It was happy, it was sad, it was a celebration, it was a goodbye.
It was David Letterman’s last show.
And it was pretty darn perfect.
“I was hoping for something that would be sentimental but not too maudlin, making sure it wasn’t like a death knell or a funeral – and Letterman said that,” Awful Announcing associate editor Ken Fang said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “He didn’t cry, but he was appreciative, and we got to see a little bit of insight into the man who’s been very protective of his own feelings and not showing too much of himself – and he did that. He gave his fans a nice sendoff. We have a very good memory of him. You want to leave the fans saying, ‘We want more of you.’ That’s exactly what we did, and we’re going to miss him.”
As Damon Amendolara noted, it’s extremely challenging to strike a perfect note in a season finale or series finale, much less a career finale. But that’s the genius of Letterman. It was sentimental for him, it was sentimental for the audience; but it never got depressing.
That’s a tough balance to achieve.
“It is,” Fang said. “And Dave is a broadcaster. That’s one thing that sets him apart from the Jimmys and Conan O’Brien. He was a broadcaster first and foremost. He understands what it’s like to give good television. He knows what it’s like to give a good show. He’s had a long time to think about this since he announced his retirement. He’s probably thought about it even before that. So he struck the right balance. He gave the fans a very nice thing to remember him by. Even if he doesn’t come back like his mentor, Johnny Carson, we have something to remember him by.”
In recent weeks and months, it seems there was a newfound appreciation for Letterman. When a living legend leaves, it’s easy to romanticize it – both the legend and the exit. Sure, some people felt Letterman’s show had grown stale, but a lot of people didn’t, and don’t, realize all of the genius that Letterman had – and has had – for so long.
“We always remember the last thing that you do,” Fang sad. “Letterman’s last few years had not been kind to him. He looked old, he looked tired – he even admitted that he mailed in shows. As much self-deprecating humor that he has, he’ll even admit that his shows over the last five years haven’t been great, but this seemed to reenergize him – and also reenergize his audience to look back at the old shows of the late night shows. For our generation who grew up with Dave, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was our parents’ show. Late Night with David Letterman was our show – because it was anti-tonight. It was anti-establishment. And for those millennials who want to learn a little about Dave, go to YouTube, look up ‘Late Night with David Letterman,’ look at those shows where he really goes after the guests, and if you see that, you’ll realize the appreciation that my generation – our generation – had for David Letterman and why some of us got really emotional.”