Store with this design.

But Wait! There’s More!

I went a bit crazy with the designs tonight. Here are a few more that are also available now! (Click on any for a closer look. Then click here to buy one! You know you want to!)

Old OLD School. Tha 507, representing Southern Minnesota Seven Days without Pizza Makes One Weak!

Product placement? Fine, but then can you get rid of commercial breaks?

Product placement is as old as TV itself, and if anything it’s less insidious now than it was in the early days of television. But it seems to be coming back in a big way, and while I’m over my initial offense at seeing my favorite shows turn into “advertainment,” I still find it incredibly distracting, even when it’s funny.

Case in point, in last night’s episode of The Office, Kevin got some rare screen time and proceeded to giddily demonstrate the awesome power of the company’s shredder. Note I called it a “shredder,” not a “paper shredder,” because as Kevin demonstrated, it can shred not only a fistful of paper at once, but also such surprising objects as CDs and (OK, this joke was a little too broad) credit cards.

The thing that distracted me was that there was a prominently placed “Staples” logo on the front of the shredder. In fact, it looked like a sticker slapped on for advertising purposes in the show, and not something that’s actually a part of the unit’s design.

What really got me was that at the next commercial break, there was a Staples ad for this exact shredder!

I’ve gotten used to the product placement in The Office, what with the frequent after-work visits to Chili’s (always prominently showing the neon sign outside), and the entire Christmas episode written around the iPod. But it’s getting to the point where in some ways the show feels like a lead-in to the commercial break.

Earlier, a network promo pumped up interest in upcoming NBC shows next week, and concluded with “…And stay tuned for Ellen’s new commercial!” which at first suggested to me that Ellen DeGeneres was starting a new primetime NBC show. But no. It was an American Express commercial. And NBC promoted it as if it were one of their programs. (They even had her name on screen with the bouncing letters and pointing peacock feather that they’re using this year.)

Then, of course, we have the premiere episode of 30 Rock, in which Alec Baldwin’s character bragged about having invented the GE Trivection Oven (and how he had been promoted to Director of Television and Microwave Programming). The way the oven was described in the show made it seem like an over-the-top joke (the way SNL, I believe it was, had joked about four-blade razors a few years ago… certainly before Gillette introduced a five-blade razor last year — although I suppose technically that’s actually a “5.1-blade” razor, in true Surround Sound style). But then, you guessed it, the first commercial break featured an ad for none other than the GE Trivection Oven… a real product! (And one manufactured by NBC’s parent company, no less.)

I’d be outraged, if I weren’t such a tool.

Oh, by the way… if anyone wants to get me that shredder or a Trivection for Christmas, I’d love to receive either.