The Late Show With David Letterman (CBS, 1993-2015)
American TV has had a tradition of having a late show five nights a week that combined comedy and chat which goes back many years, and a few of these have also been shown in this country. I remember watching this one in the early-2000s when it was imported by ITV2. By this point, The Late Show was hosted by David Letterman (having joined CBS in 1993), who even in those days had long been established as one of the leading figures on TV, and was already an institution.
The show would come from a theatre in New York City, and usually follow the same format. Letterman would come on stage, accompanied by plenty of music from the regular band, fronted by Paul Shaffer. There would then be an opening monologue featuring lots of jokes about the latest news that would often be a success (although this was because seemingly hundreds of writers contributed).
Then Letterman would take his seat and there would be a few features and sketches. These included a look at viewers’ fascinating comments in the Mailbag, which also featured contributions from various members of the production team. And there would be the excitement of Will It Float and Is This Anything. Well if they worked the first time, why not do it again, viewers loved it.
And of course, there would also be the Top Ten list, one of the most famous features which got everyone laughing. And there would be plenty of guests interviewed, usually film stars aiming to promote their latest work, although this was never really the highlight of the show myself, partly because I’m not hugely interested in films and the tone was slightly more serious, I always preferred the daftness that you’d get at the beginning.
Shows would then often end with a performance from a pop group, or a stand-up comedian’s routine, and our very own Harry Hill appeared a few times, trying to see if his rather odd style of humour would appeal Stateside. Unfortunately, because Letterman often spent so much time fidgeting with pencils and rambling on, they’d usually run out of time for this, and they’d all have to return another night to try again.
The Late Show has been shown on various channels in the UK, including ITV2, where it was briefly shown in the evening, usually only a day or two after it was shown in America. It was then moved to a much later slot, before being bumped to ITV4, and then disappearing altogether. Letterman remained on top until his retirement in 2015, and it is remarkable to think that the UK has never produced a successful equivalent of this show.