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Boston Globe: David Letterman changed everything

YOU ONLY GET to say goodbye to America once, and millions will be watching Wednesday night to see how David Letterman chooses to do it. I give big odds against “mawkish.”

America will be saying goodbye to its most evolved celebrity, a complicated man who’s had the good graces to respect his audience by embracing certain core, sometimes apparently conflicting, values.

“It’s just a damn TV show,” Letterman has said, expressing discomfort at the praise lavished upon him of late. Yet, we know that he pushed himself and his incredibly talented staff to put on a funny, absurd, intelligently stupid show night after night. When he failed, it really bothered him, and we could tell.

Letterman will tell you he didn’t reinvent the late-night talk show. Yes, when Letterman was lowered into a 900-gallon tank of water wearing a suit attached with 3,400 Alka-Seltzers, he was channeling Steve Allen, the first host of “The Tonight Show.”

But when NBC opened up the time slot after “The Tonight Show,” the network restricted Letterman from using a number of time-honored talk show conventions that Johnny Carson had made his own. He had no choice but to go weird. Dogs did Stupid Pet Tricks; Chris Elliott emerged from under the bleachers; stuff got smashed, either by being dropped from a five-story tower or crushed by steamroller or hydraulic press. And Paul Shaffer and the band composed and played oddly appropriate themes for every ridiculous bit of business.

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