With Dave's retirement earlier this year, other collectors put clips, but curiously not the full episode, online. Not knowing if those clips will last or not, the following is a look at the last program.)
Inasmuch as a show can "build-up" to a final episode, I can't remember a time where the show itself celebrated its last episode, particularly one that was not a ratings success. Was some of it being thankful for the chance to do the show? Yes, but I can't help but think this was for the show's fan base. In case anyone hadn't seen the show before and were tuning in for the first and last time, I can't say this episode is typical in any way. Hell, it's not typical for TV in 1980. But there also seems to be an air of optimism for the future, though we know that no one knew it at the time. But enough philosophy: let's get to it.
The Rainbow Grill Dancing Girls open the show in the same costumes, doing the same routine, and the same song that would later be used for the first episode of Late Night. Harve Mann is also announced as a feature guest.
"And now, a man who has been replaced by two game shows, David Letterman!"
Our sometimes cynical host can't help but be swept up in the ebullient nature of the act, and the audience. The crowd is really going for it: a standing ovation, screaming and cheering. It's the kind of response you'd love for your last episode, regardless of the reason.
Oh, and the audience? They brought more signs, and they are amazing.
(TV viewers can be cruel on occasion)
The audience is sitting in the aisles, as Dave thanks the dancing girls "The Silverman Sisters" a not-so-subtle jab at the executive who, while championing the show, gave some off-the-mark creative suggestions.
Dave: Today is our last show on the air. Monday, Las--
Dave: Have these people been frisked?
Before Dave gets to viewer mail, he lists those who sent well wishes, including KGW in Portland. He also gets a chance to overuse a game show buzzer next to his desk. Considering his replacement, he goes to this well often.
One viewer letter writes with anger that the letter, written by a viewer in Taunton, MA, was read as being from Taunton, ME. The author suggests Dave never visit Taunton, MA, which leads to a sincere apology and his invitation for the author to be a guest on the show next week. The crowd eats it up.
(BUZZ) "Pretty much all you need for a show." (BUZZ) "Just want to get you folks re-accustomed to this."
Going to break, instead of the usual photos with household hints and the like, it's the resumes of the staff. The symphony orchestra also begins to play "I Can't Tell You Why" by The Eagles, perhaps an appropriate choice for today.
Wil Shriner is out as we return (his resume is shown as the show returns from commercial with his first name "Will") and both men show off their fashions for the 80's
Dave acknowledges they're already low on time, so they cut to the chase and show a video Wil put together of the Live-TV mistakes the show endured during its run. We see phone calls that don't work, a phone call that did work to an old lady who tells Dave "I heard a rumor you were going off the air.", and a shepherd having, well, some trouble:
Dave interrupts the video to say that they have to run a commercial, but someone else on the staff yells out to show the fire clip (which was on an earlier post here on the blog) leading Dave to admit "This is funny: we make mistakes while showing mistakes"
Next out, Edwin Newman and Frank Owens are out giving Dave a chance to ask them about the early days of their careers as well.
Frank talks of his early career at the Apollo Theater and says that the theater no longer has Amateur Night...but a handful of years later, it would be back, and Frank would be the musical leader of Showtime at the Apollo.
Next, the final installment of "Coffee Cup Theater" - a regular feature that showed up more on the 90 minute version of the show. It's the "Suicide Squad" re-edited out of sequence for comedic effect. It's funny, and it's also a time filler. Looking back, I wonder if Dave would have chosen more time with his staff instead of this, but it's only a minute or two here.
We follow this with "Stupid Writer Tricks" - giving each of the remaining staff a chance to perform their own material that Dave rejected. Gerard Mulligan tells a joke and then balloons fall from the ceiling. This seems to be yet another screw-up, and all Dave can do is shrug. The late Paul Raley is next, to do a rather spot-on impression of Dave, and then deliver a joke that was correctly vetoed. Ron Richards is next, followed by Rich Hall. Rich states that the Statue of Liberty says "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses." "I noticed you don't see too many huddled masses anymore, so we have one here today."
Frank and the band play "Another One Bites the Dust" (another appropriate tune) and we see the resume of Dave's future director, Hal Gurnee:
Dave then introduces the rest of the show's staff to the audience. Producer Barry Sand shows all the phones he's connected to for a live show: the East Coast, West Coast, and his jeweler. Announcer Bill Wendell is next, who also followed Dave all the way through CBS. Bill mentions his first network gig, and a man Dave reminds him of: Ernie Kovacs. Kathleen Ankers did artwork for the show, and also followed Dave to Late Night. (She played Peggy, the Foul-Mouthed Chambermaid on the show)
Bob Pook, who created many of the bumper photos (and did so on Late Night) is also introduced, and it's noteworthy considering he's wearing a David Letterman Show T-Shirt.
More brief introductions to the staff, and then it's time to wrap it up. With the future unknown, it doesn't hurt for Dave to post his resume and headshot as well.
Dave takes another moment to thank the audience, particularly the mail they received, "the only one consistent piece of support on the show." He thanks Merrill, Hal, and Barry again...and now, the ending. Please let Harve serenade you (with reference in the viewer mail as well):
No good-bye, no final words. It's all there: the TV business. We go out with balloons, confetti, an up-tempo version of the theme, and a happy audience.
Years later, it would be easy to gloss over the situation with the off-quoted remark that this was the right show and talent in the wrong time period. That's true, but you don't do something like this without the thought that 1. it should be on the TV air and 2. it would be a breath of fresh air for viewers. A year and a half later, it arrived again with nearly all the same bits at a later hour. The housewives who like it wouldn't see it much, but the teens and college students home for the summer kept those hours. The rest was history.
If Dave doesn't get a second chance with Late Night, it's hard to envision what would happen not so much to his career, but to so many others the shows influenced. Moreover, if he doesn't get that show, how many of these Betas survive? Back then, considering the prices of cassettes, you had to record for purpose if you were going to save something. It shows that people thought a little-watched TV show in 1980 was worth hanging on to years later, but it was a correct prediction.
Being a toddler at the time, I was left to ask my mother (a Dave fan as well) if she remembered that crazy summer 35 years ago. Home taking care of 2 kids, did she ever find the time to watch? Or even remember? Her response was something that was likely happening (in moderation, but still) across the country:
"I just remember saying 'there's this funny new show on in the morning. I like him; this David Letterman guy is funny."