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.

Dude, You’re Gettin’ Derivative!

By now it’s all over the news… Benjamin Curtis, better known as Steven*, the “Dell Dude,” was busted last night in Manhattan for attempting to buy pot. This, of course, is Big News, and is getting lots of well-deserved media attention.

But what I find to be an even bigger story is the way that so many of the news agencies, having classified this story for their “Oddly Enough” columns, are slapping incredibly lame plays on the Dell pitchman’s famous slogan into their headlines.

At 4:19 PM today, I did a search on Google News for this story, and 32 results came back. (Your results may vary, as Google’s news system is continually updated.) Out of those 32, only 4 did not have the word “dude” in their headlines, and many, in fact, went beyond simply referencing the “Dell Dude” and attempted a “witty” variation on “Dude, you’re gettin’ a Dell.” Let’s look at a few. (This ought to be interesting to see how long these agencies retain their news stories, as well. I apologize if any of the links below are dead, which I assume will start happening approximately 5 seconds after I post this rant.)

CBS News
Dude, You’re Under Arrest!

A weak effort, especially for a major news outlet like CBS. I guess Dan Rather is in charge of their humor. (No, I take that back… Dan Rather actually can be funny when he wants to. Let’s blame Andy Rooney.)

Dude, You’re Getting a Record

An improvement. It’s a more accurate play on the slogan than CBS’s craptacular attempt. Makes me think that Steven’s goin’ vintage and throwing out all of his CDs in favor of vinyl, though. Next, we’ll hear, “Dude, you’re gettin’ a Texas Instruments!”

WOKR-TV and WXXA and Baltimore Sun
Dude… You’re Busted!

At least three separate sources all coming up with this same lame effort! OK, the Sun actually used a comma instead of points of ellipsis. Way to stand out from the crowd, Jack Germond!

New York Daily News
NYC Cops Tell Dell Dude: You’re Getting Arrested!

CBS should learn from this one. It’s almost as lame as theirs, but at least it gets the cadence right (sort of). As an added bonus, it allows the reader to envision the cops gleefully slapping the handcuffs on the “dude” and delivering this line without missing a beat.

Dude! Dell Pitchman Busted On Pot Charges

Not really an effort to incorporate the slogan, but this is one of the countless stories that gratuitously dropped the word “dude” into an otherwise-serious headline.

Dude, Yer’ Gettin a Cell! Dell Dude Arrested

Yes, now this is the obvious choice. I am really quite surprised that more outlets haven’t picked up on this one; it’s got everything! Spot on with the cadence of the slogan and what would seem to be the natural, obvious pun. Bonus points for actually using “yer’,” even though I would dispute that apostrophe placement.

* Update, February 12, 2003: Not surprisingly, Dell has removed their Steven page. But I’ll keep the link in the first paragraph anyway, in case they, like, mellow out, dude. In the meantime, once again Google saves the day with its cached version of the page.