In 7th grade, my first ever girlfriend and I used to stay up late each night talking on the phone, watching Late Night with David Letterman together. They were the most awkwardly silent phone conversations you could possibly imagine, because for an hour every weeknight, neither one of us would speak. We’d just watch Letterman, and the only sounds you’d hear on either side of the phone were those of occasional laughter. Afterwards, we’d spend another hour processing what we’d just watched.
Later on, in high school, my best friend and I (who would later start this site with me) would put on our own version of Late Night each summer using a camcorder, editing it together with two VCRs and a lot of cables. I was Dave. He was the Hal Gurnee, the old director of Late Night. It was our secret dream that our show would be good enough that Letterman would see it and invite us onto the show. It never was. In fact, it was lousy, as our remote segments mostly involved me going to yard sales and making fun of the merchandise. But our entire friendship had basically been forged around a common obsession with David Letterman, a rarity those days for two poor kids in a small town in that part of the country.
In tonight’s show, Letterman will announce his retirement, effective in 2015 when his contract expires. It’s been an amazing, ground-breaking career, and the people that hold the other slots in late night owe a great debt to his influence. But Dave is 67. Fallon and Kimmel have transformed the game. He no longer has his foe, in Jay Leno, to keep him competitive. Even late-night television has mostly moved onto the Internet, although it is a little ironic that Letterman’s remote segments in the 80s would have probably been huge viral sensations had YouTube existed then.
It’s a bittersweet day, but I think we were all blessed with the fact that a gap-toothed weatherman from Indiana managed to stay on late night for 33 years.
There’s no word on a replacement, and to be honest, I hope the speculation doesn’t begin in earnest at least until Dave makes it official on his show tonight.