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Saying goodnight to stupid pet tricks, top 10 lists and David Letterman

In the fall, Stephen Colbert will take over the TV time slot that has belonged to David Letterman for 22 years. The host of CBS' Late Night with David Letterman influenced generations of comedians and brought a new voice to late night. He was silly with an edge, known for his engaged, and occasionally confrontational interviewing style. Jeffrey Brown looks back at Letterman’s career and legacy.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    David Letterman will sign off for the last time tomorrow, capping a late-night career that lasted more than three decades, even longer than the late-night titan Johnny Carson.

    Letterman, and now a generation of younger comedians, drastically changed the landscape Carson left behind. And now it's set to change again.

    Jeffrey Brown looks at Letterman's enduring influence.

  • TINA FEY, Actress:

    My gift to you is, I want to give you the dress. You can keep it.

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In the final days of his program, David Letterman has heard raves and roasts.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    How long have we been friends? I guess you alluded to 30 — oh, you can go back to the morning show.

  • STEVE MARTIN, Comedian:

    The morning show, yes, I was on the show then, but that doesn't make us friends.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    From a parade of stars, many of whom have joined him often in his 33-year network career.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    Somebody get over here. Does anybody know CPR? The great Nathan Lane.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Even the president made an appearance, his eighth on the show.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    I know you like Michelle a little bit more than me.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    Oh, my God.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    Which is OK.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    She was here last week.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    I know.

  • ERIC DEGGANS, NPR:

    We're so used to late-night comedy that has been influenced by David Letterman.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Eric Deggans, NPR's TV critic, calls Letterman's late-night legacy massive.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    Everybody, have a great — ow.

  • ERIC DEGGANS:

    It's hard to remember what it was like when that show came out of nowhere and really rewrote some of the rules of late-night TV comedy, and allowed for a more acerbic, a more — a sense of the absurd, poking fun at the hypocrisy of television.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Indeed, Letterman brought a new voice to late night, one attuned to current events, but with a real edge. Sometimes, Letterman would go right over the edge.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    Goodbye.

  • ERIC DEGGANS:

    Throwing stuff off the roof of where they were doing the show just to see how it looked when it splattered on the ground.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    Welcome to Taco Bell.

  • ERIC DEGGANS:

    David Letterman being in a drive-through at a Taco Bell or McDonald's and messing with the people who were trying to order their food.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    It's my lunch break, and I haven't had a chance to get anything to eat.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    There were the signature segments, like Stupid Pet Tricks, and Top 10 Lists, where the payoff might elicit a groan as much as a laugh.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    Top 10 things that sound creepy when said by John Malkovich.

    Number 10.

  • JOHN MALKOVICH, Actor:

    Does this look infected to you?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Longtime sidekick and bandleader Paul Shaffer was part of the routine.

  • PAUL SHAFFER, Band Leader:

    In the new millennium, people will freak out!

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    As was the odd-ball everyman Larry "Bud" Melman.

    LARRY "BUD" MELMAN, "Late Show With David Letterman": Your evil invasion plan was thwarted once again.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Letterman was known for an engaged and, on occasion, confrontational interviewing style.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    Have your friends treated you differently since you have been out of the slammer?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • PARIS HILTON, Entertainer:

    People think that I was really strong that I went through it. So…

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    God, it was just ugly, wasn't it? Have you made…

  • PARIS HILTON:

    But I have moved on with my life, so I don't really want to talk about it anymore.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    Yes, but — I know.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    I know.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    No, no, I appreciate it. See, this is where you and I are different, because this is…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • ERIC DEGGANS:

    One of the things that Letterman loved to do was to get celebrities on the show and then get them off of their talking points.

  • PARIS HILTON:

    I'm not here to talk about that.

  • ERIC DEGGANS:

    And try to get them to talk about something that either made them uncomfortable or that revealed something about themselves or that — where there was some sort of real interaction.

  • PARIS HILTON:

    I'm going on to the next question.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    Yes, OK.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    One of those famously real interactions came with Cher in 2013.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    You must have had a change of heart about something.

  • CHER, Entertainer:

    No, actually, I don't know, because I thought I would never want to do this show with you.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    Now, why?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    Now, let's — let's explore this a little. Why? Because you thought I was a…

  • CHER:

    An (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Early in his career, Letterman hosted local talk and children's programs and served as a local news anchor and weatherman.

    His big break as a comedian came when he began appearing on the Johnny Carson show in the 1970s. And in 1982, he was given the slot that followed Carson, turning that traditionally sleepy time into a suddenly energetic romp. Eleven years later, though, he was passed over as Carson's replacement when NBC chose Jay Leno instead.

    A disappointed Letterman moved to CBS to host "Late Night With David Letterman" airing opposite Leno.

    JOHNNY CARSON, Host, "The Tonight Show": Why don't I just start with a question here? Just…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JOHNNY CARSON:

    Just how pissed off are you?

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It, too, was a showcase and launching pad for new stars and an inspiration to younger comedians, says Al Madrigal of "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."

    AL MADRIGAL, Correspondent, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart": So I grew up watching Letterman. And as a comedy nerd, comedy fan, I really was excited about the opportunities that he gave comics and then, years and years later, friends of mine. The show was unpredictable, and that's what I really enjoyed about it.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Among the many comedians who appeared often with Letterman on their way to stardom, Jerry Seinfeld and Jimmy Kimmel, who now has his own late-night show.

    JIMMY KIMMEL, Host, "Jimmy Kimmel Live": One thing I will — you know, I was here before the show started, and I really feel like you — you led me astray by not telling me how much lying I would be doing.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    One star who gives Letterman credit for launching his career is Ray Romano of "Everyone Loves Raymond" fame, who hosted a tribute to Letterman recently.

  • RAY ROMANO, Comedian:

    Hello, everybody. I'm Ray Romano. I'm only here because of David Letterman. Without him, I would be at home watching this with a three-legged dog and a tattoo that says "Almost Made It."

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Along the way, Letterman also had to deal publicly with some personal issues, including his quintuple heart bypass surgery in 2000.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    I couldn't have been more proud then these guys carved their initials in me, honest to God.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And an affair with an assistant that led to a blackmail attempt.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    I have had sex with women who work for me on this show.

  • ERIC DEGGANS:

    One of Letterman's strengths as a broadcaster I think people underestimate or don't talk about as much is his ability to face the camera and talk about something that's really serious in a way that is compelling, that's heartfelt.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    Any enormous uprooting change in my life has petrified me, really petrified me. But once I have come through the other side, the reward has been unimaginable.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In the fall, Stephen Colbert will take over Letterman's time slot for CBS, joining a crowd of newer faces who now vie for attention, as David Letterman says goodbye after more than 6,000 late-night broadcasts.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Jeffrey Brown.

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