Tonawanda News

Columns

April 6, 2014

DUVALL: Letterman leaves immense legacy in late night

Tonawanda News — Television watchers — and I don’t mean people watching TV, I mean people who follow the television industry — have been speculating for years about what would happen when late night legend David Letterman decided to retire.

Well we got that news Thursday. He’ll be done next year.

Obviously I’m not a TV insider so I’ll refrain from the largely mindless speculation about a replacement for the man his fans know simply as Dave. (OK I’ll bite for a moment, Stephen Colbert seems like the front-runner but my choice would be Amy Poehler.)

Instead, I would much rather talk about Letterman’s legacy in comedy. While he spent much of his career trailing Jay Leno in the ratings, comedy fans know that was something of a badge of honor. Letterman was unique, which made him less appealing to dull people. He was goofy but with an acerbic wit. The Midwestern aw-shucks routine belied a crank who never cow-towed to celebrities.

Where Leno was boring, Letterman was edgy and I’ve always thought asking someone who they prefer is as revealing a question as there is about personality and pop culture, right up there with “the Beatles or Elvis?”

To answer the former, I’ve always been a Letterman guy.

His shtick has provided a younger generation of comedians — many of whom revere Letterman as inspiration — with the space to be a little spacy. Comedy fans have Letterman to thank for a late night television landscape that isn’t just a bunch of milquetoast Jay Leno impersonators.

Who else would have looked at Rupert, the sweetly naive owner of Hello Deli across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theater where “Late Night” is recorded, and thought “this guy will be really funny.” But he was. So were many of the bits Letterman did over the years, including his signature Top 10 lists. Some of them are exactly as advertised. Stupid Pet Tricks is, well, stupid. 

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