With help from four presidents, David Letterman said farewell to late-night television Wednesday night, shedding no tears, but arousing plenty of laughter, nostalgia and melancholy.
The finale of “Late Show With David Letterman” ran almost 18 minutes long, and it was filled lots of self-deprecating humor. It opened with a “tribute” from President Barack Obama and former Presidents George W.Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush echoing footage of the late President Gerald Ford: “Our long national nightmare is over.” After asking Obama, “You’re just kidding, right?” the president shrugged.
It also included footage of some of Letterman’s best moments, including his more curmudgeonly incidents with children. During one, a very annoyed boy sang to the tune of “Jingle Bells”: “You are not, you are not, you are not funny.” And from a bit taped on the set of Wheel of Fortune, a contestant solved this puzzle: “Good Riddance to David Letterman.”
His final Top 10 List -- “Things I Always Wanted to Say to Dave” -- was delivered by a star-studded cast of friends and frequent guests: Bill Murray, Chris Rock, Alec Baldwin, Barbara Walters, Peyton Manning, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose line was a hard dig at the last episode of “Seinfeld”: “Thanks for letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale.”
Friday night, during his emotional tribute to Letterman, comedian Norm McDonald said: “Mr. Letterman is not for the mawkish, and he has no truck for the sentimental.” True, but during his finale, Letterman revealed his softer and more sentimental side, something he rarely showed over the course of 33 years and more than 6,000 shows.
He expressed deep gratitude to his viewers: “There’s nothing I can ever do to repay you. Thank you for everything, you’ve given me everything, and thank you again.”
He thanked his staff: “It’s so obvious again tonight, and every night, that they are so much better at their job than I am.” He thanked his long-time band leader, Paul Shaffer, joking that the two would soon debut their white-tiger act in Las Vegas. He also thanked every band member.
And, most poignantly, he thanked his wife, Regina Lasko, and 11-year-old-son, Harry: “I love you both,” he said, “and, really, nothing else matters, does it?”
One of his favorite musical guests, the Foo Fighters, dressed in tuxedos, ended the show by performing “Everlong” over a montage of some of the best bits from “Late Show” and “Late Night,” a reiteration of how inventive and influential his show used to be.
It was the ideal valediction. It wasn’t mawkish or overly sentimental. Rather it was a perfect mix of humor and affection for a show that had become a late-night fixture but had outlived its vitality and was due to end.
His final words: “The only thing I have left to do for the last time on a television program: Thank you and good night.” And good bye.