Tim Goodman: A Critic/Fan Gives Letterman a Fond Farewell


The Letterman Legacy: Saying Goodbye Is the Hardest Part

There's nothing left for the modern architect of the late night landscape but the farewell.
 Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
“Completely and utterly unexpected” doesn’t do justice, as a description, for what it was like getting that letter. God or Santa Claus could have sent it and I’d have been less surprised. Letterman’s notorious private persona at the time made the letter all the more special and shocking, I guess. Maybe it was the Midwesterner in him. But I thought it said a lot about both his generosity and genuineness to send it.It was the first of two letters I got from him – the second coming when I was a TV critic in San Francisco with a much bigger audience but the sentiment upon receiving it was the same. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I had a connection to him as a viewer before being a critic, and that I was a diehard fan of the show before learning to look at it with a different lens. I saved both.

From there, I saw him when he brought the show to San Francisco, and went to a taping in New York, plus watched with regularity, recording episodes each night or watching live, as one does.

Like everybody else praising him as the end arrives, looking back at clips from the very early days of the ‘80s gives a thrill that lasts nearly two decades. It’s then that you begin to see him morph from outlandish, hilarious behavior to a slightly more reserved, more statesman-era host at the top of his game, interviewing and doing bits on the street, taped elements, etc. All the stuff, in other words, that everybody else in the late night game would either steal or aspire to. By then, he’d set the template. That was how you did it. That’s what you’d want to emulate if you were in the game (and his fellow competitors would later acknowledge that).





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