American TV legend Letterman bids farewell

American TV legend Letterman bids farewell

NEW YORK - Agence France-Presse
American TV legend Letterman bids farewell

U.S. President Barack Obama tapes an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York May 4, 2015. Reuters Photo

The king of late-night American television, David Letterman, broadcasts his final show on May 20, ending a 33-year run of unpredictable, caustic comedy that set him apart.

The longest-serving nighttime talk show host on U.S. television with more than 6,000 shows to his name, 68-year-old Letterman has been honored with tributes in the U.S. media, and by a host of celebrities.

Last week, his “Late Show” parade of A-list guests included Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Adam Sandler, Al Pacino and Bill Clinton. Tom Hanks and the musician Eddie Vedder were followed by Bill Murray and Bob Dylan on May 19 before the grand finale on May 20.

“I’m naked and afraid,” Letterman told CBS, half seriously, half joking. “Any enormous uprooting change in my life has petrified me,” he said. But once through the other side “the reward has been unimaginable.”

Letterman got his first comedy show on NBC in 1982, before defecting to CBS in 1993 to host the “Late Show” after the biggest career disappointment of his career, losing out to Jay Leno as host of “The Tonight Show.”

His “Late Show,” which airs at 11:35 p.m. every weeknight, is a unique blend of comedy, news monologue, celebrity interviews and oddball comedy.

Sarcastic, at times angry and scathing, Letterman is noted for an unpredictable, uncompromising attitude. Some celebrities admit they feared him and the fact they could end up in his crosshairs.

Sixty-seven Emmy awards 

Yet Letterman has been nominated for 67 Emmy awards, the most highly prized accolade in American television, and was nominated every year from 1984 to 2009.

He won 12 and features on lists of the most popular people in American television history.

After the horror of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., Letterman was the first comedian to go back on air, six days after the Al-Qaeda hijackings that killed around 3,000 people.

In January 2000, he underwent a quintuple heart bypass. Five weeks later, he was back on air with his doctors as his “Late Show” guests.

Lost audiences to Leno

Over the years, he lost audiences to “The Tonight Show” with Leno on NBC, figures dropping steadily from 7.1 million viewers in 1993-94 to 2.8 million in 2009, when Leno, three years younger, left.

Today a new generation at ease with social media, never embraced by Letterman, dominates the airwaves: Jimmy Fallon, 40, who replaced Leno; Jimmy Kimmel, 47, on ABC, Seth Myers, 41, on NBC at 12:35 a.m.

Letterman who announced his intention to retire last year, will be replaced from Sept. 8 by Stephen Colbert, 51.