Tom Shales, a decade earlier one of the prominent TV critics of his generation, writing for the Washington Post, has come out of retirement to pen this week a column for The Daily Beast, hailing Dave Letterman as the last of his kind. You will find it HERE.
A few paragraphs deep in the piece are offered here, to give you a taste of what sort of a tribute Shales has come up with.
Radio and television—broadcasting—a guy could fall in love with, as Letterman did. Can anybody really fall in love with a frickin computer? A website? A pod? A blog? Can you warm up to your router? Your “server”? Or any of that other nerd-centric, number-cruncher crap? Maybe so. Our grandparents thought our parents were nuts and our parents knew that we were.
Letterman has repeatedly expressed admiration and affection for Johnny Carson, who did set the bar in his day. But Letterman seemed even more in command of The Bar in his day. He owned the bar. It seems more likely that the bar will lie there gathering dust than that someone will dash in from the wings to pick it up and lift it higher and higher; but that’s one of those things you never know.
What most of us will miss the most, of course, is not Dave the Symbol but Dave the Funny Guy. This is a debt that cannot be repaid, though many a recent guest has tried. Of all the tributes, the most memorable has come from a perhaps unlikely source—the very irreverent comedian Norm Macdonald, (pictured) who memorably helmed SNL’s “Update” in the great late ’90s.
Macdonald floored even Letterman when he ended a comedy routine on one of last week’s shows (on which too much time had been squandered on Oprah Winfrey) by hailing Dave as “the greatest talk show host who ever lived.”
But that wasn’t the part that stuck, the part most likely to be remembered. Macdonald recalled the first time he saw Letterman perform and, uncharacteristically, seemed to be choking up as he spoke about it. He told a joke he’d heard Letterman tell years earlier and then, closing, and turning to face Letterman, said:
“I know that Mr. Letterman is not for the mawkish, and he has no truck for the sentimental. But if something is true, it is not sentimental, and I say, in truth, ‘I love you.’”
End of an era? That may be the least of it.