The David Letterman Show

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NBC (ended 1980)

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The David Letterman Show

Show Summary

In 1980, following lengthy negotiations, NBC president Fred Silverman and Johnny Carson arrived at a contract agreement which would keep the "King of Late Night" in place for another three years. Part of that agreement included the creation of Carson Productions. One of the first projects for Johnny's stable was to create a show around frequent "Tonight Show" guest host David Letterman. "The David Letterman" show was a live, 90-minute alternative to game shows, soap operas and syndicated reruns of old sitcoms. Regulars included Edie McClurg as "Mrs. Marv Mendenhall" (whose last name was inspired by Paul Mendenhall, a longtime radio voice in Dave's college town of Muncie, Indiana), Valri Bromfield as crazy teen "Debbie Smith," and Paul Raley as conspiracy-crazed former FBI agent "P.J. Rails." NBC newsman Edwin Newman provided (real) news updates. The first announcer was comedian Bob Sarlatte; Bill Wendell would later assume announcing duties. Frank Owen (II) was the bandleader, and Doobie Brother Michael McDonald (I) wrote the show's theme. In addition to the usual fare of celebrity interviews, Dave focused on the "everyday" person -- frequently taking the camera out of the studio and onto the streets of New York. The results were frequently hilarious, but just as regularly uneven. Letterman's girlfriend Merrill Markoe was a major on and off-screen contributor to the show; many of the remote location and in-studio ideas from the morning show would be subsequently refined and made successful, including Markoe's creation, "Stupid Pet Tricks." At the onset, Silverman was high on the show -- guaranteeing a 26-week run. "It is going to capture audiences where tired game shows couldn't," he told NBC affiliates. Silverman wanted the show to be "folksy and family, a kind of Arthur Godfrey for the 80's." Letterman obviously thought otherwise. His intent to begin his first week of shows with a "cancellation sweepstakes" -- inviting viewers to guess the actual date the show would be axed -- was shot down by Silverman. Often compared to the equally satirical America2Night, the show would win two daytime Emmy awards. However, "The David Letterman Show" would prove to be too far ahead of its time, or more specifically, its time-slot -- as its college crowd humor was lost on middle America's housewives. Following its cancellation after just 90 shows, a miserable Letterman -- thinking he'd blown his big chance -- would wait it out while on retainer to NBC (at a reported $1 million per year), until his brand of humor found a home with the 1982 debut of Late Night with David Letterman.moreless