Tonawanda News — The announcement that Mr. Letterman is retiring from his groundbreaking television program, sometime in 2015, is already old news, but it gives opportunity to ponder a few truisms about history and modern life.
I have the good fortune of possessing whatever warped perspective comes with age. I’ve seen ‘em come and go and I’ve seen plenty of television, and when recent newspaper and online articles compare Letterman to Steve Allen, the progenitor of the talk-and-humor show, I know what they mean. I understand exactly what they mean.
“Late Night With David Letterman” hit an unsuspecting public in 1982. The local NBC affiliate did not carry it for the first year or so. A tiny enterprise called International Cable piped the show into Western New York from WICU-TV in Erie, Pa., and I can still recall, as well as I can remember the jingle of any annoying commercial, a baritone voice announcing “Double-you I See You…Eerie” before the show began.
Letterman, in his 30-plus years on the air, popularized an elastic and useful form of insight into the American psyche. Talk show hosts and hostesses, stand-up comedians and men and women in the street use it with aplomb these days; it’s that civilized, polite disgust with everything. Government, law, geopolitics, the complex relationship between people and the world they behold and with which they scrap; it is not parody, as the original bomb-throwers of “Saturday Night Live” offered (and that pterodactyl of a show was only on the air for seven years before Letterman arrived). It is hearing some information, muttering some loathing variation of “yeah, right” and then it’s on to the bitter wisecrack.
You did not need Letterman to tell you that life was preposterous, to keep your guard up, to, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, trust but verify and then expect disappointment; you needed him to validate your view, more or less every night.