David Letterman: 33 Years in Latenight by the Numbers

David Letterman marks low-key 20th anniversary

The numbers have been crunched on David Letterman’s 33-year run in latenight. As of his final night on May 20, Letterman will have presided over 6,028 broadcasts in latenight, counting his 1982-93 run at NBC in addition to his CBS tenure.

Here’s the rundown released today by CBS:

  • “Late Night With David Letterman” had 1,810 broadcasts and ran for 595 weeks.
  • The Late Show With David Letterman” has had 4,214 broadcasts, as well as four primetime specials, and has run for 1,135 weeks.

The first face to appear on both “Late Night” and the “Late Show” was that of Calvert DeForest (or, as he was known on “Late Night,” “Larry ‘Bud’ Melman”).

Bill Murray was the first guest on the premiere broadcasts of both “Late Night” on Feb. 1, 1982, and “The Late Show” on CBS on August 30, 1993. As of May 20, 2015, he will have appeared on Letterman’s latenight talk shows 44 times: 12 appearances on “Late Night”; 32 on the “Late Show.”

Over 33 years, Letterman’s talk shows have received 16 Emmy Awards and 112 Emmy Award nominations.

  • “Late Night” won five Emmy Awards and received 35 Emmy nominations.
    “Late Show” won nine Emmys and received 72 nominations.
    Letterman’s 1980 daytime program, “The David Letterman Show,” earned two Emmys and five nominations.

As of May 20, 2015, there will have been 19,932 guest appearances in more than 33 years on Letterman’s latenight shows:

  • “Late Night” – 5,850 guest appearances
  • “Late Show” – 14,082 guest appearances (approximate)

Over the years, two of Letterman’s signature segments have been Stupid Pet Tricks and Stupid Human Tricks. The very first Stupid Pet Tricks segment made its debut on Letterman’s morning show, “The David Letterman Show,” on June 26, 1980, and the first Stupid Human Tricks segment premiered on “Late Night” on Oct. 3, 1983.

There have been a total of 126 Stupid Pet Tricks segments on Letterman’s late night shows:

  • “Late Night”: 73 segments
  • “Late Show”: 53 segments

There have been a total of 89 Stupid Human Tricks segments:

  • “Late Night”: 30 segments
  • “Late Show”: 59 segments

The king of “Late Night” appearances was sportscaster Marv Albert, with 73 to his credit. Other top guests:

  • Richard Lewis 48 appearances
    George Miller, Tom Brokaw 40 appearances
    Jay Leno 39 appearances
    Teri Garr, Robert Klein 30 appearancesRegis Philbin holds the title  for most ‘Late Show’ appearances, with a total of 136. Other top “Late Show” guest appearances (as of May 20, 2015) are:
  • Jack Hanna 75 appearances
    Tony Randall 70 appearances
    Marv Albert 52 appearances
    Tom Brokaw 49 appearances

The first Top Ten List, “Things That Almost Rhyme With Peas,” was presented on “Late Night” on Sept. 18, 1985. In 33 years, Letterman will have presented 4,605 Top Ten Lists on his latenight programs.

“Late Night”: 1,009 Top Ten Lists
“Late Show”: 4,605 Top Ten Lists

Letterman’s fictional Top Ten Office has made its home in 11 different cities. The state of Nebraska earns the distinction of having the most Top Ten Home Offices than any other state, with a total of three. The Top Ten Home Offices from all 25 years are:

o Milwaukee, Wisc. (the first “Late Night” home office)
o Lebanon, Pa.
o Lincoln, Neb.
o Oklahoma City, Okla.
o Omaha, Neb.
o Scottsdale, Ariz.
o Tahlequah, Okla.
o Oneonta, N.Y. (the last “Late Night” home office)
o Sioux City, Iowa (the first “Late Show” home office)
o Grand Rapids, Mich.
o Wahoo, Neb. (the current “Late Show” home office)

·The “Late Night” and “Late Show” theme songs were both written and composed by Paul Shaffer.

· On “Late Night,” Letterman donned a number of different “suits.” Most memorable was the “Suit of Velcro,” which he first wore on Feb. 28, 1984. While wearing the suit, he ran, jumped on a trampoline and hurled himself at a Velcro wall, to which he stuck. Other “suits” include:

o Suit of Alka-Seltzer – Wearing protective goggles and an oxygen tank, he was lowered into a 1,000-gallon tank of water, whereupon his suit began to fizz and vaporize.
o Suit of Magnets – He attached himself to the door of an oversized GE refrigerator.
o Suit of Marshmallows – An attempt to roast the marshmallows by a propane torch failed, so the studio audience got to snack on Dave.
o Suit of Chips – Dave was lowered into a glass tank filled with 1,000 gallons of yogurt dip.
o Suit of Rice Krispies – He “snap, crackled and popped” after being dunked in a large tub of milk.
o Suit of Suet – Dave donned a suit of suet-and-birdseed packets and entered a pen of farm animals (including goats and chickens) that fed on him.
o Suit of Sponges – He was dunked in a 1,000-gallon glass tank of water and tipped the scale at 500 pounds.

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  1. Its ludicrous to give so much credit to just one guy. There are many comedians out there who are just as funny if not funnier than Letterman who could of hosted that show and done just as well if not better.

    We really should be celebrating CBS and the free market capitalist system who are the true heroes.

    Without capitalism and free markets there would be no Late Night or CBS for that matter. Yet Letterman, like many liberals, doesnt miss the opportunity to denigrate corporations, one of which pays his exorbitant salary.

    Corporations, like CBS, obtain the financing, which is the hardest part (try borrowing a lot of money from one of your friends or relatives). Spent years vetting and hiring experts to build the organization, advertise, build a network of 1000s of affiliates, build the sets, light the lights, run the cameras, pay the bills, lease the office space, hire the lawyers, the secretaries, etc, all without screwing it up and going bankrupt like many businesses do.

    Imagine if you and your fellow movie makers worked years to get a movie made. You write the story, rewrite it 10x. Write the screenplay, rewrite it 100x, get the financing, hire the crew, then the director gets all the credit. Ever wonder why a director makes a blockbuster one year and a dud the next? Its not all about him, or her.

    Letterman is just one of many that made that show work and not even the most important part. He could be replaced in a heartbeat. But try to replace CBS, or the free market system. You cant.

    To act like he’s some god who waved his hand and made it happen all by himself is slap in the face to what really made that show work. Where’s the celebration for all the people in the background who worked hard for many years on that show, on that network, at that corporation?

    Letterman acts all contrite and humble when he’s praised by his celeb friends, yet I dont see him sharing ANY of the credit with anyone else.

    • Please see my reply to c o below. It was intended for you.

    • c o says:

      Geez…. So Salty! Let that bitterness continue to follow your miserable life into the grave.

      • Sorry, hit the wrong “reply” button. That was intended for Mr. Shipley.

      • This is the culture that Letterman so successfully lampooned his entire life. The self-important “suits” who put status over stature, and insist that money can buy anything. Quality is not quantifiable, which explains why Leno (who consistently beat Dave in the ratings) received nothing close to the tributes accorded Letterman. Quality cannot be monetized, either. Look, Dave himself said that he had the least to do with the show’s quality, giving that credit to his staff, and he was sincere. He also gave heartfelt credit to Les Moonves, that rare suit who recognized that, with all his power and money and status, his job was to stay out of the way, support and facilitate.
        But in the end, it was Dave’s name on the marquee, it was his voice that shaped the vision, and it was his career and reputation on the line every night. And like it or not, neither Michael Shipley nor Gregory Halbe will ever know what that feels like, much less be able to gauge how easy or difficult it is.
        So go meet your Wall St. buds for happy hour, plot your next get-rich-quick/crash-the-market scheme, and let the rest of us party with Dave.

  2. Tim says:

    The number of top ten lists can’t be right. The number 4,605 was used twice – both for the combined total of NBC and CBS lists and for the number of CBS lists. Clearly, it can’t be correct the second time. (For one thing, he couldn’t have done 4,605 lists at CBS if he’s only done 4,214 shows there.)

  3. Marc Nichol says:

    still believe Chris Elliot was the best guest ever, with all his personas

    • Bruce says:

      Dave said on 4/29 that it was Jack Hanna’s 103rd appearance. He said the second most was Marv Albert at 126. and Regis is number one at 150 spots

      • Calvert DeForest/Larry “Bud” Melman has to be up there with Regis, Marv and Jack. Can’t believe I haven’t seen him on any of these lists of “most guest appearances.” It may be impossible to get an accurate count, but I’m sticking with Calvert as the King of Letterman Guests until someone proves otherwise.

      • sammyglick says:

        Ditto Bruce — I heard those same stats on Letterman’s 4/29/15 show. I wonder why the so-called official counts are so far off.

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